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Name: People v. Hernandez
Case #: S175615
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 02/28/2011

The decision to station a uniformed deputy at the witness stand must be based on individualized facts showing the defendant poses a safety or flight risk, or would otherwise disrupt the proceedings, and not based on a standard practice or policy. (People v. Stevens (2009) 47 Cal.4th 625.) When appellant testified at his trial for assault with a deadly weapon, a courtroom deputy stood behind him. Defense counsel did not immediately object because she did not want to highlight the issue to the jury, but did so after a recess and noted that the procedure had never been discussed in limine. The court responded this was done in every trial. The court then declined to give a cautionary instruction requested by defense counsel. Appellant argued the implementation of the security measure was an abuse of discretion. The appellate court agreed. Although the court made brief reference to some case-specific reason, the record shows the court’s decision was based on standard policy over individualized concerns. As recently explained in Stevens, supra, 47 Cal.4th at p. 644, the court must exercise discretion based on a case by case basis and cannot defer to policy. But, this type of error is evaluated under the Watson standard used for state-law error. Under the facts, the error was not prejudicial. Appellant claimed he acted in self-defense, and the evidence supporting the defense was weak since he admitted he assaulted the victim out of anger and not fear of imminent harm.