People v. Ghent

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation43 Cal.3d 739,239 Cal.Rptr. 82
Decision Date13 August 1987
Parties, 739 P.2d 1250 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. David L. GHENT, Jr., Defendant and Appellant. Crim. 21311.
[739 P.2d 1255] Robert D. Carrow, Brian J. Wrobel, Novato, for defendant and appellant

John K. Van de Kamp and George Deukmejian, Attys. Gen., Steve White, Robert H. Philibosian, John H. Sugiyama, Edward P. O'Brien and William D. Stein, Asst. Attys. Gen., Herbert F. Wilkinson, Thomas A. Brady, Charles J. James and Dane R. Gillette, Deputy Attys. Gen., San Francisco, for plaintiff and respondent.

LUCAS, Chief Justice.

Defendant David L. Ghent, Jr., appeals from a judgment imposing the death penalty following his conviction of first degree murder and attempted rape of Patricia Bert, and assault with intent to commit rape of Mrs. Preskitt. (See Pen.Code, §§ 187 [murder], 261 [rape], and 220 [assault to commit rape]; all further statutory references are to this code.) Defendant was tried under the 1977 death penalty law (see Stats.1977, ch. 316, § 5 et seq.). Although the original jury was deadlocked regarding the special circumstances allegation (murder committed during a rape or attempted rape; see former § 190.2, subd. (c)(3)(iii)), a subsequent jury (see § 190.4, subd. (a)) found the allegation to be true and thereafter returned a verdict imposing Because defendant does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction of the foregoing offenses, we only summarily review the facts underlying those offenses.

the death penalty. As will appear, we conclude that the judgment should be affirmed.

During the early morning hours of February 21, 1978, defendant entered the bedroom of Mrs. Preskitt, an acquaintance and housemate, jumped onto her bed and, despite her struggling and screaming, straddled her body and requested a sex act. His efforts were interrupted by the entry of Mrs. Preskitt's child, and following an additional incident wherein defendant pursued Mrs. Preskitt while carrying a pair of scissors, he eventually left the house around 5 a.m. (The foregoing facts led to defendant's conviction of assault with intent to commit rape.)

Shortly thereafter, defendant arrived at the home of some other acquaintances, Paul and Patricia Bert, assertedly to ask Paul's help in finding defendant a job. Patricia indicated that her husband had already left for work and defendant asked her for his work telephone number. While writing the number on a note pad, defendant observed Patricia's robe fall open, revealing her naked body. According to defendant's own testimony, his next memory was that he was standing over Patricia's dead, nude body with a bloody knife in his hand. The victim's hands were tied behind her back.

Defendant further testified that, upon reflecting upon his apparent deed, he vomited in a toilet, lifted the telephone to call the police, became "scared," hung up the telephone and left the house. Shortly thereafter, however, he returned, removed his fingerprints from the Bert household and retrieved the murder weapon. He again left the house, changed his bloodstained pants at a friend's home, and threw away both the pants and the knife. (Under the prosecutor's view of the evidence, defendant raped and killed Mrs. Bert when he returned to the house, after ample time had expired within which to deliberate and premeditate.)

An autopsy surgeon counted 21 stab wounds in Patricia's neck and chest. According to a prosecution expert, spermatozoa in her genital cavity came from a Group B type "donor" such as defendant (the Berts both had Group A type blood). A defense expert attempted to cast doubt upon the testing of the semen samples. Defendant's primary defenses at trial were his lack of deliberation and premeditation, and insufficiency of the evidence to establish forcible rape. No attempt was made to suggest that anyone other than defendant had attacked and killed Mrs. Bert.

Following the separate guilt and special circumstances trials, a penalty trial was held. The prosecutor introduced evidence regarding defendant's prior assaults and sex offenses. The defense introduced mitigating evidence of defendant's background and character. As indicated above, the jury returned a verdict imposing the death penalty. The present appeal is automatic. (§ 1239, subd. (b).)

Defendant makes a variety of contentions on appeal. We first consider the asserted errors occurring at the guilt trial.

1. Miranda Violation

Following defendant's arrest, he was interrogated by Officers DeSart and Pate of the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department. Although he originally waived his Miranda rights (Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694), at several points during the interrogation he indicated that he desired the assistance of an attorney. Despite his request, the interrogation proceeded, culminating in defendant's agreement to be examined by Dr. Shoor, a psychiatrist previously retained by the department. Shoor readvised defendant of his Miranda rights and then spent approximately 45 minutes examining him.

At defendant's guilt phase trial, and again at the second special circumstances trial, both Officer DeSart and Dr. Shoor On direct examination, Officer DeSart testified, without elaboration, that defendant showed no apparent signs of any mental defect, and that he seemed "oriented" during his interrogation. Doctor Shoor testified, also without extensive discussion, that, in his opinion, defendant disclosed normal mental capacities, including the ability to premeditate and deliberate. As no evidence of insanity, intoxication, mental disease or defect was introduced by the defense, the foregoing testimony was relevant primarily to the issue of defendant's ability to commit a "willful, deliberate and premeditated" murder, a prerequisite to sustaining a special circumstances finding under the 1977 death penalty law. (See former § 190.2, subd. (c)(3)(iii).)

testified briefly regarding defendant's apparent mental state at the time of the interrogation. Defendant now contends that the foregoing testimony was inadmissible by reason of a violation of Miranda principles. We agree, but we conclude that the error was harmless under the circumstances here.

It does appear that a Miranda violation occurred here. Once defendant requested an attorney to assist him, all further interrogation should have ceased. (People v. Pettingill (1978) 21 Cal.3d 231, 237-239, 145 Cal.Rptr. 861, 578 P.2d 108.) Interrogating officers may not simply ignore a suspect's invocation of his Miranda rights and resume the interrogation at a later time after obtaining a new Miranda waiver. (See People v. Smith (1983) 34 Cal.3d 251, 264-268, 193 Cal.Rptr. 692, 667 P.2d 141; Pettingill, supra, 21 Cal.3d at pp. 240-241, 145 Cal.Rptr. 861, 578 P.2d 108; but see Michigan v. Mosley (1975) 423 U.S. 96, 104-106, 96 S.Ct. 321, 326-327, 46 L.Ed.2d 313 [contrary federal rule].) The People do not dispute that Dr. Shoor was a police agent whose "interview" constituted a continuation of the prior interrogation. We conclude that Dr. Shoor's interrogation was not insulated from attack by reason of the renewed Miranda advice he gave to defendant.

Both Officer DeSart and Doctor Shoor were permitted to testify regarding the content of certain statements made by defendant during the course of their respective interrogations, but our examination of the record indicates that none of these statements was inculpatory or could have affected the verdicts against defendant. As indicated above, however, both witnesses also testified regarding defendant's apparent mental condition during the interrogations. We have held that such testimony is inadmissible if it relates to an interrogation conducted in violation of Miranda. (People v. Rucker (1980) 26 Cal.3d 368, 386-387, 390-391, 162 Cal.Rptr. 13, 605 P.2d 843; see People v. Walker (1972) 29 Cal.App.3d 448, 452-455, 105 Cal.Rptr. 672.)

In Rucker, the prosecution attempted to rebut a defense of diminished capacity by introducing evidence of two "interviews" with the defendant by police officers and a probation officer. There, as here, the officers continued the interview despite the defendant's repeated requests for an attorney. Although Rucker's responses to questioning appeared exculpatory, his answers and attitude during the interviews indicated that he was functioning normally and responsively. We held that Rucker's responses were "testimonial" under self-incrimination principles (26 Cal.3d at pp. 378-386, 162 Cal.Rptr. 13, 605 P.2d 843), that the interviews amounted to "interrogations" governed by Miranda rules (id., at pp. 386-387, 162 Cal.Rptr. 13, 605 P.2d 843), that Miranda renders the defendant's statements inadmissible even on rebuttal following his presentation of a diminished capacity defense (id., at pp. 389-391, 162 Cal.Rptr. 13, 605 P.2d 843), and that the error was prejudicial on examination of the record (id., at p. 391, 162 Cal.Rptr. 13, 605 P.2d 843).

In Rucker, we explained that it was not "significant" that the probation officer testified in most part regarding his own impressions and opinions about the defendant's responsiveness to questioning, rather than relating the content of defendant's statements themselves. We stated, among other things, that such opinion testimony would be deemed inadmissible "as a fruit Rucker is therefore controlling on the question of the admissibility of DeSart's and Shoor's testimony regarding defendant's mental state. Under Rucker, the Miranda violation tainted both these witnesses' observations based, as they were, on defendant's responses to illegal interrogations conducted by those witnesses. (Cf. People v. Whitt (1984) 36 Cal.3d 724, 748, fn. 21, 205 Cal.Rptr. 810, 685 P.2d 1161 [exercise of Miranda rights precludes testimony regarding defendant's mental...

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