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Name: People v. Superior Court (Fernandez)
Case #: E078405
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 02/01/2023

Magistrate erred in dismissing torture-murder special circumstance where evidence showed a rational ground for concluding defendant had the intent to kill. Defendant was charged with the premeditated murder of his 13-week-old son (Pen. Code, § 187, subd. (a)), and with the special circumstance that the murder was intentional and involved infliction of torture (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(18))). The magistrate found sufficient evidence to hold defendant as to the murder charge but not as to the special circumstance, reasoning that the evidence did not establish how the victim died or whether defendant had the intent to kill at that point. The People filed an information that included the torture-murder special circumstance. At the section 995 hearing, the trial court believed the evidence showed defendant had an intent to kill and an intent to torture but struck the special circumstance, believing it was not allowed to substitute its judgment as to the weight of the evidence for the magistrate’s judgment. The People petitioned for writ of mandate. Held: Granted with directions to set aside the order granting the section 995 motion and to issue a new order denying the motion. The torture-murder special circumstance requires both an intent to kill and an intent to torture. It applies where the death involved the infliction of torture, regardless of whether the acts constituting the torture were the cause of death. Here, there was ample evidence to support the special circumstance. Defendant inflicted extreme, extensive, and repeated injuries on a baby. He had a motive to kill, did not proceed with urgency when he took the victim to the hospital, and falsified stories about how the victim was injured, indicating consciousness of guilt. Because there was a rational ground for inferring defendant had the intent to kill when he tortured the victim, dismissal of the special circumstance was erroneous as a matter of law. Since the magistrate did not make any factual findings requiring deference, the trial court should have conducted an independent review of the evidence. [Editor’s Note: Presiding Justice Ramirez dissented, observing that the magistrate determined there was an absence of “intent to kill,” and there was no basis to disregard this factual finding.]