Monday, July 22, 2013

P. v. Cottone, S194107

Jury system: minor, criminal law, evidence: in California: sexual offense: proof that defendant has propensity to engage in such conduct; children under 14:
Under Evidence Code section 1108, in the trial of sexual offense charges, evidence the defendant committed another sexual offense may be admissible to prove that the defendant has a propensity to engage in such conduct; Penal Code section 26(One) creates a rebuttable presumption that a child under 14 is incapable of committing a crime.  We have not previously considered whether this legal presumption and attendant burden of proof come into play at a later criminal trial where the prosecution offers evidence under 1108 of an unadjudicated sexual offense committed when the defendant was under 14; we have long held that a finding of capacity is a prerequisite to an adjudication of wardship for a minor under 14.  (In re Gladys R. (1970) 1 Cal.3d 855, 867.)  The prosecution may rebut Penal Code section 26(One)’s presumption of incapacity by producing “ ‘clear proof’ ” that the minor appreciated the wrongfulness of the conduct when it was committed, “as demonstrated by the child’s age, experience, conduct, and knowledge . . . .”  (In re Manuel L. (1994) 7 Cal.4th 229, 232 (Manuel L.).)  “Clear proof” in this context means clear and convincing evidence.  (Ibid.)  While knowledge of wrongfulness may not be inferred from the act alone, “ ‘the attendant circumstances of the crime, such as its preparation, the particular method of its commission, and its concealment’ may be considered. Moreover, a minor’s ‘age is a basic and important consideration, and, as recognized by the common law, it is only reasonable to expect that generally the older a child gets and the closer he approaches the age of 14, the more likely it is that he appreciates the wrongfulness of his acts.’ ”  (People v. Lewis (2001) 26 Cal.4th 334, 378 (Lewis).) Although Penal Code section 26(One) requires the prosecution to prove that a minor under 14 understood the wrongfulness of his conduct, capacity is not an “element” of the underlying offense that must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.  (Manuel L., supra, 7 Cal.4th at p. 238.)  Rather, the presumption of incapacity operates to exempt the minor from legal responsibility.  (People v. Roberts (1972) 26 Cal.App.3d 385, 388; see also 1 Witkin & Epstein, Cal. Criminal Law (4th ed. 2012) Defenses, § 4, pp. 428, 430.)  In this respect, capacity is similar to the issue of sanity, which is not a fact material to guilt but is a “ ‘prerequisite to a valid judgment and sentence.’ ”  (Manuel L., at pp. 238-239.)  Accordingly, the prosecution need not rebut the presumption of incapacity beyond a reasonable doubt.  Instead, it must satisfy the distinct standard of proof by clear and convincing evidence.  (Id. at pp. 236, 238.) 
Here, however, the issue of capacity did not arise as a prerequisite to a valid judgment.  Instead it was a foundational question to the admissibility of evidence proffered under section 1108.  That section permits evidence that the defendant committed other sexual offenses to prove his propensity to commit the charged sexual offenses.  (§ 1108, subd. (a); People v. Reliford (2003) 29 Cal.4th 1007, 1012-1013 (Reliford); People v. Falsetta (1999) 21 Cal.4th 903, 915, 917-920 (Falsetta).)  The provision specifically defines “ ‘sexual offense’ ” as “a crime under the law of a state or of the United States” (§ 1108, subd. (d)(1), italics added), that involves certain listed offenses or types of conduct, including a lewd or lascivious act on a child (§ 1108, subd. (d)(1)(A); Pen. Code, § 288).
Considering these statutes together, we hold that the presumption of incapacity set forth in Penal Code section 26(One) applies when the prosecution seeks to prove that the defendant committed an unadjudicated sexual offense before reaching age 14.  The presumption must be overcome before the evidence may be admitted.  This conclusion is dictated by the statutory language.  Section 1108 authorizes admission of such evidence only if the conduct amounts to a “crime.”  (§ 1108, subd. (d)(1).)  As the Court of Appeal reasoned, “for prior sexual offense evidence to be admitted the offense must be a crime, and to be a crime, a child under 14 years of age must appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct.”; despite their agreement that Penal Code section 26(One)’s presumption of incapacity applies to the evidence proffered here, the parties disagree about whether the trial court or the jury should ultimately resolve that question; we conclude that the trial court evaluates whether a defendant had the capacity to understand the wrongfulness of his or her conduct, under Penal Code section 26(One), as a threshold question to admitting an unadjudicated sexual offense.  Section 1108 addresses the admissibility or inadmissibility of this evidence.  (See People v. Villatoro (2012) 54 Cal.4th 1152, 1161 [discussing §§ 1101 & 1108]; Villatoro, at pp. 1169, 1172 (conc. & dis. opn. of Corrigan, J.); id. at p. 1182 (conc. & dis. opn. of Liu, J.).)  The language of section 1108 itself demands that, before the conduct may be admitted, it must amount to a “crime.”  This is a legal question essential for admissibility.  “All questions of law (including but not limited to questions concerning the construction of statutes and other writings, the admissibility of evidence, and other rules of evidence) are to be decided by the court.”  (§ 310, subd. (a).); (…) trial court must determine whether a prior conviction qualifies as a serious felony for purposes of the “Three Strikes Law”.
The legal question of admissibility, in turn, involves a factual component.  To establish “criminal” conduct, the prosecution must show that a minor under 14 knew his or her conduct was wrong at the time it was committed.  (Pen. Code, § 26(One).)  “The factual nature of the issue, however, does not determine whether the issue must or should be submitted to a jury.”  (People v. Betts (2005) 34 Cal.4th 1039, 1048.)  On the contrary, the trial court must resolve all questions of fact preliminary to the admission of evidence.  (§ 310, subd. (a).) 
Under section 403, then, the trial court performs a threshold screening function to shield the jury from evidence that is so factually weak as to undermine its relevance.  (Lucas, at p. 466.)        
The procedures outlined in section 405 reflect the general policy that it is for the trial court to decide questions of law, “ ‘including the admissibility of testimony, and the facts preliminary to such admission . . . .’ ”  (Assem. Com. com. at p. 41, quoting former Code of Civ. Proc., § 2102, superseded by § 310.)  The rule protects the defendant by ensuring that the trial court reviews the legal basis for admissibility before evidence is submitted to the jury.  (Assem. Com. com. at p. 44.) 
In light of this statutory scheme, we hold that whether a defendant understood the wrongfulness of an unadjudicated sexual offense allegedly committed before age 14 is an evidentiary question for the court to determine under section 405.
The general public policy on character or propensity evidence is that it is not admissible to prove conduct on a given occasion.  (§ 1101, subd. (a); see also Falsetta, supra, 21 Cal.4th at p. 913.)  Section 1108 creates a narrow exception to this rule based on the recognition that “ ‘the propensity to commit sexual offenses is not a common attribute among the general public.’ ”  (People v. Johnson (2010) 185 Cal.App.4th 520, 532, fn. 9, quoting Sen. Rules Com., Off. of Sen. Floor Analyses, 3d reading analysis of Assem. Bill No. 882 (1995-1996 Reg. Sess.) as amended July 18, 1995, p. 8.) 
At the same time, the Legislature placed a significant restriction on the scope of section 1108 by limiting admissibility to certain enumerated sexual offenses amounting to crimes.  A bill analysis before the Assembly Committee on Public Safety observed that “this legislation would not generally authorize the admission of evidence of other ‘bad acts’ by the defendant, but only evidence of criminal sexual offenses of the same type as those with which he is formally charged.”  (Assem. Com. on Public Safety, Analysis of Assem. Bill No. 882 (1995-1996 Reg. Sess.) as amended May 4, 1995, p. 2.) 
It reflects a policy choice striking a balance between the general ban on character evidence to prove conduct, and an exception permitted in strictly limited circumstances.
Our application of section 405 in this context does not mean the jury cannot consider the defendant’s age and mental state at the time of his juvenile conduct.  Section 405, subdivision (b) anticipates that, in some instances, a preliminary fact decided by the trial court will also bear on a fact at issue in the action.  (See Assem. Com. com., reprinted at West’s Ann. Evid. Code, supra, foll. § 405, p. 42.)  Accordingly, we must examine the jury’s role in assessing 1108 evidence. 
While a sexual offense must qualify as a crime to be admissible under section 1108, the defendant does not stand trial on that uncharged conduct and cannot be convicted of it.  Such evidence is admitted only as circumstantial evidence supporting an inference that the defendant committed the charged offense, by demonstrating the defendant’s propensity and bolstering the victim’s credibility.  (Reliford, supra, 29 Cal.4th at pp. 1012-1014; Falsetta, supra, 21 Cal.4th at pp. 911, 915.)  “A jury may not convict the defendant based solely on evidence of a prior sexual crime.”  (People v. Loy (2011) 52 Cal.4th 46, 72, italics added.) 
As with evidence admitted under section 1101, the jury must determine whether the defendant committed the act in question.  Only if the jury so concludes by a preponderance of the evidence can it consider such evidence in deciding whether the defendant is guilty of the charged crimes.  (Estelle v. McGuire (1991) 502 U.S. 62, 73-74; People v. Ewoldt (1994) 7 Cal.4th 380, 405.)  It must also consider the defense response to the evidence.  “When evidence of other crimes or acts has been admitted for some purpose an accused should be allowed to explain or deny the transactions.”  (People v. Zerillo (1950) 36 Cal.2d 222, 230.)  For example, the defendant may introduce evidence of a previous acquittal of criminal charges relating to acts admitted under section 1101 or 1108.  (People v. Griffin (1967) 66 Cal.2d 459, 465; People v. Mullens (2004) 119 Cal.App.4th 648, 665-667, 669.)  The defendant also may challenge the inference the prosecution urges should be drawn from the conduct by calling into question his state of mind or motive (Simon, supra, 184 Cal.App.3d at pp. 130-131) or by introducing competing evidence of good character (People v. Callahan (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 356, 375-379).  Finally, the jury must decide whether that act demonstrates the defendant’s propensity to commit the charged sexual offenses.  If not, the jury may accord the evidence no weight.  (Reliford, supra, 29 Cal.4th at p. 1014; Falsetta, supra, 21 Cal.4th at p. 920.)     
None of these questions requires the jury to reassess the trial court’s determination that the prosecution established the legal foundation required to support admissibility by rebutting Penal Code section 26(One)’s presumption of incapacity.  Rather, in enacting section 1108, the Legislature simply contemplated that the jury would make a “ ‘ “rational assessment . . . of evidence so admitted.” ’ ”  (Falsetta, supra, 21 Cal.4th at p. 912, quoting Letter by Assemblyman Rogan regarding Assem. Bill No. 882 (1995-1996 Reg. Sess.) published in 2 Assem. J. (1995-1996 Reg. Sess.) p. 3278, reprinted at 29B pt. 3B West’s Ann. Evid. Code (2009 ed.) foll. § 1108, p. 352.) 
In this regard the respective roles of judge and jury are similar to those at play when a defendant’s confession is offered against him.  The defendant may seek to bar its admission arguing that the statement was obtained in violation of Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436, and its progeny.  (See § 402, subd. (b).)  If the Miranda requirements were violated, “public policy and binding precedent require its exclusion.”  (Assem. Com. com., reprinted at West’s Ann. Evid. Code, supra, foll. § 405, p. 41.)  In ruling on such a motion, the trial court determines whether, as a matter of law, the statement is barred by Fifth Amendment jurisprudence.  If the statement is admitted, the jury is not then instructed on the nuanced legal principles related to interrogation and waiver.  This is because the jury is not permitted to revisit the court’s legal determination of admissibility.  (People v. Burton (1971) 6 Cal.3d 375, 389-390, disapproved on another ground in People v. Lessie (2010) 47 Cal.4th 1152, 1168; see also § 405, subd. (b)(2).)  As we observed in People v. Thornton, supra, 11 Cal.3d 738, “section 405 of the Evidence Code clearly indicates that the court’s decision on the issue of admissibility of confessions is final and not subject to a ‘second look’ by the jury . . . .”  (Id. at p. 767, fn. omitted.)   
The defense is free, however, to “present evidence of the circumstance under which a confession . . . was made where such evidence is relevant to the credibility of the statement, even though such evidence may duplicate to some degree the evidence presented to the court on the issue of admissibility.”  (Assem. Com. com., reprinted at West’s Ann. Evid. Code, supra, foll. § 405, p. 44.)  Based on such evidence, the defense may argue that the defendant did not make the statement or that the evidence carries no weight because the defendant was confused, fatigued, or tricked, thus depriving the statement of any probative value.  “But the jury’s sole concern is the truth or falsity of the facts stated, not the admissibility of the statement.”  (Ibid.;  accord, People v. Jimenez (1978) 21 Cal.3d 595, 607, disapproved on another ground in People v. Cahill (1993) 5 Cal.4th 478, 510, fn. 17; Jackson v. Denno (1964) 378 U.S. 368, 386, fn. 13.) (Cal.S.C., 22.07.2013, P. v. Cottone, S194107).

Système du jury en général et dans le cas particulier de la présente espèce. Selon le code des moyens de preuve, section 1108, dans un procès pénal portant sur des infractions d'ordre sexuel, la preuve que le prévenu a commis auparavant d'autres infractions de nature sexuelle peut être admissible pour établir que le prévenu souffre d'une propension à la commission de tels délits.
La section 26(1) du Code pénal crée une présomption réfragable qu'un enfant de moins de 14 ans est incapable de commettre un crime. A ce jour, la Cour n'a pas jugé si cette présomption légale s'appliquait lors d'un procès pénal ultérieur au cours duquel l'accusation offre la preuve selon section 1108 d'un acte répréhensible de nature sexuelle resté sans jugement et commis alors que le prévenu était âgé de moins de 14 ans.
La Cour considère depuis longtemps qu'une constatation de capacité est un prérequis à l'adjudication d'un gardien en faveur d'un mineur de moins de 14 ans.
L'accusation peut détruire la présomption d'incapacité précitée en produisant une "preuve claire" que le mineur a apprécié le caractère incorrect de sa conduite lors de la commission, à la lumière des critères de l'âge de l'enfant, de son expérience, de sa conduite et de ses connaissances. La "preuve claire" dans ce contexte équivaut au standard de preuve "clear and convincing". La capacité n'est pas un élément de l'infraction sous jacente qui devrait être prouvée "au-delà d'un doute raisonnable". Ainsi, la notion de capacité s'apparente à celle de capacité de discernement, qui n'est pas un fait matériel de culpabilité mais qui constitue un pré réquisit à un jugement et à une peine valides.
Dans la présente espèce, cependant, la question de la capacité ne se pose pas en tant que précondition à un jugement valide. En effet, cette question est préliminaire à l'admissibilité d'une preuve soumise sous l'angle de la section 1108. Cette section permet d'introduire comme moyen de preuve le fait que le prévenu a commis dans le passé d'autres infractions de nature sexuelle dénotant sa propension à commettre l'infraction de nature sexuelle en procès. La section 1108 définit spécifiquement l'infraction de nature sexuelle comme un crime selon le droit d'un état ou selon le droit fédéral.
Ainsi, la présomption d'incapacité prévue à la section 26(1) du Code pénal s'applique lorsque l'accusation cherche à prouver que le prévenu a commis avant d'atteindre l'âge de 14 ans une infraction de nature sexuelle restée sans jugement. La présomption doit être renversée avant que la preuve ne puisse être admise. Cette conclusion est dictée par le texte de la loi : la section 1108 autorise l'admission de cette preuve à la condition que la conduite réprouvée puisse être qualifiée de crime. On peut donc poser la formulation suivante : pour qu'une infraction de nature sexuelle antérieure puisse être admise comme preuve, l'infraction doit être qualifiée de crime, et pour obtenir la qualification de crime, l'enfant de moins de 14 ans doit pouvoir apprécier le caractère incorrect de sa conduite.
C'est au Tribunal lui-même, et non au jury, de déterminer si l'accusation a renversé la présomption d'incapacité. En effet, déterminer si un acte s'analyse en un crime est une question de droit. Et toutes les questions de droit (par exemple les questions d'interprétation d'une loi au sens formel et d'autres écrits, les questions d'admissibilité des preuves, et les autres règles de preuves) sont décidées par la Cour et non par le jury. La Cour doit par conséquent aussi résoudre toutes les questions de fait préalables à l'admission d'une preuve.
Il appartient aussi à la Cour de procéder à une évaluation pour ne pas soumettre au jury une preuve qui serait en fait si faible qu'elle en deviendrait irrelevante.
De manière générale, les preuves portant sur le caractère ou sur la notion de propension ne sont pas admissibles pour prouver une conduite à une occasion donnée (cf. section 1101). La section 1108 crée une exception étroite à cette règle, reconnaissant que la propension à commettre des infractions de nature sexuelle n’est pas une attribution commune parmi le public en général. Par ailleurs, le législateur a restreint de manière significative l’étendue de la section 1108, en limitant l’admissibilité à certaines infractions de nature sexuelle s’analysant en un crime. Cette législation n’autorise ainsi pas l’admission de preuves relatives à d’autres mauvaises actions (bad acts) commises par le prévenu. Le moyen de preuve précité, quand admissible, équivaut à un moyen de preuve circonstanciel (circumstantial evidence). Un jury ne peut par conséquent pas condamner le prévenu sur la seule base de la preuve d’un crime sexuel antérieur.
Comme pour les preuves admises par la section 1101, le jury doit déterminer si le prévenu a commis l’acte en question. C’est seulement si le jury conclut par l’affirmative par une prépondérance des preuves qu’il peut considérer un acte antérieur pour finalement décider si le prévenu est ou non coupable de l’infraction retenue. Le jury doit aussi considérer la prise de position de la défense s’agissant dudit moyen de preuve antérieur. Le prévenu peut notamment alléguer son état mental, ses motifs, et son bon caractère. Le jury procède ainsi à une détermination rationnelle du moyen de preuve déclaré admissible par la Cour.

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