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Name: People v. Madrigal (2023) 93 Cal.App.5th 219
Case #: H046577
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 6 DCA
Opinion Date: 07/06/2023

Retroactive application of Senate Bill No. 1437 entitled defendant to reversal of first degree murder conviction, where the jury was not instructed on the new elements of felony-murder. Madrigal was among a group of four or five men who got out of a van and attacked and robbed a man on a sidewalk. One of the attackers stabbed the victim, who died soon after. The court instructed the jury on three theories of first degree murder, including felony murder in the commission of a robbery. The prosecutor conceded in closing there was no reliable evidence of who stabbed the victim. The jury found Madrigal guilty of first degree murder and robbery. Madrigal appealed, arguing his first degree murder conviction must be vacated based on the retroactive application of SB 1437. Held: Reversed. SB 1437 added elements to the definition of felony murder. (See Pen. Code, § 189(e).) The parties agreed that instructing the jury without the newly added elements constituted instructional error, but disagreed on whether the error required reversal. The Court of Appeal concluded, under Chapman v. California (1967) 386 U.S. 18, 24, and In re Lopez (2023) 14 Cal.5th 562, the state could not show beyond a reasonable doubt that the error was harmless. Here, Madrigal contested his state of mind with evidence and arguments that squarely contradicted the findings a jury would have to make under Banks/Clark to convict him as a major participant who acted with reckless indifference to life. Given the totality of the evidence, a rational juror could have a reasonable doubt whether Madrigal was subjectively aware of a grave risk of death when he participated in the attack. The court reversed the first degree murder conviction.

The trial court erred by refusing to review or release the van driver’s jailhouse phone calls to the defense after a showing of good cause. Before trial, Madrigal subpoenaed the county jail for jailhouse phone calls of Pacheco, a prior codefendant who pleaded and was a witness for the prosecution. After looking at the produced disc containing the recorded calls, but without listening to the calls, the court refused to release them to the defense, finding that the calls were too voluminous to review and defense counsel’s showing of good cause was insufficiently specific. To demonstrate good cause, a defendant has the burden to show a “plausible justification” for inspection. Here, Pacheco was one of the main witnesses for the prosecution and had changed her statements over the course of multiple interviews. The defense had presented information that Pacheco had spoken to another defendant over the phone while in custody. The fact that a request for records yields a large volume of them does not by itself show the request was overbroad. Additionally, the trial court’s inability to easily review the documents did not justify its refusal to release them. No circumstances here required in camera review. Considering Pacheco’s testimony against Madrigal, the court could not conclude the error was harmless. Since it was impossible to assess the prejudice, the proper remedy was to conditionally reverse the robbery conviction and remand.