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Name: People v. Hernandez
Case #: A119501
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 07/10/2009
Subsequent History: rev. granted 9/9/09 (S175615)
Summary

Whether the presence of armed guards in the courtroom deprives a defendant of due process to a fair trial must be determined by the judge on a case-by-case basis. Appellant and the victim, who both suffered from chronic alcoholism and had been drinking the day of the incident, became involved in an altercation on a public street with the victim sustaining injuries for which she received medical treatment. Appellant was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and assault likely to produce great bodily injury and personal infliction of great bodily injury. At trial, an armed guard sat behind appellant when he testified. Appellant was the only witness who had a guard sit behind him during testimony. In response to defense counsel’s objection, the judge stated that she routinely employed the challenged procedure in all cases and appellant’s propensity for violence, if there was any, was irrelevant. The judge also refused to instruct the jury to disregard the presence of the guard. The positioning of armed guards in the courtroom is not presumed to be inherently prejudicial, as is shackling a defendant, and is within the trial court’s discretion, with the focus being on whether the security procedure infers that defendant is a violent person predisposed to commit crimes such as the one with which he is charged and if measures can be taken to lessen the impact of the guards. Here, there was nothing in the record to suggest that appellant represented any type of threat requiring the security measure taken. Additionally, by adopting a security policy in use for all trials, the court could not exercise its discretion rationally. The error was further aggravated by the court’s refusal to instruct the jury that the presence of the guard was not to be considered because the jurors were free to draw whatever conclusions they wished from the presence of the guard. Because appellant’s credibility was a major factor in the case, the error was prejudicial and the judgment was reversed.