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Name: People v. Dowdell
Case #: H037404
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 6 DCA
Opinion Date: 07/17/2014

Trial court erred by failing to properly instruct on intimate partner battering evidence, but the error was harmless. Lincoln and Dowdell were tried before dual juries for offenses arising out of a robbery/carjacking/kidnap incident. Dowdell presented evidence of intimate partner battering at trial, and requested a special instruction that would have allowed the jury to consider evidence of intimate partner battering in deciding whether she formed the specific intent required for the crimes. The trial court limited the jury’s use of such evidence to deciding whether Dowdell committed the crime to defend herself from an immediate threat of great bodily injury or death (a combination of CALCRIM No. 851 and CALJIC No. 9.35.1), but not whether she formed the specific intent to commit the crimes. On appeal, Dowdell argued the trial court’s limitations on use of the evidence violated her federal due process right to present a defense and was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt under Chapman. Held: Affirmed. The appellate court found the trial court erroneously instructed the jury on intimate partner battering, as Dowdell’s proposed instruction properly stated the law (People v. Coffman (2004) 34 Cal.4th 1) and she presented substantial evidence to warrant the instruction. However, the trial court did not prevent Dowdell from presenting a defense. Rather, it excluded the evidence as to the element of specific intent in the absence of duress. Under the Watson standard, it is not reasonably likely the jury would have found in Dowdell’s favor had it been allowed to consider whether intimate partner battering negated the specific intent necessary for the charged offenses. The error was harmless.