People v. Reeves

Citation415 P.2d 35,64 Cal.2d 766,51 Cal.Rptr. 691
Decision Date10 June 1966
Docket NumberCr. 9299
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 415 P.2d 35 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Edmund Earl REEVES, Defendant and Appellant. In Bank

Mary Montgomery, Berkeley, under appointment by Supreme Court, for defendant and appellant.

Thomas C. Lynch, Atty. Gen., Raymond M. Momboisse and Theodore T. N. Slocum, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

MOSK, Justice.

This is an automatic appeal (Pen.Code, § 1239, subd. (b)) from a judgment imposing the death penalty upon conviction of murder in the first degree. 1

Defendant relies primarily upon asserted inadequacy of the representation provided by his trial counsel, but we conclude that this and the other contentions of defendant are without merit and that the judgment must be affirmed.

When the record is viewed in the light most favorable to the judgment, as it must be, the following facts appear: on the morning of March 24, 1965, two employees of the Standard Oil Company, Floyd Parsons and Paul Pugh, drove to an oilfield outside Bakersfield for the purpose of checking its operation. As they arrived, defendant was observed emptying the contents of a five-gallon can into a container in the trunk of his car, parked next to a toolhouse. The men at first ignored defendant and conducted their own business. Pugh then heard someone walk up behind him and order him to turn around and put up his hands. He did so and found himself looking into a gun held by defendant, and nearby was Parsons with his hands up. Defendant instructed the men to 'unload your pockets and throw it on the ground.' Pugh threw down a total of some $150, but Parsons had only seventy cents. Defendant then said brusquely, 'All right, turn around and start walking.' They obeyed, and as they walked slowly between two tanks Parsons veered to the left and Pugh to the right. Defendant called out, 'No, go the other way, the other way,' gesturing with his gun for Pugh to remain with Parsons.

The men continued walking slowly together. Their path narrowed as they reached some pipes supporting a catwalk, and Parsons' arm touched Pugh. At that point both men were hidden from the road and the adjacent workyard. As they passed the pipes with their backs to defendant, he began firing steadily and 'not too fast.' Parsons lurched heavily against Pugh, who jumped around a tank and ran a weaving course until he was behind a boiler. After the shots ceased, Pugh came out onto the road. Defendant saw him and fired twice more, but Pugh took cover in a clump of brush. Pugh watched as defendant returned to the robbery loot, picked it up and pocketed it, then ran to his car and drove away at high speed. Pugh found Parsons' body and called the police. Defendant was identified by Pugh from a photograph, and was arrested two days later in Los Angeles.

The testimony of a pathologist established that Parsons died from injuries caused by a bullet fired from the right rear, passing through his arm and back and exiting from his chest. Although this wound was fatal, Parsons had been shot twice more, once in the abdomen and once in the chest.

On this evidence defendant was indicted on April 1, 1965, on one count of murder and one count of robbery. On April 2 the trial court appointed James Meeks as counsel for defendant. After several continuances defendant was arraigned on May 5 and entered the sole plea of not guilty by reason of insanity to both counts. Three doctors were appointed to examine defendant and determine the question of his sanity. On May 27 defendant waived trial by jury on the sanity issue and stipulated that the matter be submitted to the court on the basis of the doctors' reports. The court found, in accordance with the unanimous medical opinions expressed in those reports, that defendant was sane at the time of committing the crimes and was sane for the purpose of standing trial.

Defendant at first requested a court trial on the issue of the degree of the murder, but on June 11, the date set for the hearing, defendant stipulated that the murder was of the first degree by reason of the felonymurder rule. Defendant also waived a jury on the penalty issue, stipulating that the matter be determined by the court on the basis of the grand jury transcript, defendant's 'rap sheet' or record of arrests and dispositions, and oral argument. The court continued the proceedings to June 23 to enable it to study the documents in question, and on the latter date heard argument and took the matter under submission. On June 30 the court entered a judgment imposing the death penalty on the murder count.

Defendant's sole plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, of course, 'admits the commission of the offense charged.' (Pen.Code, § 1016.) When the insanity defense failed and the court as trier of fact determined that the death penalty should be imposed, defendant was left with few issues on appeal other than the asserted inadequacy of the representation provided by his trial counsel.

At the threshold, defendant challenges the very order appointing Mr. Meeks to serve as his attorney, arguing that it 'denied him his right to counsel of his own choosing.' The basis of this attack is a reporter's clerical error in recording as an affirmative defendant's negative answer to the court's query, at arraignment, as to whether he had funds to hire his own attorney. Some weeks after entry of judgment the court on motion of the district attorney made an order correcting the transcript to show a negative answer. Notice of the motion to correct had been served on defendant only four days earlier, at a time when defendant had discharged his trial counsel and was incarcerated on Death Row; when the hearing was held defendant was therefore neither present nor represented by counsel. In view of the potential importance of this point to defendant's appeal we returned the record to the trial court with directions to resettle the disputed portion of the transcript in a proceeding at which defendant would have the right to appear either in propria persona or by counsel. (Cf. Chessman v. Teets (1957) 354 U.S. 156, 77 S.Ct. 1127, 1 L.Ed.2d 1253; In re Finn (1960) 54 Cal.2d 807, 814--815, 8 Cal.Rptr. 741, 356 P.2d 685.) A hearing for that purpose was duly held, and witnesses testified both for and against the proposed correction; among others, defendant testified in his own behalf. The court made an order again correcting the transcript to show a negative answer by defendant to the question whether he had funds to hire his own attorney.

The settlement of a transcript is primarily a question of fact to be resolved by the trial court (People v. Mitchell (1964) 61 Cal.2d 353, 371, 38 Cal.Rptr. 726, 392 P.2d 526), and no abuse of the court's discretion in this respect is shown here.

As indicated above, defendant now contends on appeal that his trial counsel reduced the proceedings to 'a farce or a sham' by offering or entering into various waivers and stipulations, and that the court committed prejudicial error by accepting such waivers and stipulations assertedly in the absence of a showing that defendant 'intelligently understood' their import and possible consequences. For the same reason, defendant also asserts it was prejudicial error for the court to accept his sole plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

To begin with the last mentioned argument, it is noteworthy that more than a month elapsed between the appointment of trial counsel and the date of arraignment and plea. The record shows that counsel conferred with defendant during this period, and there is therefore no basis for an inference that counsel was inadequately prepared to enter the plea. (Cf. People v. Avilez (1948) 86 Cal.App.2d 289, 294--295, 194 P.2d 829, and cases cited.) The record of the arraignment further indicates the defendant had been advised by his counsel and understood that in the event he was found sane his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity would become in effect a plea of guilty (Pen.Code, § 1026), that his rights had been 'fully explained' to him, and that he understood 'the nature of this plea.' 2 Although the words of the plea were spoken by defense counsel, the trial judge questioned defendant personally in open court and defendant voiced his concurrence therein. This is sufficient compliance with the requirement of Penal Code section 1018 that 'every plea must be put in by the defendant himself in open court.' (In re Martinez (1959) 52 Cal.2d 808, 815, 345 P.2d 449; People v. Martin (1964) 230 Cal.App.2d 62, 63, 40 Cal.Rptr. 700; People v. Gibbs (1961) 188 Cal.App.2d 596, 600--601, 10 Cal.Rptr. 581.) No error appears in the court's acceptance of the plea under these circumstances.

The decision of defendant's trial counsel to enter into various waivers and stipulations reflects neither incompetence nor lack of diligence. In the face of strong prosecution evidence in the form of the surviving eyewitness' testimony that defendant without provocation shot down from behind a robbery victim from whom he had taken a mere seventy cents, it was not unreasonable for defendant and his counsel to choose, as they inferably did, to admit the facts and throw defendant on the mercy of the court. 3 The fact that the strategy was unsuccessful on this occasion, of course, is no ground for concluding that the counsel who conceived it was incompetent. (People v. Robillard (1960) 55 Cal.2d 88, 96, 10 Cal.Rptr. 167, 358 P.2d 295, 83 A.L.R.2d 1086.)

A common feature of the strategy of seeking mercy is for counsel to emphasize the defendant's contrition and his willingness to cooperate, by offering and entering into such waivers and stipulations as will expedite the disposition of the case. Each waiver and stipulation now complained of by defendant was of this kind. For example, it was proper for counsel to waive the formal advising of defendant of his rights under the insanity plea,...

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