People v. Deere

Citation41 Cal.3d 353,222 Cal.Rptr. 13
Parties, 710 P.2d 925 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Ronald Lee DEERE, Defendant and Appellant. Crim. 22878.
Decision Date31 December 1985
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)

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222 Cal.Rptr. 13
41 Cal.3d 353, 710 P.2d 925
The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
Ronald Lee DEERE, Defendant and Appellant.
Crim. 22878.
Supreme Court of California,
In Bank.
Dec. 31, 1985.
Rehearing Denied Feb. 14, 1986. *

[41 Cal.3d 356]

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[710 P.2d 926] Dennis L. Woodman, under appointment by the Supreme Court, and Woodman & Woodman, Redwood City, for defendant and appellant.

John K. Van de Kamp, Atty. Gen., San Francisco, Jay M. Bloom and Frederick R. Millar, Jr., San Diego, for plaintiff and respondent.

MOSK, Justice.

Defendant Ronald Lee Deere appeals from a judgment imposing the death penalty following his conviction of one count of first degree murder and two counts of second degree murder, accompanied by a finding of a multiple-murder special circumstance

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(Pen.Code, § 190.2, subd. (a)(3)). 1 We conclude that the convictions and special circumstance finding should be affirmed, but the judgment must be reversed as to penalty.

[41 Cal.3d 357] Defendant initially pleaded not guilty but later moved to withdraw his plea. The trial court appointed a psychiatrist to examine him; following such an examination and a report confirming defendant's competence, the court found defendant competent to plead guilty, to waive jury trial, and to cooperate with counsel in the event his plea was withdrawn. Accordingly, the court permitted defendant to withdraw his plea of not guilty, to waive his rights, and to plead guilty to each count and admit the special circumstance allegation. His counsel concurred in the change of plea. Based on the transcript of the preliminary hearing, the court then found defendant guilty of one count of first degree murder and two counts of second degree murder; based on defendant's earlier admission, the court also found true the multiple-murder special circumstance allegation.

Thereafter, defendant and his counsel also waived jury trial on the penalty issue. Pursuant to stipulation, the court considered the testimony at the preliminary hearing and at an earlier hearing to suppress evidence. Defendant offered no mitigating evidence, although he made a brief statement voicing remorse for his crimes and saying he deserved to die. Defense counsel explained at length to the court why he permitted his client to waive a jury trial at the guilt phase, to plead guilty, and to waive a penalty jury. The court sentenced defendant to death, and denied his motion to modify the penalty. ( § 190.4, subd. (e).) The appeal is automatic. ( § 1239, subd. (b).)

Because defendant does not deny responsibility for the three killings, there is no need to elaborate on the evidence linking him to those crimes. It is sufficient to state that defendant, evidently despondent about the termination of his relationship with Cindy Gleason, shot and killed the husband and two young children of Cindy's sister, Kathy Davis. Defendant had previously threatened to kill "everyone" in Cindy's family if she broke up with defendant. Shortly before the killings, Cindy received a telephone call from defendant telling her that "I'm not going to be responsible for what I do today." Later that night, Cindy discovered the bodies of Don, Michelle and Melissa Davis in Don's trailer. Defendant fled and hid from the police; he was arrested several days later.

I. Failure to Hold a Competence Hearing

Defendant first contends the court erred in failing to hold a hearing to determine his [710 P.2d 927] competence to plead guilty and to waive a penalty jury. ( §§ 1367-1368.) Section 1368 provides that if "a doubt arises in the mind of the judge as to the mental competence of the defendant," the court should inquire of defense counsel regarding his client's competence and, if counsel believes the defendant may be incompetent, the court should order a hearing on the matter. Under section 1368, even if defense counsel believes his [41 Cal.3d 358] client is competent, the court may in its discretion order such a competence hearing. Despite the seemingly discretionary nature of the language of section 1368, we have held that a competence hearing is mandatory when "substantial" evidence of the accused's incompetence has been introduced. (People v. Stankewitz (1982) 32 Cal.3d 80, 91-92, 184 Cal.Rptr. 611, 648 P.2d 578; People v. Pennington (1967) 66 Cal.2d 508, 518-519, 58 Cal.Rptr. 374, 426 P.2d 942.)

Defendant asserts there were sufficient indications of his mental and emotional instability to trigger the court's obligation to order a competence hearing sua sponte. He emphasizes evidence disclosing that (1) shortly before the murders defendant had asked

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Kathy Davis, Cindy's sister, to kill him; (2) on prior occasions he had exhibited suicidal tendencies, including cutting himself with a razor blade; and (3) he was frequently intoxicated.

The record shows that before accepting the guilty plea the court ordered that defendant be examined by a board-certified psychiatrist, Dr. Bolger, who reported that defendant was mentally competent to plead guilty. Dr. Bolger described defendant as "cooperative," "stable" in mood, not depressed, possessing "high normal" I.Q., and "excellent" judgment as disclosed by verbal testing. According to Dr. Bolger, defendant displayed no evidence of psychosis, abnormal thinking or mental illness; he was "well aware of the charges facing him," was "well advised" of the significance of his waiver of a jury trial, and was able adequately to assist and cooperate with his counsel in his defense. Finally, Dr. Bolger noted that defendant fully appreciated the possibility, even the likelihood, that a death sentence might be imposed for his crimes.

Evidence that merely raises a suspicion that the defendant lacks present sanity or competence but does not disclose a present inability because of mental illness to participate rationally in the trial is not deemed "substantial" evidence requiring a competence hearing. (People v. Laudermilk (1967) 67 Cal.2d 272, 285, 61 Cal.Rptr. 644, 431 P.2d 228; People v. Stiltner (1982) 132 Cal.App.3d 216, 222, 182 Cal.Rptr. 790; People v. Humphrey (1975) 45 Cal.App.3d 32, 37, 119 Cal.Rptr. 74.) As we stated in Laudermilk, "more is required to raise a doubt [of competence] than mere bizarre actions [citation] or bizarre statements [citation] ... or psychiatric testimony that defendant is immature, dangerous, psychopathic, or homicidal or such diagnosis with little reference to defendant's ability to assist in his own defense [citation]." (67 Cal.2d at p. 285, 61 Cal.Rptr. 644, 431 P.2d 228.)

The evidence in the present case falls far short of that which would require a competence hearing on the court's own motion. Certainly, neither the court nor defense counsel expressed any "doubt" regarding defendant's [41 Cal.3d 359] competence. The court carefully explained that although it had appointed Dr. Bolger "to be certain" of defendant's ability to stand trial and cooperate with counsel (cf. People v. Teron (1979) 23 Cal.3d 103, 114, 151 Cal.Rptr. 633, 588 P.2d 773, approving this practice), there was no evidence or any "possible grounds" for convening a formal competence hearing. Defense counsel agreed that "I have seen no evidence in Mr. Deere that would suggest that he's in any way incompetent."

Appellate counsel now suggests that defendant's very acts of pleading guilty to a capital offense and waiving a jury trial amounted to a "suicide attempt" which disclosed his incompetence. The record does indicate that defendant felt great remorse for his offenses and was prepared to suffer the consequences of a judgment of death. [710 P.2d 928] But that attitude does not necessarily demonstrate an incompetence to stand trial or to plead guilty. His plea and waiver were concurred in by counsel. As stated in Teron, at the guilt phase a defendant bears no duty to present a defense or to rebut the People's case, and the fact that he declines to present a defense does not demonstrate a lack of capacity to waive his rights. (23 Cal.3d at p. 115, 151 Cal.Rptr. 633, 588 P.2d 773.)

Likewise, defendant's waiver of a penalty jury did not constitute "substantial" evidence of incompetence. The record shows that his waiver of such a jury was induced, at least in part, by his wish to bring the proceedings to a conclusion without the undue delay and expense occasioned by a jury trial. As defense counsel informed the court, defendant "knows what would happen if the case went to jury trial, and he feels that the expense of a circus or charade of a trial is not right for him or for the community." It is a matter of common

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knowledge that the process of "death qualifying" a jury in a capital case may consume a substantial amount of time and effort. It was not irrational for defendant to assert that he preferred not to waste his time listening to trial counsel "yak" about which prospective jurors were opposed to the death penalty and which were not.

We conclude that the court did not err in failing to order a competence hearing sua sponte.

II. Waiver of Penalty Phase Jury

Section 190.4, subdivision (e), provides for an automatic review of the penalty verdict by the judge. Defendant complains that he was never told his waiver of a penalty jury would necessarily preclude an independent reevaluation of the verdict by the judge. The point is frivolous; defendant is deemed to have known that by waiving a jury trial he would lose his statutory right to a penalty decision by both the jury and the judge. When the judge renders a decision on penalty, and thereafter carefully reviews [41 Cal.3d 360] that decision on motion for modification pursuant to section 190.4, the defendant is afforded ample due process.

Defendant relies on People v. Granger (1980) 105 Cal.App.3d 422, 164 Cal.Rptr. 363, but the case is inapposite. Granger held that the defendant's waiver of a jury trial in a murder case did not extend to the special circumstances phase of the case, because the...

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