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Name: People v. Anderson
Case #: S175351
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 06/02/2011

Where defendant claims accident to negate the mental state required for robbery, trial court is not required to instruct on that theory a sua sponte. On November 7, 2003, Anderson, a methamphetamine addict, was looking for a car to steal. He found one in the enclosed parking lot of an apartment complex and took it. As he was leaving the complex, Pamela Thompson, the car’s owner, ran out to stop the theft. Although Anderson swerved to avoid her, he ran over and killed her. His conviction of felony murder was reversed by the Court of Appeal for instructional error. The Supreme Court here reversed.

Anderson argued the forcible taking of the car was not robbery unless he applied the force with the intent to strike or frighten Thompson. However, robbery does not require the intent to cause the victim to experience force or fear. Nor does the trial court have a sua sponte duty to instruct on the defense of accident. When a defendant presents evidence in an effort to negate the prosecution’s proof an element of the offense, the defendant is not presenting a “special defense” requiring sua sponte instruction; it must be requested via a pinpoint instruction. The decisions in People v. Gonzales (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 382 and People v. Jones (1991) 234 Cal.App.3d 1303, are disapproved to the extent they provide for a sua sponte duty to instruct on accident when the defense is raised to negate the intent or mental element of the crime.