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Name: People v. Maldonado
Case #: A161817
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 01/30/2023

Trial court erred in summarily denying Penal Code section 1172.6 resentencing petition where the instructions given permitted conviction based on an impermissible theory of imputed malice. Defendant was convicted of first degree murder in 2013 and later filed a section 1172.6 resentencing petition. Although the jury in his trial was not instructed on the natural and probable consequences and felony murder doctrines, he argued the jury nonetheless could have imputed malice to him based solely on his participation in a crime. The trial court summarily denied the petition. Held: Reversed and remanded. After analyzing the jury instructions for aiding and abetting, implied malice, and lying-in-wait murder, the Court of Appeal concluded that “the jury could have construed the instructions such that, ‘to be guilty as an aider and abettor of [lying in wait first degree] murder, appellant need only have intended to encourage the perpetrator’s intentional act—in this case, [a surprise attack on the victim]—whether or not appellant intended to aid or encourage [the victim’s] killing, and whether or not he personally knew of and disregarded the risk of such a killing.’” (Quoting People v. Langi (2022) 73 Cal.App.5th 972, 983.) As a result, the jury instructions permitted conviction based on an impermissible theory of imputed malice. Given the ambiguous jury instructions and the prosecutor’s closing argument, the court could not say the record conclusively establishes appellant is ineligible for relief. [Editor’s Note: The court did not decide whether or to what extent the reasonable likelihood standard applies to ambiguous jury instructions for purposes of determining whether a section 1172.6 prima facie showing has been made. At least two published cases have applied it in making the section 1172.6 prima facie determination. (People v. Williams (2022) 86 Cal.App.5th 1244, 1256; People v. Ervin (2021) 72 Cal.App.5th 90, 107.)]