A defendant’s immigration status and deportation history may be admissible if relevant to the issue of motive. On the afternoon of May 5, 2010, Casillas pointed a firearm at a civilian motorist; on May 6, 2010, around 1:30 a.m., Casillas shot at a deputy sheriff during a traffic stop. The prosecution argued to the jury that Casillas’ immigration status was motive for shooting the deputy, as he had twice been deported and was facing up to 20 years in prison if found in the United States. The jury convicted Casillas of attempted premeditated murder, assault on a peace officer, assault with a firearm, and possession of a firearm by a felon. He appealed. Held: Affirmed. Casillas argued his immigration status and two deportations were irrelevant and unduly prejudicial. The Court of Appeal disagreed, concluding the evidence was strongly probative of motive and noted the trial court took steps to minimize the potential for undue prejudice. While Evidence Code section 1101 prohibits admission of evidence regarding prior misconduct to establish a defendant’s character or disposition, it does not prohibit such evidence if relevant to some other fact, such as motive. The trial court has the discretion to admit such evidence after weighing the probative value against the prejudicial effect. Because other crimes evidence can be so damaging, the evidence should be excluded unless the connection between the evidence and the ultimate fact in dispute is clear. In this case, a shooting occurred after a law enforcement officer sought to stop or detain an individual. Casillas had a history of criminal misconduct with a potential for long-term incarceration, which could explain his motive for shooting the deputy. Although motive is not an element of the crime, proof of the presence of motive is material as evidence tending to refute or support the presumption of innocence. Thus, the evidence was relevant and substantially probative.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B298388.PDF