People v. Gonzalez

Docket NumberH048636
Decision Date08 September 2023
PartiesTHE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. DANIEL ROBLES GONZALEZ, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED

Santa Clara County Super. Ct. No. C1780476

Greenwood, P. J.

A jury found defendant Daniel Robles Gonzalez guilty of implied malice murder, assault likely to cause great bodily injury misdemeanor vandalism, and infliction of corporal injury on a cohabitant. The jury further found true various allegations and prior convictions, and Gonzalez admitted another prior conviction. The trial court imposed an aggregate term of 45 years to life consecutive to 10 years in prison.

Gonzalez raises numerous claims on appeal. He contends the evidence was insufficient to show implied malice murder; the trial court erroneously admitted lay opinion testimony from a police officer about her past experiences with crime scene witnesses; the trial court erroneously denied his motion to sever the domestic violence count from the remaining counts the trial court erred by admitting portions of expert testimony on intimate partner violence; the trial court erroneously excluded defense testimony impeaching a complaining witness; and the cumulative prejudice from multiple errors requires reversal. For the reasons below, we conclude these claims are without merit.

Gonzalez further contends we must remand for resentencing based on retroactive applications of Senate Bill No. 567 (Senate Bill 567) and Assembly Bill No. 518 (Assembly Bill 518). We conclude remand on those grounds is warranted. We will reverse the judgment and remand for resentencing.

I. Factual and Procedural Background
A. Procedural Background

The prosecution charged Gonzalez with four counts: count 1-murder of Baltazar Rudy Espinoza (Pen. Code, § 187)[1]; count 2-assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury against Baltazar Rudy Espinoza (§ 245, subd. (a)(4); count 3-vandalism with damages in an amount less than $400 (§ 594, subd. (b)(2)(A)); and count 4- inflicting corporal injury upon Sharon Espinoza with a specified prior conviction within seven years (§ 273.5, subd. (f)(1)). As to count 2, the prosecution alleged Gonzalez personally inflicted great bodily injury causing coma. (§§ 12022.7, subd. (b), 1203, subd. (e)(3).) The prosecution further alleged Gonzalez had suffered three prior strike convictions and two prior serious felony convictions. (§§ 667, subds. (a)-(i), 1170.12.)

The case proceeded to trial in April 2019. The jury found Gonzalez guilty as charged and found the allegations true. After waiving his right to a jury trial on an allegation of a strike prior, Gonzalez admitted he had suffered a prior conviction for first degree burglary in Texas. The trial court imposed an aggregate term of 45 years to life consecutive to 10 years in prison. The term consisted of 15 years to life on count 1 tripled for the strike priors, consecutive to a five-year term on count 4 doubled for the strike priors. The court stayed the term for count 2 under section 654 and imposed one day in county jail for count 3.

B. Facts of the Offenses

Gonzalez's romantic partner Sharon Espinoza and her brother Baltazar "Rudy" Espinoza shared an apartment where Gonzalez would sometimes spend the night.[2]Gonzalez assaulted Rudy in an alley behind the apartment, causing a brain hematoma that resulted in Rudy's death two months later. At the time of the assault, Rudy was 65 years old and suffered from coronary artery disease, end-stage kidney disease, and hypertension. He required kidney dialysis, and he was walking with the assistance of a cane.

About a year before the assault, police had arrested Gonzalez for domestic violence against Sharon, but she refused to cooperate with the prosecution at the time.

1. The Assault on Rudy (Counts 1 and 2)

Sharon testified that she and Rudy were living in a two-bedroom apartment in November 2017. She had been romantically involved with Gonzalez for about four or five years, and he was spending nights at the apartment in November 2017. Around 7:00 a.m. on November 10, Gonzalez showed up at the apartment and Sharon got into an argument with him. Rudy was home at the time.

Sharon wanted Gonzalez to leave, but he did not. At some point during the argument, Gonzalez ripped his shirt off, and Sharon went to her bedroom, locking the door to keep him out. Gonzalez damaged the bedroom door. Sharon later heard Rudy talking to Gonzalez outside the apartment. Rudy told Gonzalez to leave and warned him the police were coming. Sharon then heard a thud, whereupon she left her bedroom, went out the back door of the apartment, and saw Rudy lying on the ground in the alley. Rudy's eyes were rolled back, he was not breathing, and there was blood on his nose. Sharon saw Gonzalez standing outside near the corner of a building in the alley. She did not see anyone else in the alley. Sharon tried to push on Rudy's chest, but he began gurgling, so she tried to turn him on his side.

Heather Brown testified that she was living in a neighboring apartment in November 2017. On the morning of November 10, she woke up to the sound of people screaming and yelling. She recognized Sharon's voice yelling for help. Brown stayed in bed for a while and the yelling went on for a long time. After a while, she called 911 because she "heard hits" and "it sounded like someone was being killed." Brown testified that at some point she went to the back of her apartment by the alley, cracked open the door, and looked outside into the alley. She saw Gonzalez's right arm hit Rudy's face between the eyes, and Rudy fell backwards. After the assault, Gonzalez walked down the alley with no shirt on while "acting wild," and he asked Brown, "Calling the cops?"

When the police arrived, they found Rudy lying on his side unconscious on the ground. His breathing was labored, he had a laceration on the corner of his mouth, and there was blood coming from his nostrils. Sharon, who was standing nearby, was hysterical. Gonzalez was standing calmly on the steps of a nearby apartment, showing no emotion. Police collected Gonzalez's shoes and clothes. A forensic analysis revealed bloodstains on his shoes and pants. Analyses of DNA found in the stains showed there were multiple contributors, with Rudy included as a possible contributor to the major component in both stains.

Rudy remained unconscious in the hospital until January 2018, when Sharon decided to take him off life support. His injuries included subdural hematomas; a possible fracture of the cribriform plate; a probable nasal bridge fracture; lacerations and abrasions to the face; rib fractures; and bleeding from the nose and mouth. There were no documented injuries to the rear of his head. The forensic pathologist testified that it would be "very uncommon" for those kinds of bone fractures to be caused by falling face-forward and hitting one's forehead on the ground. Similarly, the blunt force trauma to Rudy's face could not be explained by simply falling backwards. The injuries were consistent with being punched multiple times or punched once with significant force.

2. The Domestic Violence Assault (Count 4)

Sharon testified that she got into an argument with Gonzalez one night in October 2016 when she was living with him in a different apartment. They did not get into a physical altercation, but Gonzalez called the police. Sharon threatened to stab herself with scissors and blame it on Gonzalez, but she testified that she made this comment sarcastically. When the police arrived, Sharon told them about a prior incident in August 2016 when Gonzalez had hit her in the head.

Sharon testified that she and Rudy were in the bedroom during the August 2016 incident when she told him to move out of the way and tried to nudge him with her hand. She kicked the dresser with her foot to close the bottom drawer and Rudy heard the sound, prompting him to come to the bedroom door and ask Sharon if Gonzalez was hitting her. Sharon told Rudy that Gonzalez had not hit her, so Rudy left. Sharon then tried to leave the bedroom by going past Gonzalez, and he punched her in the head multiple times. Sharon did not call the police because she was afraid to do so, and she was afraid of what her family might do to Gonzalez. Instead, Sharon told Gonzalez she would cover for him, and she made up a story about being jumped by five girls.

When the police arrived in response to Gonzalez calling them in the October 2016 incident, Sharon told them about the August 2016 assault and showed them a photograph of bruises on her eye and face. The police then arrested Gonzalez. Later, when Sharon learned the district attorney was going to file charges against Gonzalez, she decided not to cooperate because she loved him and did not want him to go to jail. She wrote a letter to the judge overseeing the case falsely stating that Gonzalez had not hit her, and that her injuries were caused when she was jumped by five girls. The charges were dropped, Gonzalez was released, and Sharon resumed her romantic relationship with him. Sharon testified that it was Gonzalez's idea for her to write this letter.

During Sharon's testimony in this case, the prosecution showed the jury the photograph of her bruised face that she had given to the police in October 2016, and she testified that the injuries were caused when Gonzalez hit her in the August 2016 incident.

II. Discussion
A. Sufficiency of the Evidence for Implied Malice Murder

Gonzalez contends we must reverse his conviction for implied malice murder because the evidence was insufficient to prove he disregarded a known risk of death in the assault on Rudy. The Attorney General argues the conviction was supported by evidence that Gonzalez knew...

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