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Name: People v. Huynh
Case #: D076559
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 06/22/2021

The admission of evidence characterizing defendant’s social drinking club as a criminal street gang deprived defendant of due process of law and requires reversal of his murder conviction. Defendant was charged with murder with an enhancement for personally discharging a firearm causing death. According to witnesses, defendant’s cousins got into a fight at a pool hall with the victim and his friends, who were known gang members. Several days after the fight, defendant shot and killed the victim. At defendant’s second trial (after his first trial resulted in reversal on appeal) the trial court allowed evidence of defendant’s association with a social drinking club, which the prosecution suggested was a criminal street gang. Additionally, a hypothetical posed to the prosecution’s gang expert aligned defendant’s behavior with that of a criminal street gang member, despite the fact that the expert unambiguously testified that defendant was not a gang member and his drinking club was not a criminal street gang. The jury convicted defendant, and he appealed. Held: Reversed. Gang evidence is inadmissible if introduced only to show a defendant’s criminal disposition or bad character as a means of creating an inference the defendant committed the charged offense. Here, there was no evidence that the defendant’s drinking club was a criminal street gang nor was there any evidence that committing crimes was one of its primary activities. The prosecutor, without foundation, continually attributed the culture and habits of members of a criminal street gang to defendant. Without the fundamental link of the drinking club being a criminal street gang, evidence of defendant’s membership was not relevant to his motive or intent. Instead, the evidence was inflammatory by implying to the jury that defendant had a disposition for using overwhelming violence in retaliation for disrespect. Further, the hypothetical did not track the evidence adduced at trial, which showed no connection between defendant and a criminal street gang. The admission of gang evidence was so inflammatory as to violate federal due process, warranting reversal.