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Name: People v. Cuiriz
Case #: A144351
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 02/14/2017
Summary

Sentence of 27 years to life for defendant who shot her father’s attacker is cruel and unusual. During defendant’s nineteenth birthday party, two uninvited males arrived and beat up defendant’s father. Defendant saw her father on the ground with his face full of blood, and became angry when the two men threatened to return and stated they were gang members. Defendant was handed a gun and fired one shot as the men got into their truck. The shot hit one of the men and pierced his spinal cord, rendering him a quadriplegic. A jury convicted defendant of attempted voluntary manslaughter, shooting at an occupied vehicle, and mayhem, and found true allegations that defendant personally used a firearm during the commission of the offense. The court sentenced defendant to a term of 27 years to life, which included a mandatory 25-years-to-life term for the firearm enhancement. On appeal, defendant challenged her sentence as cruel and unusual. Held: Sentence modified. A sentence is cruel and unusual if it is so disproportionate to the crime for which it is inflicted that it shocks the conscience and offends fundamental notions of human dignity. Applying the test set forth in People v. Dillon (1983) 34 Cal.3d 441 and In re Lynch (1972) 8 Cal.3d 410, the court here concluded that defendant’s case is one of the rare instances in which the sentence imposed shocks the conscience. Defendant shot the victim in the heat of passion. The shooting was unplanned and resulted from a moment of impaired judgment in response to provocation by the victim. Defendant had no criminal history, was generally obedient to the law, and was not the type of criminal for which the firearm enhancement was intended. Based on the circumstances of the offense, defendant’s personal characteristics, and the comparison to other sentences prescribed in California for more serious offenses, defendant’s sentence exceeds constitutional limits. The court vacated the sentence imposed and also vacated the stay on a 12-year term imposed for the attempted voluntary manslaughter conviction.

The trial court did not err in admitting statements defendant made during her interrogation because she voluntarily and knowingly waived her rights under Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436. When police arrived on the scene, defendant told one of the officers she shot the victim. At the police station six or seven hours later, defendant was read her Miranda rights. She responded that she understood her rights. Without explicitly asking if she waived those rights, the detectives proceeded to question defendant and she answered without hesitation. On appeal, defendant argued the trial court erred in admitting the recording of her interrogation because her waiver of her Miranda rights was not knowing and voluntary. The court disagreed. Nothing in the recording suggests that defendant did not understand her Miranda rights and she showed no reluctance in answering the detectives’ questions. While defendant argued she was barely 19 years old at the time of the interview and had no prior experience with law enforcement, waivers from much younger persons have been upheld. Defendant was an adult at the time of the shooting, had graduated from high school, and was employed at the time of the offense. In the video of the interrogation, she appeared to be fully awake and alert. Because there was no evidence defendant’s waiver was not knowing and voluntary, the trial court did not err in admitting the recording of her interrogation. The trial court also did not err in failing to excise the detective’s statements in the recorded interrogation that the shooting was not in self-defense. Counsel stipulated to a limiting instruction, which cured any possible prejudice.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/A144351.PDF