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Name: People v. Younger
Case #: A083235
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 11/27/2000
Subsequent History: None

The victim in this case was found dead in her bathtub, strangled by a noose tied to the showerhead. Although her boyfriend, Younger, was charged with her murder, there was no evidence of a struggle, and there was a pathologist report which concluded that the evidence supported a finding of suicide. Evidence of prior domestic abuse inflicted by Younger was admitted, and the jury was instructed, over an objection by the defense, pursuant to CALJIC 2.50.02, that if it found Younger to have committed the prior domestic violence offenses, it could infer that he was disposed toward domestic violence and likely to have committed the charged offense. The Court of Appeal here reversed the murder conviction, concluding that there was reasonable doubt whether the jury’s verdict rested on an improper inference of guilt from propensity. The jury instruction was not only inadequate on general grounds, it also lacked an essential element – a caution to the jury not to consider the prior offense evidence sufficient for a finding of guilt. Considering the instructions as a whole, the jury could have been led to believe that the prior offense evidence was sufficient to support an inference of guilt. In a close case such as this, the instruction posed a significant danger that the jury would decide guilt regardless of the weakness of the evidence. The error was exacerbated by the prosecution’s use of the instruction in her closing arguments. If the jury concluded it did not need to decide how Younger murdered the victim because the ultimate question was resolved by the prior offense evidence, Younger was improperly convicted.