Appellant Barajas’s convictions for murder and related charges must be reversed because the only evidence connecting him to the crimes was uncorroborated accomplice testimony. Rodriguez and Barajas were convicted of first degree murder and other offenses based on evidence that they were involved in a gang-related, drive-by shooting of a bystander at a park. They were 15 and 16 years old, respectively, at the time of the offense. At trial, an accomplice testified that he was in the car with both defendants when Barajas fired multiple shots and shouted their gang name before speeding off. On appeal, Barajas argued that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions because the only evidence connecting him to the crimes was uncorroborated accomplice testimony. The Court of Appeal affirmed, and the Supreme Court granted Barajas’ petition for review. Held: Reversed. Penal Code section 1111 prohibits a conviction based upon the testimony of an accomplice unless it is corroborated by other evidence that tends to connect the defendant with the crime. (People v. Romero and Self (2015) 62 Cal.4th 1, 32.) No other evidence, including eyewitness testimony or physical evidence of the murder weapon and shell casings, tended to connect Barajas to the commission of the crime. The non-accomplice evidence did not tend to connect Barajas to the accomplice, his codefendant, or the victim. The court agreed with the People’s concession that the accomplice testimony was not sufficiently corroborated and that his convictions must be reversed. The court remanded Barajas’ case to the Court of Appeal to enter a judgment of acquittal on the charges against him.
Appellant Rodriguez’s case must be remanded to the trial court to allow appellant sufficient opportunity to make a thorough record of factors relevant to his eventual youth offender parole hearing. Rodriguez argued that he was not provided an adequate opportunity to make a record of information relevant to a future youth offender parole hearing and that he is entitled to a remand under People v. Franklin (2016) 63 Cal.4th 261. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment without remanding the matter to the trial court, concluding that the probation report and other statements and reports provided at the sentencing hearing would be available for the parole hearing and that there was sufficient opportunity for Rodriguez to memorialize information relevant to a future parole hearing. Although Rodriguez did not file a petition for review, the Supreme Court’s grant of review of Barajas’ petition gave it jurisdiction over the cause, including Rodriguez’s claim; however, the Supreme Court strongly cautioned against reliance on this procedure. The court agreed with Rodriguez that he was entitled to a remand. Senate Bill No. 260 created youth offender parole hearings and Rodriguez is eligible for such a hearing during his 25th year of incarceration. Because Rodriguez was sentenced before the passage of SB 620, he did not have reason to know that the subsequently enacted legislation would make certain information related to his youth relevant to a youth offender parole hearing. Without such notice, any opportunity to introduce evidence of youth-related factors was not adequate in light of the purpose of Penal Code section 3051. The Supreme Court ordered Rodriguez’s case remanded to the Court of Appeal with instructions to remand to the trial court to provide the parties with an opportunity to supplement the record with information relevant to Rodriguez’s youth offender parole hearing.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S239713.PDF