People v. Rucker

Decision Date29 January 1980
Docket NumberCr. 20682
Citation26 Cal.3d 368,605 P.2d 843,162 Cal.Rptr. 13
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 605 P.2d 843 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. William Elliott RUCKER, Defendant and Appellant.

Quin Denvir and Paul Halvonik, State Public Defenders, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, Clifton R. Jeffers, Chief Asst. State Public Defender, B. E. Bergesen, III, and Linda Feldman, Deputy State Public Defenders, for defendant and appellant.

Roger S. Ruffin, San Francisco, as amicus curiae on behalf of defendant and appellant.

Evelle J. Younger and George Deukmejian, Attys. Gen., Jack R. Winkler, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Edward P. O'Brien, Asst. Atty. Gen., W. Eric Collins and Dane R. Gillette, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

Stanley M. Roden, Dist. Atty., Santa Barbara, Patrick J. McKinley and Gerald McC. Franklin, Deputy Dist. Attys., as amici curiae on behalf of plaintiff and respondent.

BIRD, Chief Justice.

This appeal raises an important issue concerning whether the admission of evidence of two interviews between appellant and law enforcement officers, which was offered to rebut a defense of diminished capacity, violates the privilege against self-incrimination (U.S.Const., 5th Amend.; Cal.Const., art. I, § 15) and the principles first enunciated in Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694.


On July 31, 1976, some time between 7 and 7:30 p. m. a clerk at a See's Candy Store in Redwood City was shot and killed during a robbery. There were no eyewitnesses, but there was strong circumstantial evidence that appellant fired the fatal shot. The only contested issue presented to the jury for decision was appellant's intent at the time of the incident.

The prosecution's theory at trial was that appellant was guilty of first degree murder since the killing either was committed with malice aforethought in a willful, deliberate, premeditated manner or was committed in the course of a robbery. Extensive evidence was introduced by the defense to establish that at the time of the killing, appellant suffered from diminished capacity since his intoxication from alcohol and other drugs made it impossible for him to harbor malice, premeditate, deliberate, or form the specific intent necessary to commit the underlying felony of robbery. This evidence, which the trial judge indicated amounted to an "excellent" defense, included the testimony of lay and expert witnesses as well as the results of a blood test which showed that appellant's blood-alcohol level at the time of the offense was between 0.25 and 0.30 percent. 1

The prosecution attempted to rebut the defense of diminished capacity by introducing evidence of two interviews with appellant by two police officers and a probation officer. The circumstances surrounding the interviews are somewhat fragmented since the prosecution successfully objected to appellant's repeated requests for an evidentiary hearing on the admissibility of this evidence. The prosecutor claimed that the legality of obtaining the evidence was "not an issue" since the evidence was "to be used only for the limited purpose for (the jury) to determine the mental processes or the clarity and responsiveness of the Defendant." The trial court agreed and refused to permit an evidentiary hearing.

Two interviews are at issue here. The first involves a tape recorded interview with appellant conducted by Officer Bob Petitjean and Sergeant Nelson Benton at 9:47 p. m. on the evening of the homicide. An edited version of this tape was played to the jury and a transcript provided. The prosecution labeled the session with the officers as a "booking interview." On five occasions during the interview, appellant either requested to "talk to a lawyer" or to make a phone call. On each occasion, he was either wholly ignored, told to wait "just a minute," told he had to be "booked" first, or informed that "I can't let you do that until I talk to the detective." 2 Although appellant at most indicated a willingness to reveal his name and address, he was required to divulge his virtual life history: his phone number, age, year of birth, city of birth, height, weight, eye color, eye color as recorded on his birth certificate, present employment, occupation ("printer"), type of printer, length of career as printer, how many living parents, where his mother lived, her phone number, his brother's name, who appellant lived with, the name of his high school, its location, the year of his graduation, whether he was in the service, how long he served, where he was stationed, where he did his basic training, what kind of work he did in the military why he was discharged, where he worked as a machinist, where he started high school, where he lived when he started high school, how long he spent at the high school he graduated from, why he went into the Air Force, when he was discharged, where he was discharged from, when he went to college, where he went to college, what college courses he took, whether he was studying law, and the name of the attorney with whom he was studying.

One portion of the tape of the interview (and the transcript) had been edited to delete reference to certain matters. 3 Those deletions were set forth to the jury in the following manner in the transcript:

"BENTON: How was it you only stayed a year in the Air Force?

"RUCKER: Cause I got a general discharge. My first duty assignment was in Thailand and its the wrong place to send a kid. I got into it, you know.

"BENTON: Do you still use?

"RUCKER: Yep. You want to see?

"BENTON: No, I'm just asking you if you use now.

"RUCKER: Sure, all the time.

"BENTON: When was the last time?

"RUCKER: This morning.

"BENTON: About what time?

"RUCKER: About ten (unreadable). Deleted.

"BENTON: Deleted.

"RUCKER: Deleted.

"BENTON: Deleted.

"RUCKER: Deleted.

"BENTON: Deleted.

"RUCKER: Deleted. So now I'm on this beef. This beef I can beat easy.

"BENTON: Deleted.

"RUCKER: Deleted.

"BENTON: Deleted.

"RUCKER: Deleted. Then I've been printing lately and then I'll get money under the table. Doing alright."

The second interview at issue involves the testimony of appellant's probation officer, Gerald O'Donnell. O'Donnell had been summoned to the jail by a deputy district attorney at about 1:30 a. m. of the morning following the homicide. O'Donnell was asked "simply to talk to (appellant) and form a judgment whether he was acting in a significantly different fashion than (in O'Donnell's) previous experience. . . . (D)iminished capacity was the phrase used." O'Donnell was told that appellant had been "advised of his rights," 4 and O'Donnell did not himself attempt to advise appellant of his Miranda rights nor seek a waiver of those rights. Instead, he immediately told appellant "this was a very serious case" or "you are charged with a murder case." O'Donnell was allowed to testify that appellant replied he "did not do it" and that he had an alibi for the time in question.

O'Donnell "went on talking" with appellant for about 20 minutes and stated that appellant was responsive to his other "questions." The nature of these questions and responses was not revealed at the trial. 5

The evidence of the two interviews was admitted into evidence in the prosecution's rebuttal. The court instructed the jury in the following manner.

"Ladies and Gentlemen . . . You have to be very careful in your mind how you are going to listen to both the tape and the next witness (O'Donnell). What I am going to give you is a limiting instruction.

"The District Attorney is not offering the tape or his subsequent witness who will be evidently testifying about some statements made to him by the Defendant. It is not being offered for you to consider the truth of those statements. It is very important. You are not to listen to the statements to decide whether they were true or not, whether good statements or bad statements or however you want to look at them. That is not why they are being offered to you. You must not think about that aspect of it.

"They are being offered, according to the District Attorney's representations to the Court, to show the mental processes used by the Defendant at the particular time.

"The District Attorney's argument being that he is using that to attack the defense of diminished capacity which has been raised by the Defendant. So it is a fairly fine line, but I know you are an intelligent jury. I am sure you will be able to accept this.

"He is using it not for the truth of the statements in the tape, but for the thought process, the clarity of voice, the intonation, whatever you can get from it and that will also apply to the second, the next witness, the same thing applies there.

"It is not important what was said but whether or not there was a thought process that will assist you in your deliberations. Very important. So remember that.

"On the tape itself we listened to this yesterday it is a very very poor tape, very hard to understand and that is why I have suggested a transcript be prepared so that you can read along as you are listening. That is what I was doing yesterday and with that you can pick it up what is being said, how it is being said. There are deletions on the tape. Certain things were not relevant to the matters before you. So I have ordered those particular sections deleted from the tape. You will see on your transcript where it will say 'deleted' and the tape will say 'deleted.' So there are certain portions that were not relevant and we did take out. You are not to worry about or consider those."

The jury returned verdicts finding appellant guilty of first degree murder and first degree robbery, and the allegation was found to be true that appellant used a firearm in the commission of these offenses. (Pen.Code, §§ 187, 189; former Pen.Code, § 211a; Pen.Code, §§ 1203.06, subd. (a)(1), and 12022.5.) This appeal followed.



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