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People v. Minifie

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Seventh Division

May 7, 2018

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
JEFFREY MINIFIE, Defendant and Appellant.


          APPEAL from a judgment of the Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BA394178, Henry J. Hall, Judge.

          Ralph H. Goldsen, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

          Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Lance E. Winters, Assistant Attorney General, Shawn McGahey Webb and David A. Voet, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          FEUER, J.[*]

         On the morning of February 16, 2012 Minifie forced his ex-girlfriend Lillian Pleitez into the passenger seat of his vehicle and drove away. After a witness called 911, Minifie was followed by two police cars. A high-speed chase ensued through the streets just west of downtown Los Angeles, with Minifie running through multiple red lights. The chase ended when Minifie swerved into oncoming traffic and collided with another vehicle head-on. Pleitez died on the way to the hospital.

         The jury found Minifie guilty of second degree murder (Pen. Code, § 187, subd. (a); count 1), [1] kidnapping (§ 207, subd. (a); count 2), and evading an officer causing injury (Veh. Code, § 2800.3, subd. (a); count 3). Minifie waived his right to a jury trial on his alleged prior convictions, and admitted he had suffered three prior convictions. The court found that Minifie had served three prior separate prison terms within the meaning of section 667.5, subdivision (b).

         On count 1 the trial court sentenced Minifie to an indeterminate term of 15 years to life. On count 2 the trial court sentenced Minifie to the upper term of eight years, to run consecutively. The trial court imposed three one-year prior prison term enhancements under section 667.5, subdivision (b), on both counts 1 and 2. On count 3 the trial court sentenced Minifie to a consecutive term of one year eight months (one-third the middle term). Minifie was sentenced to an aggregate state prison term of 30 years eight months to life.

         In the unpublished part of the opinion, we conclude that Pleitez's statements expressing her fear to her daughter approximately two hours before the kidnapping were properly admitted under the state of mind exception to the hearsay rule. We also reject Minifie's claims of instructional error and prosecutorial misconduct.

         In the published part of the opinion, we address whether a trial court may impose prior prison term sentence enhancements under section 667.5, subdivision (b), separately to an indeterminate term of imprisonment and a determinate term of imprisonment as part of the defendant's aggregate sentence. We conclude the trial court properly imposed the enhancements on both the indeterminate and determinate terms. We affirm.


         A. The Prosecution's Case

         As of February 2012 Minifie had been dating Lillian Pleitez for eight to 12 months. Minifie lived in an apartment on Wilshire Boulevard (the Building), just west of downtown Los Angeles. Pleitez lived with her daughter, J.P.

         At about 8:00 a.m. on February 16, 2012 Jeffery and Angela Cho, [2] who also lived at the Building, were attempting to leave the Building's parking lot using the Ingraham Street exit. Minifie's sport utility vehicle (SUV) was blocking the exit. Jeffery observed Minifie and Pleitez standing outside the SUV, arguing. Minifie was substantially taller than Pleitez.[3] Minifie put his hands on Pleitez, and pushed her toward the passenger side of the vehicle. Pleitez appeared to be resisting him.

         Minifie opened the front passenger door, pushed Pleitez into the seat, and closed the door. As Minifie walked back to the driver's side, the passenger door opened, and Pleitez tried to get out. Minifie returned to the passenger side, and got in. He sat on top of Pleitez while she struggled; he shut the door, and then slid over Pleitez to the driver's seat.

         Pleitez made eye contact with Jeffery, and appeared to be asking for help. She held up her arm and showed Jeffery a white band on her wrist. At this point Jeffery told Angela to call 911.

         Minifie then drove out of the garage with Pleitez in the passenger seat. He turned left, and headed east on Ingraham Street. Jeffery followed him, while Angela called 911 from the passenger seat. While the SUV was moving, the passenger door opened, then the SUV stopped, and the door closed. The SUV continued driving. The SUV turned on Lucas Street, but got stuck in stop-and-go traffic. Jeffery honked his horn to let Minifie know he was following him. Minifie then began driving erratically, weaving in and out of traffic. At some point the SUV made a turn, and Jeffery lost sight of the vehicle. Shortly thereafter the 911 operator directed Jeffery to the scene of a traffic accident on Sixth Street, and he saw the same SUV was there.

         Sonny Chang, who also lived at the Building, was in his car waiting to exit the parking lot. He was behind two vehicles, one of which was blocking the parking gate. He heard Minifie and Pleitez yelling and screaming. He saw Pleitez try to get out of the SUV. She then jumped out, and asked for help. Minifie forced her back into the SUV, and drove away. Chang called 911, and reported the incident.

         At around 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Officer Jose Delgado was driving north on Bixel Street in his black and white police car with his partner James Le when he saw Minifie's SUV cross a double yellow line, make an illegal U-turn, and drive onto the sidewalk. Delgado tried to get closer to the SUV, but it sped off north on Bixel Street.

         When the SUV approached Wilshire Boulevard, the passenger door opened, and Pleitez tried to jump out of the vehicle. Half of her body was outside the vehicle. Minifie then drove through a red light at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Bixel Street, causing other vehicles to screech to a halt.

         At Sixth Street, the SUV's passenger door swung open again, and Pleitez tried to “dive” out of the SUV. Minifie made a left turn onto Sixth Street and pulled Pleitez back into the SUV. Minifie went through another red light and made a left turn, again causing cars to screech to a halt. At this point Minifie was driving over 70 miles per hour. Delgado activated his lights and sirens, and continued in pursuit.

         At Sixth and Alvarado Streets, Minifie, who was driving westbound, began swerving into the eastbound lane toward oncoming traffic, to evade Delgado's police car. Minifie did this two times, then jumped back into the westbound lane. At the intersection of Sixth and Carondelet Streets, Minifie swerved into the eastbound lane for the third time, and collided head-on with a Volvo heading east on Sixth Street. Minifie's SUV was upended and stood on its front two wheels, then fell down onto all four wheels. As soon as the car landed on its four wheels, Minifie got out of the driver's side door and began running south on Carondelet Street. Minifie did not check on his passenger or the driver of the Volvo.

         Delgado and Le pursued Minifie, following him in their vehicle. Minifie pulled his wallet out of his pocket, threw it into the bushes, then continued to run southbound. Delgado and Le yelled at Minifie to stop, but he kept running. When Minifie started running toward a fence, it looked like he was going to jump over it. Delgado and Le got out of their vehicle, and ran toward Minifie. Delgado told Minifie to get on the ground, but he did not comply. Instead, Minifie clenched his hands into fists and started walking toward Delgado. Delgado struck Minifie across his abdomen with his baton. Other officers arrived, and Minifie was taken into custody. Delgado described Minifie as “altered, ” and he believed Minifie was possibly under the influence.

         Anita Williams was the driver of the Volvo. She was stopped at a red light with cars on either side of her. She saw Minifie's SUV weaving in and out of traffic, with police cars in pursuit. Then the SUV drove through a red light and headed straight toward Williams. Williams attempted to change lanes to get out of the way, but the SUV also changed lanes, and hit her head-on at about 70 miles per hour. Williams testified, “Whatever lane I was getting in he was headed for me.” The SUV pushed her car backwards, and she was seriously injured, including a severely broken arm, three to four broken ribs, a broken sternum, and a punctured lung.

         LAPD Officer Nicholas Landry had been following Delgado in his police car during the pursuit. He went up to the SUV after the collision, and found Pleitez on the passenger side with her shoulders and torso wedged against the floorboard. She was bleeding profusely. She was still breathing, and appeared to be asking for help.

         Pleitez was transported to the hospital, but bled to death due to multiple traumatic injuries, including a torn aorta and bleeding in her brain. According to Dr. Louis Pena, a forensic pathologist who performed an autopsy, Pleitez's traumatic injuries were consistent with the impact from a car accident. She also had injuries that were not caused by the collision, including bruised, swollen, and bloody eyes, which were consistent with being hit in the face with an object or a fist or elbow. Pleitez's upper and lower lips were bruised and torn, consistent with her being hit in the mouth. She had a two and a half-inch cut on her left wrist that was covered by a bandage. The cut was caused by a straight object, and had marks indicating it could have been a suicide attempt. She had a small amount of cocaine in her system.

         LAPD Officer Kamaron Sardar, a drug recognition expert, examined Minifie at the hospital. Sardar was unable to conduct field sobriety tests because Minifie was restrained in a bed. However, Sardar examined Minifie, and checked his blood pressure and pulse rate. He observed that Minifie had a white, powdery substance in his nostrils, and his nostril and the septum dividing the two parts of his nose were red and inflamed, consistent with snorting cocaine. Sarder also spoke with officers at the scene who described Minifie as agitated and aggressive, with fidgety behavior.

         Sardar stated that cocaine use causes impairment of reaction time, excitement, and agitation, and increases aggressiveness. Based on Minifie's actions and his statements to Sarder and to officers at the scene, Sardar opined that Minifie was under the influence of and impaired by cocaine, but he was not suffering from a cocaine overdose. Blood tests confirmed that Minifie had ingested a “high” amount of cocaine.

         J.P. testified that her mother, Pleitez, was dating Minifie. Pleitez often went out with Minifie at night, but she usually returned home after seeing him. On February 15, 2012 Pleitez went out, but did not return home. J.P. tried calling her, but she did not answer. When J.P. got up at about 6:00 a.m. the morning of February 16, she saw five or six missed calls from Pleitez on her phone. Sometime between 6:18 and 6:30 a.m. J.P. called her mother back, and talked to her on the phone. Pleitez sounded scared and spoke in “code.” Pleitez told J.P. that Minifie had hit her and that “her life was in [J.P.'s] hands.” She asked J.P. to come with J.P.'s aunt to pick her up. J.P. and her aunt went to Minifie's apartment, but no one was there when they arrived.

         B. The Defense Case

         Dr. Terrence McGee, an expert in drug addiction, testified about the effects of cocaine. He reviewed the results from the drug tests given to Minifie at the hospital, and stated that Minifie had ingested “an enormous amount of cocaine, ” which amount would cause a person to behave irrationally and violently. Dr. McGee was asked a hypothetical question about an individual evading the police by driving recklessly at high speeds with officers pursuing him, getting into a traffic collision, fleeing on foot, then challenging the officers to a fight. Dr. McGee opined that if this individual had ingested the amount of cocaine reflected in Minifie's test results, he would have been clearly under the influence of cocaine, which would have affected his judgment and his ability to form an intent or plan to do something.

         Minifie testified on his own behalf. He had been dating Pleitez for around eight months. He loved her and they planned to get married. However, they used to argue. He admitted he had four convictions for crimes of “moral turpitude” over the prior 11 years.

         On the night of February 14, 2012 Minifie had taken Pleitez out to dinner for Valentine's day. The following day he picked her up at the car dealership in Studio City where she worked, and took her back to his apartment. Pleitez left her car at the dealership. Pleitez took a shower, and Minifie snorted “a little bit” of cocaine. He used cocaine regularly because it made him “high, ” and gave him energy.

         After her shower, Pleitez told Minifie that he should return the wedding dress he had bought for her to wear at their wedding. He was angry, but responded, “okay, whatever.” He explained that Pleitez sometimes said things like that to get a reaction out of him, so he acted like he did not care. Pleitez then told Minifie that he should give the dress to his friend Daisy. Minifie described Daisy as “just a friend, ” but Pleitez was jealous of his relationship with her. Minifie got mad and slapped Pleitez across the face with his hand two or three times. In response, Pleitez picked up a wine or champagne glass, and hit Minifie on the head.

         Pleitez then lay down on Minifie's bed, crying, and said she wanted to kill herself. Minifie was still angry, so he told her, “okay.” He went to the kitchen, got a knife, and handed it to her. He said, “Here, go ahead.” She took the knife and cut her left wrist open. Minifie was shocked; there was a lot of blood. He took the knife from Pleitez, and used napkins and tape to bandage her wrist. He did not call 911 or take her to the hospital.

         Before Minifie and Pleitez left his apartment, Pleitez called her daughter, and spoke to her in Spanish. Minifie did not know what she was saying. Minifie and Pleitez both snorted some cocaine. Minifie then took Pleitez out for breakfast at McDonald's. During the drive back to Minifie's apartment, Pleitez got mad at Minifie because he had given away two cases of makeup that he previously had in his car. Minifie told Pleitez he gave the makeup to Daisy to sell, but Pleitez began yelling at him that he was a liar. According to Minifie, Pleitez got angry because she was jealous of Daisy.

         Minifie decided to take Pleitez back to her car. They were at the gate to Minifie's parking garage when Minifie told this to Pleitez. Pleitez started acting “crazy” and yelled at him. She got out of the car. Minifie also got out of the car, grabbed Pleitez, and said, “Come on, let's go. I'm taking you back to your car.” They got back in the car, and Pleitez tried to rip the bandage off her wrist, causing her wrist to bleed again. She then got out of the car and said, “This is your fault.” She was holding her wrist and trying to take off the tape. This scared Minifie, and ...

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