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Name: People v. Powers-Monachello
Case #: A124358
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 10/20/2010

California’s corpus delicti rule was not abrogated by the 1982 amendment to the California Constitution article I, section 28, subdivision (d), called the “Right to Truth in Evidence.” The rule still applies at the preliminary hearing stage of a prosecution. The People appealed a dismissal of conspiracy charges pursuant to Penal Code section 995. The co-defendant’s extrajudicial statements had been excluded at the preliminary hearing pursuant to the corpus delicti rule. The prosecution must prove the body of the crime, including the crime of conspiracy, without relying exclusively on the extrajudicial statements, whether they are pre-offense or post-offense. This is consistent with People v. Alvarez (2002) 27 Cal.4th 1162, which held that the corpus delicti instruction was not abrogated by section 28, subdivision (d). “If a defendant cannot be convicted in the absence of independent evidence establishing the corpus delicti, a magistrate cannot, in the absence of such independent evidence, hold him to answer . . . . The prosecution must first prove the corpus delicti of the charged offense without the use of extrajudicial statements.” The evidence of the conspiracy introduced at the preliminary hearing consisted of an officer’s observation of a driving pattern known as “counter-surveillance,” which is also used by those looking for a parking space, followed by the transfer of two small boxes and speculation that drugs were contained therein. The officer’s “expert opinion” could not support a finding of the corpus delicti unless the opinion is supported by independent evidence. The officer’s conclusions were inadequate because it was based in part on the co-defendant’s statements and thus was not supported by competent evidence. Each of the conspiracy allegations depended on the officer’s conclusions based on the co-defendant’s statements, as distinguished from the valid use of circumstantial evidence and/or inferences which are permissible types of independent evidence to support corpus delicti.