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Name: People v. Cuevas
Case #: A091903
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 05/31/2001
Subsequent History: Rev. den. 9/12/01

In a robbery prosecution, the deliberating jury asked for a definition of “force or fear,” and the court responded by reading a definition which stated that force was physical aggression which could reasonably inspire fear. Appellant argued on appeal that the instruction allowed the jury to evaluate the evidence objectively, rather than determining whether the victim was actually afraid. The appellate court here found no error. The prosecutor focused on evidence from which the jury could infer that the victim was actually afraid, and defense counsel urged the jury to find that she was not, and that they should therefore return a verdict of not guilty. Since both counsel emphasized the issue of the victim’s state of mind, there was no reasonable likelihood that the jury misunderstood the instruction. During the course of the trial, appellant interjected comments to let the jury know that the case was a strikes prosecution which could result in a long sentence. The trial court instructed the jury pursuant to CALJIC 17.42 that they should not consider punishment. During deliberations, the jury asked for a clarification of CALJIC 17.42 in light of appellant’s statements concerning his sentence. The court responded that appellant’s comments were not relevant and should not be considered. The appellate court here held that the trial court properly instructed the jury to disregard appellant’s comments. Citing People v. Williams (2001) 25 Cal. 4th 441, the court disapproved of appellant’s comments which were aimed at obtaining the jury’s sympathy in the hopes that they would act “lawlessly.” The imposition of a 85-years-to-life sentence imposed for three bank robberies with four prior strikes was not cruel and unusual punishment. Robbery has been defined as a “violent felony,” and appellant had a long history of prior convictions. The sentence imposed was not disproportionate to the crimes charged.