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Name: People v. Soper
Case #: S152667
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 02/19/2009

In a case with properly joined offenses, the burden is on the party seeking severance to clearly establish there is a substantial danger of prejudice requiring charges be separately tried, and consideration must be given to the benefit to the state resulting from joinder; namely, conservation of judicial resources and public funds. Under Penal Code section 954, offenses may be joined for trial if they are connected together in their commission; they are different statements of the same offense; or they are of the same class of crimes. Where charges have been properly joined under section 954, as opposed to the situation where the People seek admission of facts of an uncharged offense, the burden is on defendant seeking severance to establish prejudice. In determining whether the trial court has abused its discretion in denying severance, the reviewing court looks to the record before the court when it made its ruling and first determines cross-admissibility of evidence in hypothetical separate trials. If the evidence is cross-admissible, any suggestion of prejudice is normally dispelled. If the evidence is not cross-admissible, that determination, alone, does not necessarily result in a finding of abuse. The court then balances whether the benefits of joinder substantially outweigh the possible spill-over effect of other-crimes evidence on the jury. Great weight is given to the conservation of judicial resources and public funds that result from joinder. In this case, appellant was charged with two homicides occurring within four months of each other, and two to three miles apart. Death was a result of blunt force trauma, possibly caused by a single blow. Forensic evidence tied appellant to both crime scenes and witnesses placed him at the scenes close to the time of death. The Supreme Court ruled that the Court of Appeal, in finding the trial court erred in denying severance, initially failed to consider the “substantial” advantages to the state resulting from joinder and ordered the Court of Appeal judgment was reversed. The Court also found no constitutional violation of right to a fair trial or due process.