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People v. Arredondo

Supreme Court of California

December 16, 2019

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
JASON ARRON ARREDONDO, Defendant and Appellant.

          Superior Court Riverside County Nos. RIF1310007, RIF1403693 David A. Gunn Judge.

         Fourth Appellate District, Division Two E064206.

          Steven A. Torres, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

          Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Julie L. Garland, Assistant Attorney General, Michael Johnson, Deputy State Solicitor General, Steven T. Oetting, Meredith S. White, A. Natasha Cortina, Meagan Beale and Annie Featherman Fraser, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          Kent S. Scheidegger and Kymberlee S. Stapleton for Criminal Justice Legal Foundation as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Respondent.

          Justice Chin authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye and Justices Corrigan, Liu, Cuéllar, Kruger, and Groban concurred.

          OPINION

          CHIN, J.

         A jury convicted defendant Jason Arredondo of multiple sex offenses involving several minor victims. While three of the victims testified, the trial court positioned a computer monitor so they could not see defendant and he could not see them. We granted review in this case to determine whether the trial court's action violated defendant's right of confrontation under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We conclude that, as to one of the witnesses, the trial court committed reversible error, and we reverse defendant's convictions involving that witness. Regarding the other two witnesses, we conclude that defendant forfeited his claim by failing to object to the trial court's action, and that defendant has not shown his attorney's failure to object constituted ineffective of assistance of counsel.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         As here relevant, defendant was charged by information with committing the following sexual offenses involving F.R., Ar.R, An.R, and M.C.: eleven counts of lewd acts upon a child under the age of 14 (Pen. Code, § 288, subd. (a))[1]; one count of lewd acts upon a child under the age of 16 (§ 288, subd. (c)(1)); one count of oral copulation of a person under the age of 14 (§ 288a, subd. (c)(l)); and one count of sexual penetration of a person under the age of 14 (§ 289, subd. (j)). The information also alleged numerous enhancements. All four victims testified at trial. At that time, F.R. was 18 years of age, M.C. was 16, Ar.R was 14, and An.R was 13.

         When F.R. first entered the courtroom to take the witness stand, the bailiff said, “Right this way, Miss, ” and the court added, “[I]f you'd just step up here, please, and follow the instructions of my deputy there. He will tell you what you need to do.” The bailiff then stated, “Please watch your step as you take the stand. Stay standing, raise your right hand, and the clerk will swear you in.” F.R. started crying, and the court asked, “[D]o you need a moment?” F.R. replied, “I think so.” The court then announced, “We will take a short break. Take about five or ten minutes, folks, and we will attempt to start again at that time.... We will be in a short recess.” A minute order indicates that the court took a recess “to allow for witness composure.”

         After the jury left the courtroom, the court said to the prosecutor, “[A]fter your victim-witness advocate has spent some time with her, just let me know if she is able to proceed or ready to proceed and we will resume.” The prosecutor responded, “I am going to inquire of her if she prefers the advocate sits behind her.” The court replied, “Oh, yes. Right. If there's something like that that you can do that would make her more comfortable, I'm fine with that. I mean, the law allows it.”

         When proceedings resumed about 30 minutes later, but before the jury reentered the courtroom, the court stated, “We've made some modifications to the witness box to accommodate the witness.” After the jurors took their seats, F.R. entered the courtroom and the bailiff said, “Right this way. Watch your step as you take the stand. Please remain standing and raise your right hand, and the clerk will swear you in.” F.R. took the oath standing at the witness box and then sat down to testify, with her advocate sitting nearby. After she testified that she knew someone named Jason Arredondo, and that he was her mother's boyfriend, the prosecution asked, “Do you see Jason in court today?” F.R. replied, “[Y]es.” The prosecution then asked, “Can you identify an item of clothing he is wearing and where, to your left, to your right, is he seated?” F.R. answered, “To my right with the blue shirt.” The prosecution asked “[i]f the record could reflect the witness has identified the defendant, ” and the court responded, “It may.”

         About 45 minutes later, the court took another recess. After the jurors left the courtroom, it said: “I just want to note for the record too that I had mentioned earlier that the witness box had been reconfigured a little bit. It's not a big change, but the monitor was placed kind of to the witness's right, apparently blocking at least some of her view of possibly [defendant]. And I think that was the only change that's been made.” Addressing defendant's counsel, the court then asked, “Did you have anything you wanted to say about that?” Defendant's counsel responded, “Yes I did, Your Honor. It does block [defendant's] entire view of the witness.” The court replied, “Well, he is present in court. He can hear the witness, hear her answers. I think [the accommodation is] appropriate given her initial reaction. [¶] Again, for the record when she first came in to take the oath, she was unable to proceed at that time. We took about a 15-minute break before she could get her emotions back in order.” Defendant's counsel responded, “[F]or the record, I object to my client being unable to view the witness as the witness testifies in that his knowledge of the witness would be able to assist counsel in her demeanor and looks, you know, as the quasi parent. He is aware of how the witness looks when the witness is maybe not telling the truth or when the witness is feigning something. I don't have that knowledge. I have never seen this witness before. And [defendant] is unable to assist me in that regard because he is unable to see the witness.”

         The court, commenting that it wanted to make “the record[] clear, ” then stated: “It's a fairly small computer monitor that's on the witness stand. It's there for the witness to be able to view photographs that are shown on the monitor. Again, it was simply repositioned so that the witness doesn't have to look at [defendant]. I think - at best it's a small infringement on his confrontation rights. I think it's an allowable infringement on his right to confrontation, but it's a very limited blockage, if you will.” The prosecution, stating that it wanted “to clarify” the record, then added: “The position of the monitor in terms of where it is in the witness box is the exact same as it was for [M.C.]. It was elevated with a Penal Code as well as one volume of the CALCRIMs.” The court thanked the prosecution “for noting that” and commented, “I didn't see that.” The prosecution continued, “Given that the witness had indicated that the defendant looked at her the first time she came in.” The court added, “And whether that happened or didn't, I think it's appropriate.”

         Defendant's counsel responded, “[F]or the record, Your Honor, when the witness first came in, she began crying before she was even able to see [defendant's] face. So [defendant] made no effort to look at her, intimidate her, or make any kind of eye contact or suggestive contact with her.” The court replied: “I understand. I'm not casting any aspersions at this point. But it clearly affected her, and I think it's appropriate for the court to take whatever small efforts it can make to make the witness more comfortable without infringing on any of [defendant's] constitutional rights, and I don't believe that his rights have been infringed on at this point.” The court then “note[d]“ counsel's objection “for the record” and “overruled” it.

         Later, after both sides had rested but before closing arguments, the prosecution noted on the record that the monitor had been similarly repositioned during the testimony of Ar.R and An.R. Defendant's counsel did not object to the repositioning with respect to Ar.R and An.R. The fourth victim, M.C., had testified without the repositioned monitor.

         The jury convicted defendant of the 14 charged crimes and found the enhancement allegations to be true. The court sentenced him to an indeterminate prison term of 275 years to life, ...


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