People v. Hines

Decision Date14 December 2020
Docket NumberE071700
Citation272 Cal.Rptr.3d 619,58 Cal.App.5th 583
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Brandon Leonard HINES, Defendant and Appellant.


A jury convicted Brandon Hines of illegally possessing firearms while out on bond, as well as spousal abuse and witness intimidation, and the court sentenced him to 11 years 4 months in prison. During trial proceedings, Hines acted disruptively by making delusional and paranoid comments about the prosecutor, accusing him of being the "devil in the flesh" and having an affair with his former wife. There was also evidence Hines had suffered, and continued to suffer, from mental illness. As a result, defense counsel twice asked to have Hines evaluated psychologically.

The evaluations didn't adequately address Hines's competence to stand trial within the meaning of Penal Code section 1368. After Hines disrupted a pretrial hearing, defense counsel requested an evaluation to get Hines psychological help but declined to say he doubted Hines's competence. The court referred Hines for an evaluation under Penal Code section 4011.6 to determine whether he should be put on a Welfare and Institutions Code section 5150 involuntary 72-hour hold ( section 5150 hold). The report from mental health services at the jail concluded he should not. Defense counsel objected that the evaluation wasn't sufficient to address Hines's competence, but again didn't declare he doubted Hines's competence, didn't put on evidence Hines was struggling to understand the proceedings or assist rationally in his defense, and didn't present evidence linking Hines's mental illness to his capacity to understand the proceedings or assist at trial. The trial judge declined to declare a doubt about his competence and proceeded to jury selection.

Later, in the middle of trial, defense counsel declared he had come to doubt Hines's competence. He raised the issue after a psychiatrist examined Hines and diagnosed him as having schizophrenia

, bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Defense counsel didn't call the psychiatrist to testify but represented he had offered the qualified opinion that Hines wasn't competent to stand trial. The qualification was he doubted his own ability to determine the issue of competence and suggested the court have him evaluated by a psychologist. Defense counsel's representations about the psychiatrist's opinion didn't link Hines's mental illness to his capacity to understand the proceedings or assist at trial and he again didn't put on evidence Hines was having difficulty assisting rationally in his defense. Rather, his competency conclusion was conclusory. The trial judge again declined to declare a doubt as to Hines's competence and refused to suspend the trial on the ground Hines had in fact been assisting in his defense. Hines then testified at some length without further incident, and the jury convicted him of illegally possessing firearms while out on bond, spousal abuse, and witness intimidation.

On appeal, Hines argues the trial judge was required to suspend the trial and hold a full competency hearing under Penal Code section 1368. Since the trial judge didn't declare a doubt about Hines's competence, we must affirm unless defense counsel presented substantial evidence to doubt Hines's competence. We conclude Hines's conduct and the information defense counsel adduced about him was worrisome but didn't constitute substantial evidence of his incompetence because defense counsel didn't link his outbursts and mental illness to any limitation on his ability to understand the proceedings or provide rational assistance to defense counsel.

Hines also argues the court erred by admitting rebuttal testimony about his employees intimidating attorneys during this case and in Hines's family law proceedings with an ex-wife. We conclude the trial judge didn't abuse his discretion by admitting the testimony and, in any event, the admission was harmless.

We therefore affirm the judgment.

A. The Underlying Offenses

Brandon Hines owned and operated Matrix Work Solutions (Matrix), an office furniture company in Perris, with his girlfriend, Jane Doe. He hired Doe in October 2016 to work in sales and business development. Within a month, the two began a romantic relationship which continued at the time of trial in August 2018. According to Doe, by the time of these events, she owned 10 percent of the company.

K.H. also worked at Matrix. He said he worked for Hines for more than four years and has served as a salesman. K.H. said the business had done very well, but they started losing clients toward the end when Hines began acting erratically. He said Hines's behavior "went from steady to erratic. It was day-to-day. You didn't know what was going to happen [each] day." Eventually, he said, Hines's unpredictability and erratic behavior led him to leave the company. Some of those incidents also led to the criminal case against Hines.

K.H. reported Hines started mixing business posts on his social media account with personal posts of questionable content. He would regularly post business information—things like an advertisement for a high-end brand of office chairs, a solicitation for new employees, or an announcement the company was opening a new show room. But he also posted personal information about his girlfriend, which K.H. described as "very demeaning, derogatory statements," including nude photographs and descriptions of her participating in group sex for his benefit.

K.H. said he saw Hines physically abuse Doe on one occasion. He said Hines grabbed Doe around the neck with one hand and slapped her across the face with his other hand. Hines "grabbed [her] by the neck, and I mean it wasn't a full hit but it was enough of a slap that it made me uncomfortable, and I had to grab him and tell him, all right, let's go, we've got to leave now." He said the attack was unprovoked and he talked to Doe afterward and told her there are programs where she could get help. He said this event occurred around the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018.

On February 15, 2018, K.H. and Hines had a serious confrontation which led directly to this case. Hines directed K.H. to remove spray paint Hines had used to deface his own home. K.H. said Hines had complained the police had been harassing him at night, "bugging him, banging on his door, not letting him sleep, and all this stuff." Hines decided to respond by spray painting his porch, driveway, and fence. His landlord threatened him with eviction if he didn't clean it up. Hines chose K.H. to do the job, demanding that he stay late after work. K.H. said he worked late into the night but eventually told Hines he would finish the job the next morning. Hines confirmed the key points of this story, though he was less flattering of the work K.H. performed.

Hines wasn't happy when K.H. suggested leaving with the job incomplete and started yelling at him. K.H. said Hines threatened to break his legs, kill him, and paralyze him. Hines told K.H. he would say when K.H. could leave and pulled him into the house and locked the door. K.H. said Hines got "physical to the point of his nose touching mine and spitting in my face." K.H. became concerned when he saw a gun on a table about six feet away, and he said Hines threatened him with it, though he denied Hines had actually brandished the gun at him. K.H. said he was scared by Hines's threats and believed he would follow through. He said Hines had previously expressed anger in text messages or comments, but the physical confrontation "was a new level." Hines told K.H. to leave and never come back. Hines testified and denied many of these allegations, including that he had a gun and that he had threatened K.H. in any way.

Three Matrix employees testified they had witnessed the incident with K.H. Gerald M. worked for Hines from sometime in early 2017 until February 2018. He said he was at Hines's house on the day K.H. was cleaning graffiti and overheard the two having a heated argument that lasted about 45 minutes and ended with Hines firing K.H. He said the two didn't physically fight and he didn't hear Hines threaten K.H. in any way. He also said he never saw firearms at Hines's house. Luis V. said he began working for Hines in early 2017. He said he was on the phone with Hines during the incident with K.H., which he said lasted about 20 to 30 minutes. According to Luis V., Hines told K.H. he was going to let K.H. go and K.H. resisted, but they didn't really argue.

Diego G. began working for Hines in February 2018 and worked for him for about five or six months. He said he cared a lot for Hines personally and had attended much of Hines's trial. Diego G. had gotten the Matrix logo tattooed on his right side of his head the same day as the argument between Hines and K.H. He said he came to Hines's house to deliver a chair that day. He said K.H. was using the wrong product to clean spray paint from concrete, which made the ground slippery and caused him to fall. Hines arrived later and also slipped and fell, which precipitated an argument, which Diego G. said lasted only a few minutes. He said Hines didn't threaten K.H. and said he didn't see any guns or weapons in the house. He reported that Gerald M. wasn't there during the argument but arrived later.

After the testimony of these three employees, the prosecution called two witnesses who said they had been intimidated by Matrix employees. A.R., a prosecutor who had been assigned to Hines's domestic violence case, said two men with Matrix shirts, one of whom had a Matrix tattoo on his face, followed her around the courthouse on the day of the preliminary hearing. She said she feared for her safety and asked to be taken off the case. She described how the two men looked and said they had been called as witnesses in the case but said she hadn't learned their names.


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