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Name: People v. Megown
Case #: D072019
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 09/24/2018

Trial court did not err in instructing jurors they could consider defendant’s prior acts of domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend as to crimes charged against the ex-girlfriend’s mother. Megown and Michelle were in a dating relationship for 16 years and had a child together. In July 2015, Megown became enraged after Michelle spent the day at Comic Con. He physically abused her, threatened to kill her, and put a gun to her head. She eventually called her mother, Maria, who came and tried to help. When Maria confronted Megown, he threatened to kill both women and pointed a gun at their heads. Both women escaped. Megown was convicted of numerous offenses, including criminal threats (Pen. Code, § 422), assault with a semiautomatic firearm (Pen. Code, § 245, subd. (b)), and felony domestic violence (Pen. Code, § 273.5). On appeal Megown argued, in part, that it was error to admit prior uncharged domestic violence acts with respect to the counts involving Maria. Holding: Affirmed. Evidence Code section 1109 allows the introduction of prior domestic violence acts “in a criminal action in which the defendant is accused of an offense involving domestic violence.” (Evid. Code, § 1109, subd. (a).) Section 1109 defines “domestic violence” by referencing Penal Code section 13700 and Family Code section 6211. The Court of Appeal reasoned that “[b]eing ‘accused of an offense involving domestic violence’ is broader than domestic violence which is defined as abuse committed against one of certain defined individuals.” Here, Megown pointed a gun at Maria’s head and threatened to kill her in front of Michelle, who “was reasonably apprehensive about imminent injury to Maria.” (See Pen. Code, § 13700, subd. (a).) “Because Megown’s crime against Maria took place in Michelle’s presence, they were crimes that involved domestic violence.” Nothing in section 1109 precluded introducing the prior acts of domestic violence as to the crimes against Maria.

Trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of uncharged domestic violence incidents that occurred more than ten years before the charged offenses where admission of the evidence was in the interest of justice. Megown argued that it was error to admit evidence of prior uncharged acts of abuse that occurred more than ten years before the charged incident. He specifically pointed to evidence of an incident that occurred in 1999 and evidence that the abuse started in 1999 and occurred ten times each year. The Court of Appeal disagreed. Evidence of acts of domestic violence “occurring more than ten years before the charged offense is inadmissible . . . unless the court determines that the admission of this evidence is in the interest of justice.” (Evid. Code, § 1109, subd. (e).) The statute anticipates some remote conduct may be relevant and provides the court with the discretion to determine what satisfies the “interest of justice” standard. Here, the evidence created a strong inference that Megtown had a propensity to commit the acts Michelle described, was relevant to Michelle’s fears and her lack of prior reporting to law enforcement, and was also less inflammatory than the charged offenses. The trial court acted within its discretion in admitting the remote evidence.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: