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Name: People v. Chestra
Case #: B264462
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 5
Opinion Date: 03/17/2017

Trial court did not err in failing to instruct on voluntary manslaughter where defendant initially confessed to murder but later claimed he was not the shooter. Defendant Chestra confessed to shooting a former friend and fellow gang member in the head. Defendant then recanted and testified at trial that he accompanied his girlfriend to the victim’s apartment to buy drugs, the victim brandished scissors, they fought, and defendant’s girlfriend shot the victim. Defendant was convicted of first degree murder and allegations that he personally used a firearm were found true. On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court should have sua sponte instructed on voluntary manslaughter based on heat of passion and imperfect self-defense. Held: Affirmed. Heat of passion and imperfect self-defense voluntary manslaughter are lesser included offenses of murder. A trial court has a sua sponte duty to instruct on a lesser offense necessarily included in the charged offense if there is substantial evidence the defendant is guilty only of the lesser offense. While the court must instruct on a lesser included offense supported by the evidence even when it is inconsistent with defendant’s chosen defense, the trial court does not have a duty to instruct on a lesser offense where the defendant’s sworn testimony obviates any basis for finding a lesser included offense and no other evidence supports an instruction on the lesser offense. (See People v. Sinclair (1998) 64 Cal.App.4th 1012.) Here, defendant confessed to an intentional killing, but testified at trial that he took no part in the homicide. Thus, there was no basis for the jury to conclude that defendant acted in the heat of passion or self-defense. The evidence established that defendant was either guilty of murder or not guilty of any offense. Under these circumstances, the failure to sua sponte instruct on voluntary manslaughter was not error.

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