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Name: People v. Leon
Case #: B211679
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 6
Opinion Date: 01/29/2010

A single gunshot fired into a vehicle with three occupants is insufficient to establish intent to kill all the occupants under a “kill zone” theory. Appellant was convicted of first degree murder and two counts of attempted first degree murder, as well as accompanying firearm and gang enhancements, and sentenced to consecutive terms totaling 145 years to life. Evidence presented at trial depicted appellant as a gang member, with the victims being members of a rival gang. While traveling in a vehicle in his gang’s territory, appellant came upon a vehicle occupied by the victims and fired a single shot into the car, killing the passenger sitting behind the driver. To support an attempted murder conviction, there must be evidence showing intent to kill the attempted murder victim. Here, the act of firing a single bullet into a vehicle in the direction of both front seat and back seat occupants can support a finding of murder and attempted murder. Any reasonable person would know that a bullet fired into the taillight of a vehicle would travel in the direction the gun was pointed and, by the evidence introduced, it was reasonable to infer that appellant saw the murder victim and the attempted murder victim both sitting in the direction the bullet would travel. However, there was insufficient evidence to support the attempted murder conviction of the passenger next to the driver, as the passenger was out of the line of fire and was not in the “kill zone.” To sustain a conviction of first degree murder, there must be evidence that the action was carefully considered and thought over in advance. Here, appellant had a motive to kill the victims. They belonged to rival gangs. Appellant had fought with the murder victim. And appellant would gain maximum gang prestige by committing the homicide.
The background of a defendant’s gang moniker may be admissible as being relevant as to intent and motive. The prosecution introduced evidence that appellant’s moniker was “Chucky,” as derived from the Chucky of the horror-slash film. The appellate court found this evidence relevant as it advertised appellant’s intent to model himself after the killer doll and thereby gain respect from his gang, as had been explained by the gang expert. It was not inadmissible under Evidence Code section 352 because it was unlikely that the jury would use the evidence of the moniker to punish appellant because of an emotional reaction to it.
The trial court has discretion to impose consecutive sentences where a single act results in crimes against multiple victims. Appellant’s consecutive sentences for the murder and attempted murder convictions did not evidence an abuse of discretion because there were two victims involved. (People v. Valenzuela (1995) 40 Cal.App.4th 358 [consecutive sentences authorized where the two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter were based on the one act of driving while intoxicated].)