People v. Roder

Decision Date22 February 1983
Docket NumberCr. 22442
Citation33 Cal.3d 491,189 Cal.Rptr. 501,658 P.2d 1302
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 658 P.2d 1302 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Robert Earl RODER, Defendant and Appellant.

Quin Denvir, State Public Defender, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, and Philip M. Brooks, Deputy State Public Defender, for defendant and appellant.

George Deukmejian, Atty. Gen., Robert H. Philibosian, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Edward P. O'Brien and William D. Stein, Asst. Attys. Gen., W. Eric Collins and David D. Salmon, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

KAUS, Justice.

After a jury trial, defendant Robert Earl Roder was convicted of receiving stolen property (Pen.Code, § 496) and of possession of more than one ounce of marijuana (Health & Saf.Code, § 11357, subd. (c)). On appeal he raises a single issue, contending that in light of the United States Supreme Court decisions in Ulster County Court v. Allen (1979) 442 U.S. 140, 99 S.Ct. 2213, 60 L.Ed.2d 777 and Sandstrom v. Montana (1979) 442 U.S. 510, 99 S.Ct. 2450, 61 L.Ed.2d 39, the trial court committed constitutional error in instructing the jury on the statutory presumption of guilty knowledge embodied in Penal Code section 496. 1 We conclude that defendant's claim is well-founded and accordingly we reverse the receiving count.


In January 1980, Roder and his codefendant Betty Rayfield shared a residence and were coproprietors of Betty Boop's Junque Shop, a secondhand store located in what was described at trial as the "skidrow" section of Santa Cruz. On January 29, a woman informed police that she had seen many items that had been stolen from her home earlier that month at Betty Boop's. The police obtained a warrant and, the following day, entered and searched the store and defendants' residence, seizing 60 items that were later identified by their owners as stolen property. Thereafter, Roder and Rayfield were charged with receiving stolen property. 2

At trial, the prosecution introduced evidence as to a number of the seized items but the jury informed the court on returning its verdict on the receiving charges that it had been able to agree only with respect to one item--a used Selmar clarinet. Accordingly, we summarize the evidence only with respect to this item of property.

The clarinet, easily identifiable because it had a severe crack and was enclosed in a unique case, had been stolen from Bart Goldsteen in November 1979. Goldsteen testified that shortly after it was stolen, he made the rounds of the nearby secondhand stores, including Betty Boop's, describing the clarinet to the proprietors. He identified Roder as the person to whom he had spoken at Betty Boop's, and stated that he had never heard from Roder after that.

Kurt Heisig, a musical instrument dealer in San Jose, testified that sometime before Christmas he spoke with Roder about possibly purchasing the clarinet. Heisig stated that he called the San Jose and Santa Clara police to inquire about the clarinet, but did not call the Santa Cruz police because Roder told him that he had already done so.

Testifying on his own behalf, Roder conceded that he might have had a conversation with Goldsteen about a clarinet but stated that he could not specifically remember it, explaining that he had similar brief conversations about lost items with many people every day. Roder stated that he hardly ever personally bought items to sell in the store and that he had not purchased the clarinet; he testified that the first time he saw the clarinet it was already part of the store inventory. He acknowledged that he had spoken with Heisig about the clarinet and that he had not contacted the Santa Cruz police about the instrument. He maintained, however, that he did not know that the clarinet was stolen property.

The defense also put on evidence indicating that much of the store's inventory was purchased at flea markets in the early hours of the morning, and that Betty Rayfield and others who purchased the goods very often did not comply with the store's "official" policy of obtaining full and accurate identification of the seller of the goods. The defense also produced a receipt book which included an entry for an "old clarinet, $20.00," purchased from a "Merle A. Turner, alien identification number A 13084A13"; the entry was signed by Rayfield. The listing did not describe the manufacturer of the clarinet, nor include an address or phone number of the seller and there was no additional information to establish whether or not the entry referred to Goldsteen's clarinet.

At the conclusion of the trial, the court instructed the jury on the presumption of innocence, the definition of reasonable doubt, and the elements of receiving stolen property: "One, that a person receives property which had been stolen; two, that such person actually knew said property was stolen at the time he or she received such property." The court then gave an instruction based on--but not identical to 3--section 496, subdivision 2, which informed the jury that if it found (1) that defendant was a dealer in secondhand merchandise, (2) that he had bought or received stolen property, (3) that he bought or received such property under circumstances which should have caused him to make reasonable inquiry that the person from whom the property was bought had the legal right to sell it, and (4) that he did not make such reasonable inquiry, "then you shall presume that defendant[ ] bought or received such property knowing it to have been stolen unless from all the evidence you have reasonable doubt that defendant[ ] knew the property was stolen." 4

During deliberations, the jury requested clarification of the latter instruction. The court reviewed the four elements noted above, and then explained: "If you find those four things, then the presumption does come into play. [p] The presumption is that the defendants bought such property knowing it to have been stolen. However it's a presumption--There are two kinds of presumptions. One is a conclusive presumption that if you have the presumption, that's it, you don't go any further. This isn't that kind of presumption. It's what's called a rebuttable presumption, because you have the presumption, presume to know that the property was stolen, but they can go forward and raise a reasonable doubt that they actually knew that. So you still do have that question. Basically, it boils down to are you satisfied that they acquired or retained the property knowing it was stolen, or do you have a reasonable doubt...."

The jury resumed its deliberations and thereafter returned a verdict finding Roder guilty of receiving stolen property. 5 As noted, the jury indicated in response to the court's inquiry that the clarinet was the only item of stolen property on which it had reached unanimous agreement.


Roder's sole contention on appeal is that the trial court erred in instructing the jury on the presumption of guilty knowledge applicable to secondhand dealers embodied in section 496. He asserts that the United States Supreme Court's decisions in Ulster County Court v. Allen, supra, and Sandstrom v. Montana, supra, establish that such a presumption is unconstitutional because it relieves the prosecution of its burden of proving all elements of the criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt. 6

In the past two decades the Supreme Court has repeatedly grappled with the problems raised by the use of presumptions in criminal cases. (See, e.g., United States v. Gainey (1965) 380 U.S. 63, 85 S.Ct. 754, 13 L.Ed.2d 658; United States v. Romano (1965) 382 U.S. 136, 86 S.Ct. 279, 15 L.Ed.2d 210; Leary v. United States (1969) 395 U.S. 6, 89 S.Ct. 1532, 23 L.Ed.2d 57; Turner v. United States (1970) 396 U.S. 398, 90 S.Ct. 642, 24 L.Ed.2d 610; Barnes v. United States (1973) 412 U.S. 837, 93 S.Ct. 2357, 37 L.Ed.2d 380. See also Tot v. United States (1943) 319 U.S. 463, 63 S.Ct. 1241, 87 L.Ed. 1519.) In Ulster County --the most recent attempt to formulate general constitutional principles in this area--the court explained: "Inferences and presumptions are a staple of our adversary system of factfinding. It is often necessary for the trier of fact to determine the existence of an element of the crime--that is, an 'ultimate' or 'elemental' fact--from the existence of one or more 'evidentiary' or 'basic' facts. [Citations.] The value of these evidentiary devices, and their validity under the Due Process Clause, vary from case to case, however, depending on the strength of the connection between the particular basic and elemental facts involved and on the degree to which the device curtails the factfinder's freedom to assess the evidence independently. Nonetheless, in criminal cases, the ultimate test of any device's constitutional validity remains constant: the device must not undermine the factfinder's responsibility at trial, based on evidence adduced by the State, to find the ultimate facts beyond a reasonable doubt. See In re Winship [ (1970) ] 397 U.S. 358, 364, [90 S.Ct. 1068, 1072, 25 L.Ed.2d 368]; Mullaney v. Wilbur ( [1975) ] 421 U.S. [684,] 702-703, n. 31 [95 S.Ct. 1881, 1891-1892, n. 31, 44 L.Ed.2d 508]." (Emphasis added.) (442 U.S. at p. 156, 99 S.Ct. at p. 2224.)

In determining whether a particular evidentiary device meets this baseline standard, however, the Ulster County court emphasized that a sharp distinction must be drawn between two different types of devices: (1) "[an] entirely permissive inference or presumption, which allows--but does not require--the trier of fact to infer the elemental fact from proof by the prosecutor of the basic one and which places no burden of any kind on the defendant" (id., at p. 157, 99 S.Ct. at p. 2224), and (2) "[a] mandatory presumption ... [which] tells the trier that he or they must find the elemental fact upon proof of the basic fact, at least unless the defendant has come forward with some evidence to rebut the...

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