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Name: People v. Gobert (2023) 89 Cal.App.5th 676
Case #: D080018
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 03/22/2023
Summary

Trial court committed harmless error by allowing the prosecution to introduce hearsay evidence of prior domestic violence incidents. Gobert was convicted of the second degree murder of his girlfriend. During trial, the court allowed the prosecution to admit statements the victim made to two individuals about the abuse she was experiencing and her fear of Gobert. Defense counsel objected to the admissibility of these statements on hearsay grounds, but the trial court admitted them as evidence of prior domestic violence pursuant to Evidence Code section 1109. Gobert appealed. Held: Affirmed. The Court of Appeal held the trial court erroneously overruled Gobert’s hearsay objections to the statements. Although section 1109 permits the admission of prior domestic violence evidence that would otherwise be inadmissible under Evidence Code section 1101, it is not a hearsay exception and does not independently authorize the admission of hearsay. The victim’s out-of-court statements that the two witnesses recounted during their testimony were hearsay, and any nonhearsay use of the evidence was not relevant. But the errors in admitting the statements were not prejudicial under Watson. Gobert admitted he strangled the victim, their daughter testified that she witnessed the strangulation, and the prosecution did not emphasize the evidence during closing argument. [Editor’s Notes: (1) The Court of Appeal conducted an independent review of sealed Pitchess materials and determined that the trial court had erroneously relied on the custodian’s assessment of the discoverability of the information contained in the records, but concluded that the files did not contain anything that bore on the investigator’s credibility. (2) The Court of Appeal also struck a portion of the minute order that prohibited possession of deadly weapons and paraphernalia. This was not part of the court’s oral pronouncement and a trial court may not preemptively establish a lifetime injunction to enforce the criminal law. The court noted defendants in many cases from Riverside County have complained of the same error.]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/D080018.PDF