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Name: People v. Bradley
Case #: B175564
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 8
Opinion Date: 08/01/2012

Court erred in failing to instruct the jury as to the mental state required for misuse of public funds (Pen. Code, § 424). Appellants, former city officials in Compton, were convicted of misappropriation of public funds and the convictions were affirmed in 2006. The California Supreme Court returned the case to the Court of Appeal to reconsider in light of Stark v. Superior Court (2011) 52 Cal.4th 368, which held that section 424 requires “that the defendant knew, or was criminally negligent in failing to know, the legal requirements that governed the act or omission.” Here, the court failed to instruct the jury on the required mental state for a violation of section 424. When a trial court fails to instruct on an element of the offense, the error must be shown to be harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. As to appellants Johnson and Rahh, the error was harmless. As to Bradley, the error was prejudicial because he presented evidence that, if believed, would negate wrongful intent.

The court properly instructed the jury that restitution was not a defense. A violation of section 424 is complete when the public money is willfully misappropriated. While offers to restore improperly misappropriated funds may be considered in mitigation of punishment, it is not a defense.

Testimony concerning an author’s intent in drafting a city council resolution constituted improper and irrelevant lay opinion. As to all but three witnesses, the appellants’ challenge to the lay opinion testimony was forfeited. As to two of the experts, their testimony was properly admitted. However, a city controller’s testimony regarding her intent in drafting a resolution that provided for issuance of city credit cards was improper because “[s]tatements by a bill’s author as to its intended purpose are not cognizable evidence of the legislative intent.” The trial court also had no reason to look to the legislative history because the credit card resolution was unambiguous on its face. The error was harmless under People v. Watson (1956) 26 Cal.2d 818.