People v. Knowles

Decision Date21 April 1950
Docket NumberCr. 4992
Citation217 P.2d 1,35 Cal.2d 175
PartiesPEOPLE v. KNOWLES et al.
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court

Rosalind G. Bates and Aileen M. MacLymont, Los Angeles, for appellant.

Fred N. Howser, Attorney General, and Henry A. Dietz, Deputy Attorney General, for respondent.

TRAYNOR, Justice.

Defendant and Caryl Chessman were jointly charged by information with two counts of armed robbery, two counts of kidnapping for the purpose of robbery, and one count of grant theft. Defendant waived a jury and was tried separately. The trial court found him guilty on both counts of robbery and both counts of kidnapping, but not guilty on the count of grand theft. It determined that one kidnapping involved bodily harm to the victim and sentenced appellant to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. The sentences on the other offenses were to run concurrently. Defendant appeals from the judgment of conviction and the order denying his motion for a new trial, contending that the evidence is insufficient to establish his guilt and that armed robbery is not punishable as kidnapping under Penal Code section 209.

On January 23, 1948, at about 6:30 p. m., defendant and Chessman entered a clothing store in Redondo Beach. There was no one in the store except the owner Melvin Waisler and Joe Lesher, a clerk. Defendant asked to look at overcoats and Lesher showed him several while Chessman sat nearby and Waisler walked around the store. The accused stood in a well-lighted area, and Waisler and Lesher testified that they were able to get a good look at them. Shortly thereafter, defendant and Chessman displayed guns, saying 'this is a stickup, put up your hands.' They compelled Waisler and Lesher to enter a stockroom in the rear of the store and face the wall, and then took their wallets. Defendant held them at gunpoint in the stockroom while Chessman took some clothes and attempted to open the cash register. He returned to the stockroom, forced Lesher to come back and open the register for him, and took money therefrom, after which he returned Lesher to the stockroom. Defendant struck Waisler on the head with the barrel of his gun, and then left with Chessman. Waisler and Lesher ran to the front of the store in time to see defendant and Chessman escaping in a gray 1946 Ford coupe. They then notified the police.

About an hour later, two police officers in a radio car observed the gray Ford proceeding in a northerly direction on Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles, about half a block south of Hollywood Boulevard. They pursued the Ford and saw Chessman, who was driving, turn into a service station, circle it and drive out. The Ford proceeded south at high speed for about a mile, and when Chessman then attempted a U-turn the officers drove their car into the side of the Ford. Both men ran from the car but were quickly caught. The officers found the stolen clothing and a .45 automatic in the rear of the Ford. Chessman had about $150 on his person and defendant $8.

To establish an alibi, defendant produced Miss Ann Stanfied who testified that he visited her at her residence in Hollywood at about 6:00 p. m. on the evening of the robbery and that he remained there for about fifteen or twenty minutes. If her testimony were true, appellant could not have been in Redondo Beach, 23 miles distant, at the time of the robbery. Defendant testified that he met Chessman by appointment at the corner of Vermont Avenue and Sunset Boulevard at about 7:00 p. m. on the evening of the robbery. He testified that there was a man in the car at the time introduced to him by Chessman as Joe, and that Joe rode with them when the police pursuit began, but got out of the car at the service station and ran into the rest room while Chessman and appellant drove off. Chessman corroborated defendant's story.

The foregoing testimony was contradicted in every material detail by witnesses for the prosecution. Waisler and Lesher positively identified defendant as a participant in the robbery. The officers testified that they had the car in plain view at all times, that there were only two occupants, and that they saw none leave it at the station. The direct conflict in the evidence was resolved by the trial court in favor of the people.

Defendant contends that Waisler's and Lesher's identification of him does not establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, because the identification was not by means of a standard police line-up, and because they made the identification after being informed by the police that the robbers had been caught and after they saw defendant's picture in the newspapers upon his arrest in company with Chessman, 'a famous bandit.' It is for the trier of facts to weigh the evidence relating to identification and to resolve the conflicts therein. His acceptance of an identification not inherently improbable must be upheld if there is substantial evidence to support it, even though the contradictory evidence, if believed, would have induced a contrary result. People v. Waller, 14 Cal.2d 693, 700, 96 P.2d 344; People v. Braun, 14 Cal.2d 1, 5, 92 P.2d 402; People v. Farrington, 213 Cal. 459, 463, 2 P.2d 814; People v. Ash, 88 Cal.App.2d 819, 825, 199 P.2d 711; People v. Alexander, 78 Cal.App.2d 954, 957, 178 P.2d 813; People v. Tanner, 77 Cal.App.2d 181, 186, 175 P.2d 26; People v. Deal, 42 Cal.App.2d 33, 36, 108 P.2d 103. Substantial evidence of defendant's guilt leaves his first contention without merit.

Defendant also contends that the crime of which he was convicted is only armed robbery, and that Penal Code section 209 cannot properly be construed as applicable to that crime. In his view the statute applies only to orthodox kidnapping for ransom or robbery not to the detention of the victim during the commission of armed robbery. This interpretation of section 209 finds no support in its language or legislative history; it could not be sanctioned without a pro tanto repeal by judicial fiat.

Defendant concedes that the language of the statute does not in its ordinary sense support his interpretation. Under that language one accused of armed robbery who has inflicted bodily harm on the victim can be charged with a capital offense. Reasonable men may regard the statute as unduly harsh and therefore unwise; if they do they should address their doubts to the Legislature. It is not for the courts to nullity a statute merely because it may be unwise. 'We do not pause to consider whether a statute differently conceived and framed would yield results more consonant with fairness and reason. We take this statute as we find it.' Cardozo J., in Anderson v. Wilson 289 U.S. 20, 27, 53 S.Ct. 417, 420, 77 L.Ed. 1004.

Before its amendment in 1933, Penal Code section 209 provided that 'Every person who maliciously, forcibly, or fraudulently takes or entices away any person with intent to restrain such person and thereby to commit extortion or robbery, or exact from the relatives or friends of such person any money or valuable thing' (Italics added) shall be punished by imprisonment for life or for a minimum of ten years. The 1933 amendment made the punishment, where the victim suffered bodily harm, death or life imprisonment without possibility of parole. At the same time, however, the Legislature redefined the offense to encompass 'Every person who seizes, confines, inveigles, entices, decoys, abducts, conceals, kidnaps or corries away any individual by any means whatsoever with intent to hold or detain, or who holds or detains, such individual for ransom, reward or to commit extortion or robbery * * *.' (Italics added.) The addition by amendment of the italicized words is a deliberate abandonment of the requirement of movement of the victim that characterized the offense of kidnapping proscribed by section 209 before the amendment. By that amendment the Legislature 'changed the offense therefore described in section 209 from one which required the asportation of the victim to one in which the act of seizing for ransom, reward, or to commit extortion or robbery became a felony.' People v. Raucho, 8 Cal.App.2d 655, 663, 47 P.2d 1108, 1112.

The trial court found on substantial evidence that defendant restrained Waisler and Lesher in the stockroom for about fifteen or twenty minutes and inflicted bodily harm on Waisler during the detention, while his confederate Chessman rifled the cash register. That conduct is clearly covered by the words of section 209 given their plain meaning. Webster's New International Dictionary, Unabridged Edition (1943) defines 'seize' as 'To take possession of by force,' and 'confine' as 'To restrain within limits; to limit; * * * to shut up; imprison; to put or keep in restraint * * * to keep from going out.' Clearly a person is taken possession of by force when he is compelled to enter a room at the point of a gun, as in this case. He is also restrained within limits, shut up, and kept from going out when he is forced to remain in that room for fifteen or twenty minutes. That he is held and detained thereby and that such detention was the purpose of the seizure and confinement is readily apparent. There can be no doubt therefore that defendant and Chessman seized and confined the two victims with intent to hold and detain them or that they held and detained 'such individual(s)' (the victims seized and confined) to commit robbery.

Defendant concedes that asportation of the victim is not an essential element of section 209, but he contends that the Legislature intended that the statute apply only to acts of seizure and confinement incident to a 'traditional act of kidnapping.' The Legislature, however, has broadened the statutory prohibition to include not only the seizure and confinement of an individual in a traditional act of kidnapping (for ransom or reward), but also the seizure and confinement of an individual for the purpose of robbery, a purpose foreign to ...

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