In re Corpus

Decision Date21 May 2020
Docket NumberS248125
Citation262 Cal.Rptr.3d 602,463 P.3d 802,9 Cal.5th 455
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties IN RE Christopher Lee WHITE on Habeas Corpus.

Boyce & Schaefer, Laura Schaefer, Robert E. Boyce and Benjamin Kington, San Diego, for Petitioner Christopher Lee White.

Rita Himes for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner Christopher Lee White.

Sanger Swysen & Dunkle, Robert M. Sanger and Stephen K. Dunkle, Santa Barbara, for California Attorneys for Criminal Justice as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner Christopher Lee White.

Kathleen Guneratne, Micaela Davis, Peter Eliasberg, Los Angeles, and David Loy, San Francisco, for American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California, Inc., American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California, Inc., and American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties, Inc., as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner Christopher Lee White.

Summer Stephan, District Attorney, Jesus Rodriguez, Assistant District Attorney, Peter Quon, Jr., Mark A. Amador, Linh Lam, Lilia E. Garcia and Daniel Owens, Deputy District Attorneys, for Respondent the People.

Opinion of the Court by Cuéllar, J.

Under California's current system of pretrial detention, a felony arrestee's release pending trial is often conditioned on whether the arrestee posts money bail. To do so, an arrestee pays or secures a bond for a certain amount of money, as determined by the court, which may be forfeited if the arrestee later fails to appear. But an arrestee's "absolute right to bail" guaranteed by article I, section 12 of the California Constitution ( In re Law (1973) 10 Cal.3d 21, 25, 109 Cal.Rptr. 573, 513 P.2d 621 ) can be overcome by two exceptions the voters approved in the early 1980s and 1990s. Decades later and well into a new century, we review for the first time a trial court's denial of bail under one of these exceptions.

Petitioner Christopher Lee White was arrested on suspicion that he was involved in the attempted kidnapping and assault with intent to commit rape of a 15-year-old girl. The trial court denied bail after making two findings: (1) there was substantial evidence that White aided and abetted his friend, Jeremiah Owens, in the charged crimes; and (2) a "substantial likelihood" existed, supported by clear and convincing evidence, that White's release would result in great bodily harm to others. ( Cal. Const., art. I, § 12, subd. (b) ["A person shall be released on bail by sufficient sureties, except for: [¶] ... [¶] (b) Felony offenses involving acts of violence on another person, or felony sexual assault offenses on another person, when the facts are evident or the presumption great and the court finds based upon clear and convincing evidence that there is a substantial likelihood the person's release would result in great bodily harm to others"].) When White challenged the no-bail order by filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus, the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court's findings and denied relief.

The Court of Appeal applied a deferential standard of review to the trial court's factual findings. Applying that standard, the appellate court found that the trial court acted within its discretion when it denied bail. We affirm.1


White and his codefendant Owens were arrested and charged with attempted kidnapping with intent to commit rape ( Pen. Code, § 209, subd. (b) ), assault with intent to commit rape (id. , § 220, subd. (a)(1)), contact with a minor with intent to commit a sexual offense (id ., § 288.3, subd. (a)), and false imprisonment (id ., §§ 236, 237, subd. (a)). All of the crimes involved the same victim: 15-year-old J.D. ( In re White (2018) 21 Cal.App.5th 18, 21, 229 Cal.Rptr.3d 827 ( White ).) White was arraigned, pleaded not guilty, and was held without bail.

The facts underlying the charges, as well as the trial court's decision to deny bail, come from the preliminary hearing. That evidence consisted primarily of J.D.’s testimony, White's recorded interviews with law enforcement, and testimony from members of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

White, 27, and his friend and roommate Owens went to the beach in Encinitas one day in July 2017. Owens spent much of the day pointing out girls and talking about "grabbing" them. According to White, Owens "was like you know maybe I grab her ... caveman style." Owens at one point wanted to leave the beach to follow a girl who had been sitting near them. When White complained that Owens had already had "plenty of chance" to chat with her "while we were here" at the beach, Owens responded, according to White, by saying "something about what about the screams?" At some point that day, while the two were talking about girls, Owens also asked White, "if I was gonna do something would you stop me? ... He made like if he's like, if I get out of hand .... [I]f I was taking things too far would you stop me?" White claimed to have been "confused" by his friend's statements and believed he was "joking." He also claimed he replied to this question by saying "yeah I'd stop you."

Later in the afternoon, the two men left the beach but remained on and around White's truck, which was parked on an access route to the beach. That's when 15-year-old J.D. showed up on her bike to go surfing. J.D., who lived in Encinitas, was on that day staying with close family friends in Carlsbad while the rest of her family was out of town. As she rode down the hill to her home, she noticed White's truck and the two men across the street from her neighbor's house. The two men, whom she later identified as Owens and White, "[l]ooked a little bit out of place" and gave her a "weird feeling." "[C]reepy" was the word used by a woman nearby who'd been loading her car. The woman's son felt the same way. He worried, in particular, that these men wanted to kidnap his younger brothers, which prompted him to take a short video of Owens and White with his cell phone. As J.D. retrieved her surfboard from the family house and came back outside, she felt the two men were staring at her and watching her every movement.

In fact, J.D. became so uncomfortable that she left the board in the driveway and went back inside the gate. At that point, she "didn't really know what to do." But she was also worried the men might take her board, so she grabbed her wax and went back outside. "I started waxing just to let them know that I am there." When a woman walked by with her kids, and a fellow surfer stopped to borrow some wax, J.D. relaxed and started to feel safe. Getting ready to wax the nose of her board, she even turned her back on the men across the street.

But White and Owens remained interested in J.D. In a taped interview, White admitted he may have remarked that J.D. was "pretty cute" and "[s]eems cool," and Owens may have said, "surfer chick; I think that's hot." White recalled that Owens may have added, "I think I'm going to go up and get that girl," at which point White encouraged him to "go and get her." White claimed in the interview that he thought Owens was just going to talk to her. But he also admitted that Owens had asked White to "look out for me, or whatever, keep an eye or something like that." J.D. confirmed that White seemed "kind of like the lookout guy, I guess you could explain it. He was kind of keeping his eye up and down the street."

What Owens did next is not in dispute. He crossed the street and grabbed J.D. by the neck "like in a pressure lock," and sought to push her face into the pavement. J.D. testified that he would have succeeded if she had not put both hands on the concrete to brace herself. Owens then said, "All right. Let's do this" and tried to pull her back up and towards the truck. That's when J.D. "kind of figured it out" and managed to pull away. The whole time, she had been saying "No. No. Stop. Stop." When she fought him off and managed to get away, Owens and White seemed startled and confused — apparently surprised that she had escaped Owens's grip. She told them, "That's not cool. You can't do that."

As she sped to reenter her house, J.D. thought she heard White say "sorry." Yet White also told Owens to "[g]o in the house," as she was backing up through the gate. J.D. testified that White was looking at Owens as he directed Owens to follow her into the house, "[a]nd so I was just trying to lock the gate as fast as I could." The neighbor's dog remained at the gate, barking, which indicated to J.D. that Owens must have lingered on the other side for a time. She eventually saw Owens run across the street and into the passenger side of the truck, which then sped off up the hill. J.D. spent about 10 minutes in the house, crying and hyperventilating, and tried to contact her parents by phone. Eventually, at her father's direction, she called 911.

In the truck, White asked Owens "what was that about." According to White, Owens said, "I don't know, it was some primal instinct came over me. And it just happened." Owens also said that if White hadn't stopped him,2 he "may have drug [sic ] her through the gate." White suspected, in that event, Owens "probably would have tried taking advantage of her and raping her." White told the interviewing officers he was "not okay" with Owens's behavior — and assumed J.D. was going to call the police — but took no steps himself to contact law enforcement. He claimed he "probably" would have done so "if this situation got any worse."

The browser history on White's cell phone revealed an Internet search the day after the attack for "why would someone act on their primal instincts" and, on the following morning, for "How can you tell if someone you know is being brain washed [sic ]" and "What to do if someone you know is being brainwashed." Owens's prior girlfriend and White each told law enforcement they believed Owens was being brainwashed by someone at work.

The court ordered both Owens and White bound over for trial on each of...

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