People v. Eckstrom

Decision Date18 December 1974
Docket NumberCr. 6228
Citation43 Cal.App.3d 996,118 Cal.Rptr. 391
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of California, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Carl Anders ECKSTROM, Defendant and Appellant.
OPINION

GARDNER, Presiding Justice.

Defendant was convicted by a jury of first degree murder of Deputy Sheriffs Schneider and Wilson.

On January 4, 1973, defendant approached Cecelia Vasquez, age 17, and her sister, Rosemary, age 20, at the Cerritos Shopping Mall in Los Angeles County. He told them he had a gun and would kill them if they tried anything and said that he wanted to spend some time with them and to touch them. The girls called for help and Michael Jeffries responded. The defendant then shot and killed Michael Jeffries and Rosemary Vasquez and wounded Cecelia Vasquez. A witness secured the license number of the car in which defendant fled. It was traced to the home of defendant's parents in Midway City. Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs Wilson and Schneider responded to the radio call and proceeded to the Midway City address. Orange County Deputy Sheriff Romero accompanied them. Wilson and Schneider went to the front door, where they knocked and kicked on the door. The defendant shot and killed one of the deputies through the door and emerged from the residence carrying a semi-automatic rifle and shooting as he came out. He shot and killed the other deputy. Romero then felled defendant with a shotgun blast. The defendant said, 'Please don't kill me. I have another gun.' On the way to the hospital, he said, 'How are the officers?' and, 'I hope they are all right.' He also said, 'What makes people do things like this?' Schneider had been shot twice, Wilson ten or eleven times.

When defendant emerged from the house, he was not only armed with a semi-automatic rifle, but was clad in a flak suit. Within minutes after the killings, officers entered the house. An automatic pistol was on the couch. This was the gun used in the killings at the Cerritos Center. Two other pistols were found in a closet. A great deal of ammunition was observed scattered around in plain sight. A few days later, armed with a search warrant, officers searched the house and found a receipt for the flak suit in a dresser drawer.

Defendant presented extensive evidence obviously aimed at a diminished capacity defense.

Mr. Vito, a social worker, said he had known defendant in 1971 and, in his opinion, defendant was hostile and aggressive. Dr. Ogilvie, a psychologist, had examined defendant in 1971 and found that he had an emotionally unstable and hysterical personality but was not a borderline schizophrenic. Dr. Richardson, a psychologist, had examined defendant in 1968 and diagnosed him as a borderline personality, by which he meant a person with relatively transient psychotic episodes at which times he lacks the normal capacity to make judgments. Dr. Richardson also testified that under stress defendant's behavior would go markedly out of the ordinary, but that he knew what he was doing and had volitional control over himself. Dr. Comay, a psychiatrist, had diagnosed defendant in 1968 as having a schizoid personality and borderline paranoid schizophrenia.

During trial, Dr. Richardson examined defendant again and prepared a report for the court-appointed doctors, 1 Dr. Guido and Dr. Pollack. Dr. Richardson's diagnosis was schizophrenic reaction, latent type, but he did not find defendant was a psychotic.

Dr. Pollack, a court-appointed psychiatrist, found defendant to be suffering from severe psychological disturbances which impaired his judgment abilities. Dr. Pollack testified that defendant was not capable of maturely and meaningfully reflecting and understanding seriously what it all meant. He further testified that defendant was not psychotic, that although mentally ill he was capable of understanding society's requirements, that he had the capacity to understand and appreciate the wrongfulness of his acts and was legally sane at the time of the killings.

Through Dr. Pollack, defendant's version of the shootings was revealed. He told the doctor that he had shot the people in Cerritos, returned home, realized the police would come, armed himself, put on the flak suit and prepared to fight for his life in a last ditch stand. He then changed his story and said he thought the people at the door were marijuana dealers who were in some way connected with a case in which his parents had informed on a marijuana group. He said he thought they were out to get him. Dr. Pollack opined that defendant had the capacity to lie in wait and to premeditate and deliberate but not with mature, meaningful reflection; that his judgment was poor as a result of his mental illness, but at all times he had the capacity to understand what society demanded of him and of the concept of right and wrong; and that he was 'crazy' but not 'crazy enough' as to be legally insane or incapable of malice aforethought.

Dr. Guido, the other psychiatrist appointed by the court, was called in rebuttal. His diagnosis was that defendant has a schizoid personality, that the degree of diminution of capacity was mild and would not interfere with his mental faculties although he would have severely impaired social judgments and control, and that defendant was not suffering from a substantial loss or diminution of capacity for first degree murder; this was because he did not have a substantially reduced capacity to form the intent to kill, to premeditate, to deliberate or to harbor malice aforethought. Nor was defendant's mental condition such that he was unaware of his obligation to obey the law.

In summary, the evidence of the killings was uncontradicted. The evidence presented on behalf of defendant as to his mental condition was such that the jury could have found for or against defendant on the issue of diminished capacity. The jury found against him on that issue and there is substantial evidence supporting the verdict.

On appeal, appellate counsel, after the usual apologetic opening paragraph, attacks trial counsel with unusual fervor. Before discussing the issue of competency of this particular counsel, we would make some preliminary observations on the subject of attack on the competency of trial counsel.

History tells us that for years Cato ended every speech on every subject with Delenda est Carthago--'Carthage must be destroyed.' Eventually, Carthage Was destroyed, and since Cato was quite an active speaker one wonders just how must credit must be afforded him for his mind-numbing, metronome-like program of hate. More recently, an unsavory creature named Joseph Goebbels conceived the Big Lie--a concept by which an untruth repeated often enough and loud enough becomes, in mind of the listener, the truth. So, too, a program of persistent and consistent attacks on the competency of trial counsel, even though such attacks are usually unwarranted, cannot but have a deleterious effect on the legal profession. Since People v. Ibarra, 60 Cal.2d 460, 34 Cal.Rptr. 863, 386 P.2d 487, such attacks have become increasingly commonplace--being presented in case after case with almost robot-like monotony.

Of course, if in all or a substantial portion of these cases this contention had merit, it would be a scathing commentary on the ability of the legal profession to afford adequate representation to those charged with criminal offenses. The truth of the matter is that in the vast majority of cases the contention totally lacks substance. A careful, objective review of the record usually reveals that trial counsel was a capable, competent (and if a public defender, overworked, underpaid and unappreciated) attorney who, usually faced with overwhelming odds, gave his client a vigorous, skilled and dedicated representation. The fact that trial counsel has been unsuccessful in those cases which come before us is usually no reflection on that attorney. It is very difficult to secure an acquittal when the district attorney has all the firepower. A true legal genius, a trial lawyer who combines the attributes of Daniel Webster, Clarence Darrow and all those currently popular advocates who write books about themselves, cannot do more in some cases except to insure that his client's legal rights are protected and that he gets a fair trial. The fact that there is a conviction is immaterial. Some defendants simply Are guilty, and their guilt can be overwhelmingly established by legally admissible evidence while at the same time giving full recognition to their legal and constitutional rights.

Nevertheless, these attacks on trial counsel continue with monotonous regulatity. It is understandable that the individual defendant, faced with unpleasant consequences of his own irresponsible behavior and being affected with man's notorious reluctance to admit error or to face up to his own mistake, will strike out blindly at all who had anything to do with his predicament--witnesses, victims, judges, prosecutors, jurors, the whole law enforcement and judicial process--and, unfortunately, his own attorney. However, the frequency with which appellate counsel present this issue is distressing. After all, appellate counsel is blessed with the gift of hindsight as he leisurely picks over the carcass of a dead lawsuit. He is confronted with the minute to minute and second to second strategic and tactical decisions which must be made by the trial lawyer during the heat of battle. There is nothing in In re Smith, 3 Cal.3d 192, 90 Cal.Rptr. 1, 474 P.2d 969, or in People v. Feggans, 67 Cal.2d 444, 62 Cal.Rptr. 419, 432 P.2d 21, which says that an appellate attorney should abdicate his responsibilities as a professional man and become the lackey of his...

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    ...would have failed. (See People v.Constancio (1974) 42 Cal.App.3d 533, 546, 116 Cal.Rptr. 910 ; see also People v. Eckstrom (1974) 43 Cal.App.3d 996, 1000-1003, 118 Cal.Rptr. 391.)4 Further undesignated section references are to the Evidence Code.5 The 1992 conviction (by plea) was for viola......
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    ...there is no violation of public policy, in the giving of an instruction which does not come from that source. (People v. Eckstrom (1974) 43 Cal.App.3d 996, 1006, 118 Cal.Rptr. 391.) Appellant asserts several instances of misconduct during closing argument. One such, he claims, was the refer......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Frye and Lafler: New Rights or Old Responsibilities
    • United States
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    ...Standard 4-4.1(a).48. Maples v. Thomas, 132 S.Ct. 912, 913 (2012).49. Id.50. Id. at 914-915.51. Id. at 915.52. People v. Eckstrom, 43 Cal.App.3d 996, 1002 (1974).53. The authors cannot resist pointing out that while filing every conceivable motion is an identifying factor of a less than eff......

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