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Name: People v. Stringer
Case #: D073877
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 11/07/2019
Summary

Jury instruction for aggravated kidnapping prejudicially allowed conviction under the legally invalid theory that defendant kidnapped to exact money or something valuable from the kidnap victim. A jury convicted Stringer of aggravated kidnapping (Pen. Code, § 209, subd. (a)) and other offenses. On appeal, Stringer argued the jury instructions given as to aggravated kidnapping permitted the jury to find him guilty of the offenses on a legally invalid basis. Held: Aggravated kidnapping convictions reversed. Section 209, subdivision (a) describes four types of aggravated kidnapping: (1) for ransom; (2) for reward; (3) to commit extortion; and (4) to exact from another person any money or valuables. For the first three types, the kidnap victim may be the same person as the person who is being extorted or from whom the ransom or reward is sought. For the fourth type, however, there must be both a primary victim (the kidnap victim) and a secondary victim (a different person) from whom the kidnapper seeks to exact money or valuables. Here, the trial court gave a modified version of CALCRIM No. 1202, which presented two theories of culpability (the third and fourth types). However, as to the theory that the defendant perpetrated the kidnapping to exact money or property, the modified instruction omitted the requirement that the money or property be from another person. This allowed the jury to convict Stringer of aggravated kidnapping if he kidnapped to exact money or property from the kidnap victim. As the record failed to dispel the possibility that he was convicted of the fourth type of aggravated kidnapping on an invalid legal theory, reversal was required.

Because a mistake of fact as to the victim’s age would not have negated defendant’s criminal intent, he was not entitled to a mistake of fact defense to the charge of child endangerment. In deliberating on whether Stringer committed child endangerment (Pen. Code, § 273a, subd. (a)), the jury asked the trial court whether it was necessary to find that Stringer knew that his victim was under the age of 18. The trial court responded that there is no requirement that the defendant knew or reasonably should have known that the victim was under the age of 18. On appeal, Stringer argued that defendants charged with child endangerment should be able to raise a defense of mistake of fact as to the victim’s age under People v. Hernandez (1964) 61 Cal.2d 529. The Court of Appeal disagreed. Whether a defense of mistake of fact as to the victim’s age under Hernandez is available to a defendant turns on whether the defendant’s mistaken belief, if true, would have precluded a finding of criminal intent. Where a defendant’s ignorance of the victim’s age would not disprove criminal intent and the defendant would still be guilty of a criminal act notwithstanding ignorance of the victim’s age, no defense of mistake of fact as to the victim’s age is available. Here, Stringer still would have committed criminal offenses had the victim been 18 years of age or older, and the jury convicted Stringer of several other offenses based on the conduct that gave rise to the child endangerment charge. Therefore, a mistake of fact defense as to the victim’s age was not available for Stringer.

Trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant’s untimely Faretta motion, which was made on the day trial was scheduled to begin. On the day trial was scheduled to begin, Stringer informed the court that he desired to represent himself due to irreconcilable differences between him and his trial counsel regarding trial strategies. The trial court denied Stringer’s request and Stringer argued on appeal that the trial court erred in doing so. The Court of Appeal disagreed. On numerous occasions, the Supreme Court has held that Faretta motions made on the eve of trial are untimely. Moreover, here, the trial was scheduled to accommodate the limited availability of one of the victims, the case involved complex issues including the effects of methamphetamine on Stringer’s ability to form criminal intent, and Stringer failed to raise the motion at any of the many pretrial proceedings he attended. For these reasons, the court’s denial of his motion as untimely was not error. Additionally, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the request under the standards set forth in People v. Windham (1977) 19 Cal.3d 121. The trial court found that Stringer’s counsel provided very good representation. Stringer had a tendency to interrupt court proceedings, had already filed a motion for substitute counsel (which was denied), and had already obtained a continuance of trial over the prosecution’s objection. He conceded that he was not prepared to proceed to trial in propria persona and could not estimate when he would be prepared. The trial court also found that the disruption and delay could prejudice the prosecution’s case.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/D073877.PDF