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Name: People v. Westmoreland
Case #: A127394
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 5
Opinion Date: 02/05/2013
Subsequent History: Review granted, depublished, and transferred.

Defendant’s murder conviction reversed where his involuntary confession was obtained by police promises that he would not receive a life sentence for an unpremeditated murder during a “robbery gone wrong.” Defendant was convicted of first degree murder, robbery, and burglary after he stabbed a victim to death during a robbery. One of his challenges on appeal was the admission of his confession after police repeatedly told him he would not serve a life sentence if he did not premeditate the murder, but committed it during a “robbery gone wrong.” Held: Murder and robbery reversed. Appellant’s confession was involuntary in violation of the Fifth Amendment because it was induced by the detective’s false statement that appellant could avoid a life sentence if the murder committed during the robbery was not premeditated. This was false due to the felony murder rule. The error in admitting the confession was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

Admission of the autopsy report did not violate the confrontation clause. Appellant claimed the admission of an autopsy report and testimony of a pathologist who did not perform the autopsy violated his rights to due process and confrontation. The report and pathologist’s testimony which were admitted as basis evidence during expert testimony were introduced for their truth because they were treated as factual by the expert. This implicates confrontation rights if the statements are testimonial. However, neither the report nor the statements in it which were related by the pathologist were testimonial because the report was not prepared for the primary purpose of a criminal prosecution. Government Code section 27491 requires autopsies under certain circumstances. The primary purpose of autopsy reports is not criminal prosecution; they may be used for other purposes such as wrongful death actions and by insurance companies. Thus, the report, including the conclusions it contained, was not testimonial.