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Name: People v. Reyes
Case #: A152557
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 05/17/2019
Summary

The trial court abused its discretion by excluding as unreliable a codefendant’s confession that the firearm in question belonged to him, requiring reversal of defendant’s conviction. Defendant was a passenger in his cousin Navarro’s car when a police officer pulled them over. A search revealed a Glock with an extended magazine inside a backpack at defendant’s feet. Before any charges were filed, Navarro told police the Glock was his. Defendant and Navarro were charged with receiving a large-capacity magazine, and defendant was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon. In a joint trial, Navarro was convicted but the court declared a mistrial as to defendant. On retrial, defendant sought to introduce Navarro’s confession under Evidence Code section 1230. The trial court determined the statement was against Navarro’s penal interest but excluded it as unreliable, reasoning Navarro may have been lying to protect defendant. Defendant was convicted and appealed. Held: Reversed. Under Evidence Code section 1230, an out of court statement is admissible if it is so against an individual’s interest “that a reasonable person would not have made the statement unless he or she believed it to be true.” Here, the trial court erred in concluding Navarro confessed to ensure that only one of them would get in trouble. While this is a plausible explanation for why Navarro would confess if he were guilty, it did not explain why Navarro would have confessed to a crime he did not commit to protect his cousin (defendant). Further, a few months earlier the prosecutor had relied on the same confession to convince a jury that the same firearm belonged to Navarro. Because the confession “was unquestionably against Navarro’s penal interest and was not untrustworthy,” it was an abuse of discretion for the trial court to exclude it. The error was prejudicial because at the previous trial where the jury heard Navarro’s confession, the jury could not reach a verdict as to defendant.

The trial court prejudicially erred in admitting prior uncharged conduct involving gun possession by defendant. In 2016, police found defendant alone with two semiautomatic handguns in his own car, resulting in his conviction for possession of those firearms. This evidence was admitted at trial to prove defendant’s knowledge and lack of mistake on the day of the traffic stop. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred in admitting the evidence. Evidence of prior conduct is admissible when relevant to demonstrate a fact other than character or propensity, “such as motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake or accident.” (Evid. Code, § 1101, subd. (b).) Here, the issue at trial was whether defendant knew the firearm and 50 round magazine were inside a backpack in Navarro’s car. However, nothing about defendant’s experience in 2016, where he was driving alone in his own car with two firearms, would lead defendant to know what was inside a backpack in his cousin’s car six months later. Therefore, the prior conduct evidence lacked probative value. The erroneous admission of this evidence, in combination with the erroneous exclusion of Navarro’s hearsay statement, was prejudicial.

The trial court did not err in admitting evidence of a Snapchat story found on defendant’s cell phone. The night before his arrest for possession of a Glock with a 50 round magazine attached, defendant viewed a picture posted by a “friend” on the social media application Snapchat. The picture was deleted by the poster, but the caption read “Glock 17 with a 50 attached.” Evidence that the Snapchat story had been viewed on defendant’s phone about an hour and a half after it was posted was admitted to prove defendant knew about the 50 round magazine found in Navarro’s car during the traffic stop the following day, and recognized the object as a 50 round magazine. The trial court acted within its discretion in finding this evidence relevant and admissible. Although the original photo included in the Snapchat story was no longer accessible, the caption “Glock 17 with a 50 attached” matched the unique weapon found in Navarro’s car, making it more likely defendant understood that item was a 50 round magazine. Further, there was no suggestion that someone else (rather than defendant) had viewed the Snapchat story on defendant’s phone, nor was the evidence of the type likely to inflame the jury.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/A152557.PDF