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Name: People v. Ayala
Case #: S013188
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 08/28/2000
Subsequent History: Modification of opinion, 24 Cal.4th 467b; rehearing denied 11/15/00
Summary

The California Supreme Court agreed with the decisions of most jurisdictions that ex parte proceedings following a motion regarding peremptory challenges to the jury made on the basis of improper group bias are poor procedure and should not be conducted unless compelling reasons justify them. Here the trial court abused its discretion in implicitly finding that the prosecution presented matters of strategy which justified holding ex parte hearings on challenges made under People v. Wheeler (1978) 22 Cal.3d 258. While United States v. Thompson (9th Cir. 1987) 827 F.2d 1254, 1256, fn. 1, observed that excluding the defense from a Wheeler hearing might deny due process, the California Supreme Court found the error was harmless under People v. Watson (1956) 46 Cal.2d 818, 836, and that if federal error occurred, it too was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt under Chapman v. California (1967) 386 U.S. 18, 24. On this record, the court was “confident” that the defense could not have argued anything substantial that would have changed the court’s ruling. Penalty phase issues were not summarized. Chief Justice George dissented, finding the convictions should have been reversed and a new trial ordered for conducting jury selection proceedings ex parte. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant’s motion for mistrial based on a witness’ violation of an in limine order restricting his word choice where there was no showing that any irreparable damage was done that the jury instructions did not cure. Penalty phase issues were not summarized. Chief Justice George dissented, finding the convictions should have been reversed and a new trial ordered for conducting jury selection proceedings ex parte. An x-ray utilized by a radiologist to compare the caliber of one bullet with another was not an experiment controlled by People v. Kelly (1976) 17 Cal.3d 24, and did not require the expertise of a ballistics expert. The doctor only opined as to the size of the bullet The trial court did not err in denying appellant’s motion to suppress evidence seized from the body shop where the murders were committed. Appellant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in premises where he was a mere guest or invitee. Moreover, by abandoning the containers of orange juice seized, appellant relinquished any expectation of privacy he might have had in the containers. The under representation of Hispanics in the trial of an Hispanic defendant did not violate appellant’s rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments or under article I, section 16, of the California Constitution. Chief Justice George dissented, finding the convictions should have been reversed and a new trial ordered for conducting jury selection proceedings ex parte. There was no constitutional error in excusing for cause one juror whose ability to serve as a juror was found by the trial court to be substantially impaired by her opposition to the death penalty, and in retaining another juror the trial court found was not substantially impaired by her support for the increased use of the death penalty. There was no need to dismiss the jury panel where 36 admitted knowledge of appellant’s brother’s capital case. Thirteen of those jurors were excused, and the remaining 23 agreed that their knowledge of the brother’s case would not affect their ability to be fair. And the trial court properly denied appellant’s challenge for cause as to eight particular jurors with this knowledge because they agreed they could be fair. The failure to preserve the juror questionnaires of prospective jurors who were not the subject of a motion pursuant to People v. Wheeler (1978) 22 Cal.3d 258, is not prejudicial because the California Supreme Court will not compare the views of jurors excused by peremptory challenges with those who were not excused on that basis. And the record demonstrates that those jurors who were the subject of Wheeler challenges were not challenged or excused on the basis of group bias, so the failure to preserve them was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt under Chapman v. California (1967) 386 U.S. 18, 24, and harmless under People v. Watson (1956) 46 Cal.2d 818, 836. The equal protection rights of jurors who were excluded were not violated because on this record the reasons for exclusion were not pretextual.