People v. Abdullah, B303963

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtEDMON, P. J.
Docket NumberB303963
PartiesTHE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. BILAL BIN ABDULLAH, Defendant and Appellant.
Decision Date19 May 2021

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
BILAL BIN ABDULLAH, Defendant and Appellant.



May 19, 2021


California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

(Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. MA075683)

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Daviann L. Mitchell and Lisa Mangay Chung, Judges. Affirmed.

Sarah M. Javaheri, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Lance E. Winters, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Susan Sullivan Pithey, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Blythe J. Leszkay and Roberta L. Davis, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


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A jury convicted defendant and appellant Bilal Bin Abdullah of possession of methamphetamine and cannabis for sale. He appeals, contending that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting evidence of his prior convictions, erred by failing to sua sponte instruct on an affirmative defense, and coerced the jury's verdict. We affirm the judgment.


1. Facts

On November 8, 2019, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputies Ryan Thompson and Zachary Gregg were on patrol in Palmdale. Abdullah was the front seat passenger in a vehicle with an expired registration. The deputies initiated a traffic stop due to the expired registration. As the vehicle pulled over, Gregg illuminated it with a spotlight, and Thompson saw Abdullah reach behind his seat into the back seat.

Thompson approached the passenger side of the vehicle, while Gregg approached the driver's side. Thompson illuminated the back seat with a flashlight and observed two plastic bindles on the rear passenger side floorboard. One contained 23.5833 grams of a crystalline substance containing methamphetamine; the other contained 1.9935 grams of plant material containing cannabis. Thompson asked Abdullah whether he had anything illegal in his possession. Abdullah pulled from his pockets $218 in various denominations, and three containers of cannabis, i.e., one bindle containing 14.1973 grams; a plastic jar containing 8.7339 grams; and another bindle containing 1.0468 grams. Each container found on Abdullah's person and in the car contained a usable amount of the controlled substance. No empty baggies, scales, or sales records were found in the car.

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Deputy Thompson, testifying as an expert at trial, opined that the cannabis was possessed for sale, based on the amount and number of packages; likewise, he opined that the methamphetamine was possessed for sale, given the large quantity. Narcotics dealers commonly sell multiple types of controlled substances in order to reach a broader range of customers, and to cater to customers who alternate between the use of stimulants and depressants. Dealers also commonly carry cash in multiple denominations in order to make change for customers. The amount of cannabis Abdullah possessed in his pockets was more than a typical user would have had for personal use. The amount of methamphetamine in the baggie on the back floorboard amounted to between 500 to 1,000 doses.

The parties stipulated that on January 11, 2001, Abdullah was convicted of possession of marijuana for sale, and on May 18, 2006, he was convicted of possession of cocaine base for sale.

Abdullah presented no evidence.

2. Procedure

The jury convicted Abdullah of felony possession for sale of methamphetamine (Health & Saf. Code, § 11378, count 1) and misdemeanor possession for sale of cannabis (Health & Saf. Code, § 11359, subd. (b), count 2). The trial court sentenced Abdullah to the upper term of three years on count 1, and a concurrent sentence of 180 days in jail on count 2. It imposed a $900 restitution fine, a court operations assessment, a criminal conviction assessment, a drug program fee, a drug analysis fee, and a related penalty assessment and surcharge.

Abdullah timely appealed.

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1. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting evidence of Abdullah's prior convictions

During an Evidence Code section 402 hearing, the prosecutor sought to admit evidence of two of Abdullah's prior convictions pursuant to Evidence Code section 1101, subdivision (b), to prove knowledge, intent, and lack of mistake. The People explained that they anticipated the defense to argue that the substances at issue were not Abdullah's, and alternatively that the cannabis was possessed for his personal use. Abdullah objected on the ground the evidence was "highly prejudicial and not probative," without further elaboration. The court ruled that, in light of the anticipated defenses, the priors were relevant and their probative value greatly outweighed any prejudicial effect.

During the People's case in chief, Abdullah stipulated to the fact he had suffered the convictions, as set forth above. He did not further object to the evidence.

Abdullah now argues that the trial court prejudicially erred by admitting evidence of his prior convictions. The People contend this claim has been forfeited, and in any event the evidence was properly admitted.

a. Applicable legal principles

Evidence a defendant has committed misconduct other than that currently charged is inadmissible to prove his bad character or propensity to commit the charged crime. (Evid. Code, § 1101, subd. (a); People v. Bryant, Smith and Wheeler (2014) 60 Cal.4th 335, 405-406 (Bryant); People v. Rogers (2013) 57 Cal.4th 296, 325.) However, such evidence is admissible if relevant to prove, inter alia, knowledge and intent. (Evid. Code, § 1101, subd. (b); People v. Molano (2019) 7 Cal.5th 620,

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664; People v. Jones (2011) 51 Cal.4th 346, 371.) "To be admissible, there must be some degree of similarity between the charged crime and the other crime, but the degree of similarity depends on the purpose for which the evidence was presented." (Jones, at p. 371.) "The least degree of similarity between the uncharged act and the charged offense is required to support a rational inference of intent." (People v. Gutierrez (2018) 20 Cal.App.5th 847, 859; People v. Thomas (2011) 52 Cal.4th 336, 355.)

Even if other crimes evidence is admissible under Evidence Code section 1101, subdivision (b), it should be excluded under Evidence Code section 352 if its probative value is substantially outweighed by undue prejudice. (Bryant, supra, 60 Cal.4th at pp. 406-407; People v. Thomas, supra, 52 Cal.4th at p. 354.) Because other crimes evidence may be inflammatory, it should be admitted only if it has substantial probative value. (People v. Ewoldt (1994) 7 Cal.4th 380, 404.) We review a trial court's rulings on the admission of evidence under Evidence Code sections 1101 and 352 for abuse of discretion. (People v. Thompson (2016) 1 Cal.5th 1043, 1114; People v. Rogers, supra, 57 Cal.4th at p. 326.)

b. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the prior convictions

We discern no abuse of discretion here. To establish possession for sale, the People had to prove Abdullah possessed the methamphetamine and the cannabis; knew of their presence and nature as controlled substances; and intended to sell them. (People v. Montero (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 1170, 1175-1177; People v. Ghebretensae (2013) 222 Cal.App.4th 741, 754; People v. Harris (2000) 83 Cal.App.4th 371, 374; CALCRIM Nos. 2302,

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2352.) Abdullah's defense was that he possessed the cannabis for his personal use, not with the intent to sell it. Thus, evidence bearing on his intent was highly relevant and probative.

"In prosecutions for drug offenses, evidence of prior drug use and prior drug convictions is generally admissible under Evidence Code section 1101, subdivision (b), to establish that the drugs were possessed for sale rather than for personal use and to prove knowledge of the narcotic nature of the drugs." (People v. Williams (2009) 170 Cal.App.4th 587, 607; People v. Washington (2021) 61 Cal.App.5th 776, 787; People v. Ghebretensae, supra, 222 Cal.App.4th at p. 754; People v. Pijal (1973) 33 Cal.App.3d 682, 691 ["Since appellant's knowledge of the narcotic contents of the drug and his intent to sell were at issue, evidence of his prior narcotic offenses was clearly admissible to show his guilty knowledge, motive and intent"].) If " ' "a person acts similarly in similar situations, he probably harbors the same intent in each instance" [citations], and . . . such prior conduct may be relevant circumstantial evidence of the actor's most recent intent. The inference to be drawn is not that the actor is disposed to commit such acts; instead, the inference to be drawn is that, in light of the first event, the actor, at the time of the second event, must have had the intent attributed to him by the prosecution. [Citations.]' " (People v. Ghebretensae, at p. 754.)

Applying these principles here, evidence of Abdullah's prior convictions was properly admitted to establish his intent. Additionally, the prior marijuana conviction was properly admitted to prove his knowledge of the nature of the cannabis he possessed in count 2.

The probative value of the evidence was not substantially outweighed by the danger of undue prejudice. The evidence of

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the prior convictions was no more inflammatory than the charged crimes; it consisted only of evidence that Abdullah had suffered the convictions. (See People v. Washington, supra, 61 Cal.App.5th at p. 788 [prior drug conviction not inflammatory where jury heard nothing about the circumstances of the prior]; People v. Eubanks (2011) 53 Cal.4th 110, 144 [potential for prejudice is decreased when uncharged acts are...

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