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Name: People v. Muhammad (2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 511
Case #: B322899
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 6
Opinion Date: 02/22/2023

Permitting the jury to continue deliberations after a month-long break due to the COVID pandemic was not coercive and did not deprive defendant of due process of law. Defense counsel conceded Muhammad killed four people during a 2017 shooting spree, but argued he did so while suffering paranoid hallucinations. Muhammad’s trial began in February of 2020, and closing arguments took place on March 19. Statewide COVID court closures, however, required the trial court to halt deliberations after just one day. Deliberations were suspended for a month. When deliberations resumed on April 20, the jury requested read-backs of testimony and asked questions about the verdict forms. The jury reached verdicts later that day and they convicted Muhammad on multiple counts. He appealed, contending that the trial court deprived him of due process by continuing deliberations. Held: Affirmed. Muhammad argued that the trial court compounded the jurors’ anxiety about the pandemic and also treated April 30 as a hard deadline to reach a verdict, which was “intense pressure” amounting to coercion. In support of this argument, he cited cases involving Allen charges (Allen v. United States (1896) 164 U.S. 492). The Court of Appeal was not persuaded. In Allen cases, a trial court instructs a deadlocked jury to work toward unanimity and urges the minority to consider the majority’s views. Here, the jury was not deadlocked. There was no “hard deadline” of April 30, and the verdicts were reached 10 days before that. There was no due process violation.

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