People v. Pineda

Decision Date27 June 2022
Docket NumberS150509
Citation13 Cal.5th 186,511 P.3d 492,294 Cal.Rptr.3d 731
Parties The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Santiago PINEDA, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court

Michael Hersek and Mary K. McComb, State Public Defenders, Gary D. Garcia and Jessica E. Oats, Deputy State Public Defenders, for Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris and Rob Bonta, Attorneys General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Lance E. Winters, James William Bilderback II and Scott A. Taryle, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Opinion of the Court by Cantil-Sakauye, C. J.

Defendant Santiago Pineda was convicted in Los Angeles County Superior Court of the murders of Rafael Sanchez (also known, and referred to at trial, as Juan Armenta) and Raul Tinajero. ( Pen. Code, § 187, subd. (a).)1 Special circumstance allegations that the murder of Sanchez occurred during the commission of a robbery (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(17)), that the murder of Tinajero involved the killing of a witness (id. , subd. (a)(10)), and that defendant had been convicted of multiple murders (id. , subd. (a)(3)) were found true. At the penalty phase of trial, the jury returned a sentence of death.

On appeal, defendant asserts that a juror was improperly excused for cause, evidence was wrongly admitted, and other errors were committed at his trial that, individually and collectively, require reversal of the judgment. We affirm the judgment in its entirety.

A. Guilt Phase

The prosecution's theory of the case was that defendant, accompanied by Tinajero, killed Sanchez in the early morning hours of March 7, 2002, by running him over with a car. Defendant was charged with Sanchez's murder. Tinajero then testified at defendant's trial, pursuant to a grant of immunity from prosecution. That trial resulted in a mistrial after defendant's attorney fell ill. Defendant and Tinajero were both housed at the Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles as defendant awaited retrial. On April 20, 2004, defendant — who was supposed to be kept away from Tinajero — gained access to Tinajero's cell and choked him to death.

1. People's Case
a. Killing of Rafael Sanchez

With Tinajero being unavailable to testify, his testimony at the previous trial was presented to the jury. (See Evid. Code, § 1291, subd. (a)(2).)2 Tinajero's prior testimony described the events of March 6 and 7, 2002, as follows.

On March 6, Tinajero and defendant were passengers in a car being driven by defendant's friend. Tinajero, who was 18 years old at the time, had been defendant's neighbor for years. While they were stopped at an intersection, defendant engaged in a conversation with Sanchez, who was driving a nearby vehicle. Tinajero had never met Sanchez before, and to his knowledge, neither had defendant. Sanchez was driving a white Infiniti; Tinajero thought he looked drunk. Defendant reached out of his vehicle to hand a bottle of tequila to Sanchez, who took a drink from the bottle and then returned it.

Tinajero, defendant, and defendant's friend then drove to defendant's house in Wilmington, which was on a street that intersected with another street named Blinn. Sanchez followed in his Infiniti. The four men hung out in front of defendant's house for a while. Tinajero, Sanchez, and defendant eventually decided to go to Long Beach to "pick up some girls." They left together in Sanchez's Infiniti, with Sanchez driving.

On the way, the men stopped at a house where defendant's cousin joined them in the car. After driving more, Sanchez stopped the car in an alley, where he, defendant, and defendant's cousin all exited the vehicle to urinate.3 Defendant and his cousin then ran back to the Infiniti and drove away, stranding Sanchez.

Defendant drove the Infiniti back to Wilmington and parked the car a block away from his house. Defendant, his cousin, and Tinajero proceeded to defendant's house. Sanchez returned, now driving a Honda. Sanchez wanted his Infiniti back and seemed upset. Defendant falsely said that the vehicle was in Long Beach and told Sanchez he would help him find it. Sanchez, defendant, and Tinajero then left together in the Honda, with Sanchez driving.

At some point, Sanchez stopped the Honda at his sister's house and went inside. Defendant and Tinajero did not join him. When Sanchez was inside the house, defendant told Tinajero that he intended to choke Sanchez and steal the Honda, too. Defendant asked Tinajero to participate, but Tinajero declined, saying he did not want to be involved. Tinajero and defendant changed positions in the car, with defendant moving from the front seat to the backseat and Tinajero moving forward.

After Sanchez returned, he drove his passengers around to find the Infiniti. Defendant and Tinajero pretended to look for the vehicle. Sanchez eventually stopped the Honda in Palmer Court, an alley in Long Beach. Defendant reached around the driver's headrest and started to choke Sanchez. Sanchez did not resist. Once it appeared that Sanchez had passed out, defendant opened the driver's door from the inside and threw Sanchez out of the car, onto the ground. Defendant then hopped into the driver's seat. Driving short distances forward and backward, he ran over Sanchez several times.

Defendant and Tinajero took the Honda back to Wilmington. There, the two men switched back to the Infiniti they had previously taken from Sanchez. With defendant now driving the Infiniti, they returned to Palmer Court. Defendant told Tinajero he wanted to "go check it out." When they arrived, defendant, driving fast, ran over Sanchez once again. Tinajero was unsure whether defendant had seen Sanchez before striking him.

The fire department arrived at the scene while defendant and Tinajero were still in the alley. Defendant maneuvered the Infiniti so the fire engine could pass and then drove a short distance away. He parked the car and walked back to the alley with Tinajero. They saw the fire department attending to Sanchez. Defendant and Tinajero then returned to the Infiniti and drove away, intending to return to Wilmington. Before they could go far, they were pulled over by police and taken into custody.

When in custody after his arrest, Tinajero told police that defendant had not run anyone over. More than a week later, after he had been released and police came to his house to speak with him, Tinajero confessed to his and defendant's involvement in Sanchez's death.

Other witnesses also testified regarding the events leading to Sanchez's death and the investigation that followed.

Eduardo Quevedo, Sanchez's close friend, testified that Sanchez had come to his apartment at around 11:00 p.m. on March 6, 2002. Sanchez was with two other men, one of whom Quevedo identified in court as defendant. They arrived in Sanchez's Infiniti. Quevedo noticed that Sanchez was drunk. Sanchez declined Quevedo's offer to take him home and left along with defendant and the other man.

About a half-hour later, Sanchez returned on foot. Quevedo asked what had happened. Sanchez said he had been beaten up and that the men he was with had taken his car. Sanchez seemed upset. Quevedo tried to talk Sanchez into going home, but Sanchez told him to drive to an automobile repair shop where he worked. Quevedo dropped Sanchez off at the shop and parked nearby to see what Sanchez would do. He noticed Sanchez drive off in a Honda. Quevedo tried to follow Sanchez, but was unsuccessful. When returning home, at some point Quevedo saw Sanchez's Infiniti pass by "really fast." He was unable to see who was driving.

Sanchez's sister, Patricia Armenta, testified that Sanchez visited her home in Long Beach at 1:30 a.m. on March 7, asking for something to eat. He seemed angry, and said that his car had been stolen and that he knew who had done it. Sanchez told her that the culprits lived in Wilmington on Blinn Street. He added that he was going to go to where those people were located. Sanchez was at Armenta's house for 10 or 15 minutes. Before leaving, he said he had some people with him he was going to drop off.

Virginia Ramos and David Rodriguez testified that they were living on Palmer Court at the time of Sanchez's death. Ramos recalled that she was up early during the morning of March 7 to get some milk for her daughter when she looked out her kitchen window and saw a dark-colored car parked outside. Normally no car would be parked there at night. Rodriguez also saw a small dark car with a few people around it. Between 15 minutes and a half-hour later, their dog barked. Rodriguez went outside. The car was gone, and there was a man crawling on the ground. The man was moaning, and Rodriguez thought he might be drunk, or that he might have been beaten. Rodriguez returned to his residence to call an ambulance and then went back outside. Five or ten minutes later, a small white car turned into the alley, traveling at a speed that Rodriguez estimated as 25 to 30 miles an hour. Rodriguez was quite sure the car had its lights on. Rodriguez went inside because he did not want to see the man in the alley get hit. Ramos and Rodriguez heard two thumps. They both watched as the white car passed by their home. The vehicle then made a three-point turn and headed the other way. Ramos called 911, reporting that the man Rodriguez had called about earlier had since been run over by a car. Rodriguez saw the white car become temporarily blocked in the alley by an arriving fire engine, and then leave the scene.

Fire department personnel testified that at approximately 1:50 a.m. on March 7, they responded to a report of a staggering man on Palmer Court in Long Beach. Their progress into the alley was blocked by a white vehicle, with two male Hispanic passengers inside. The vehicle had some damage to its front end and a broken windshield. The white vehicle was maneuvered into a parking area so that the truck could pass. The fire captain provided a description of the vehicle to dispatch. Sanchez was found on the east side of Palmer Court,...

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4 cases
  • People v. Rodriguez
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • June 29, 2023
    ... ... allegations. ( People v. Tran (2022) 13 Cal.5th 1169, ... 1208 ( Tran ) ["[G]ang evidence, even if not ... admitted to prove a gang enhancement, may still be relevant ... and admissible to prove other facts related to a ... crime."]; accord, People v. Pineda (2022) 13 ... Cal.5th 186, 233-234 ( Pineda ).) To the contrary, the ... series of events that culminated in Villegas's death ... involved gang-related behavior by Villegas; gang evidence was ... relevant to the prosecutor's theory of the motive and ... intent ... ...
  • People v. Kassaz
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • March 29, 2023
    ... ... Valdez (2012) 55 Cal.4th 82, 130 [objections that ... evidence was irrelevant, cumulative, lacking in foundation, ... and prejudicial did not preserve for appeal claim that ... evidence was inadmissible under Evid. Code, § 1101, ... subd. (a)]; see People v. Pineda ... (2022) 13 Cal.5th 186, 234 [objection as lacking foundation ... did not preserve distinct argument testimony was inadmissible ... under Evid. Code, § 1101].) ...          Evidence ... Code section 353, subdivision (a), provides that a court may ... ...
  • People v. Callahan
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • August 16, 2022
    ... ... Cole (2004) 33 Cal.4th 1158, 1198.) The ... trial court's ruling will not be disturbed unless it ... exercised its discretion in an arbitrary, capricious, or ... patently absurd manner that resulted in a manifest ... miscarriage of justice. (People v. Pineda (2022) 13 ... Cal.5th 186, 222.) ...          We ... conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by ... admitting the portrait photograph of Sergeant Licon in ... uniform while he was alive. The Supreme Court has ... "permitted similar ... ...
  • People v. Okuwoga
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • August 3, 2023
    ... ... longer [ sic ] come around because it shows a sign of ... weakness." Accordingly, some of the gang evidence was ... relevant to the disputed issues at trial other than the gang ... allegations. (See People v. Pineda (2022) 13 Cal.5th ... 186, 236 [trial court did not err in permitting evidence of ... defendant's gang affiliation that was relevant to reason ... why he was authorized to kill victim-someone who had snitched ... on a gang member-in jailhouse environment where gangs exerted ... ...
5 books & journal articles
  • Character and habit
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books California Objections
    • March 29, 2023
    ...tend to make the existence of the defendant’s knowledge more probable than it would be without the evidence. People v. Pineda (2022) 13 Cal. 5th 186, 224, 294 Cal. Rptr. 3d 731. When the knowledge at issue can be derived from different experiences, only a general similarity is required. Peo......
  • Table of cases
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books California Objections
    • March 29, 2023
    ...Rptr. 2d 698, §10:10 Pina v. County of Los Angeles (2019) 38 Cal. App. 5th 531, 251 Cal. Rptr. 3d 17, §17:70 Pineda, People v. (2022) 13 Cal. 5th 186, 294 Cal. Rptr. 3d 731, §§2:160, 7:50, 11:10 Pineda v. Los Angeles Turf Club, Inc. (1980) 112 Cal. App. 3d 53, 169 Cal. Rptr. 66, §1:120 Pinh......
  • Witness examination
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books California Objections
    • March 29, 2023
    ...Code §§773(b), 767(a)(1). A party must object to any improper cross-examination to raise the issue on appeal. People v. Pineda (2022) 13 Cal. 5th 186, 237, 294 Cal. Rptr. 3d 731. For objections during cross-examination, see §7:120 et seq. §7:60 Redirect and Recross Definitions • Redirect ex......
  • Jury selection
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    • James Publishing Practical Law Books California Objections
    • March 29, 2023
    ...because they might impose a higher threshold before concluding that the death penalty is appropriate. People v. Pineda (2022) 13 Cal. 5th 186, 212, 294 Cal. Rptr. 3d 731. A dismissal is appropriate if the court is left with a definite impression that the prospective juror is unable or unwil......
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