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Name: In re Scoggins
Case #: S253155
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 06/25/2020

Opinion By: Justice Liu (unanimous decision)
Insufficient evidence supported robbery-murder special-circumstance finding where defendant (who planned an unarmed assault and robbery) did not act with reckless indifference to human life during a robbery that resulted in a death. In 2007 Scoggins planned an unarmed robbery and assault on Wilson to avenge being cheated by Wilson during the purchase of some flat screen TVs. Posing as potential buyers, his codefendants committed the offense in Scoggins’ absence. One of the codefendants killed Wilson. Scoggins was convicted of first degree murder with a robbery-murder special-circumstance finding. His conviction was affirmed on appeal. After People v. Banks (2015) 61 Cal.4th 788 and People v. Clark (2016) 63 Cal.4th 522, clarified the meaning of the special circumstances statute, Scoggins petitioned for relief. The Court of Appeal denied the petition. Scoggins obtained review in the California Supreme Court. Held: Reversed and remanded. Penal Code section 190.2, subdivision (d), provides that “every person, not the actual killer, who, with reckless indifference to human life and as a major participant” aids or abets an enumerated felony, including attempted robbery, that results in death may be convicted of special circumstance murder and sentenced to death or LWOP. Scoggins did not challenge that he was a major participant in the crime. The question was whether his conduct reflected a reckless disregard for human life after Banks and Clark. The Supreme Court analyzed the totality of the circumstances and, based on the record in case, concluded that Scoggins did not exhibit reckless indifference to human life. Scoggins planned the offense but was not present when it was committed in a public parking lot during the day. The interaction between Scoggins’ codefendants and the victim was also very brief. Scoggins did not use a gun, know that one would be used, or realize that his codefendants would likely use lethal force. The evidence in this case did “not suggest an elevated risk to human life beyond those risks inherent in an unarmed beating and robbery.” Scoggins did not knowingly create a grave risk of death. [Editor’s Note: The court also concluded that Scoggins’ habeas claim was not procedurally barred. (See People v. Mutch (1971) 4 Cal.3d 389.) “[A] defendant is entitled to habeas corpus if there is no material dispute as to the facts relating to his conviction and if it appears that the statute under which he was convicted did not prohibit his conduct.” (Id. at p. 396.) In this case, there was no material dispute as to the basic facts.]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: