People v. Sanchez

Decision Date29 April 1994
Docket NumberNo. B071169,B071169
Citation30 Cal.Rptr.2d 111,24 Cal.App.4th 1012
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties, 62 USLW 2733 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Arthur Anthony SANCHEZ, Defendant and Appellant.
Bruce Eric Cohen, Berkeley, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for defendant and appellant

Daniel E. Lungren, Atty. Gen., George Williamson, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Robert R. Anderson, Senior Asst. Atty. Gen., Cynthia G. Besemer, Supervising Deputy Atty. Gen., and Harry Joseph Colombo, Deputy Atty. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

FRED WOODS, Associate Justice.

We are asked to decide this novel question: if a defendant's lawyer delivers inculpatory writings to the trial court, under seal, may the trial court furnish those writings to the prosecutor without violating either the defendant's privilege against self-incrimination or the reciprocal discovery statutes (PEN.CODE, §§ 10541-1054.7)? Our answer is yes. We affirm the first degree murder judgment.


By information, Arthur Anthony Sanchez (appellant) was charged with the March 28, 1992, murder of Rufugia Limon Huerta. It was alleged he personally used a deadly weapon, a rope (§ 12022, subd. (b)). Appellant pleaded not guilty and denied the allegation.

On June 10, 1992, the prosecutor filed a motion with the trial court "to produce and ... unseal documents in the custody of the county clerk." Defense counsel filed an opposition. On July 7, 1992, Superior Court Judge James H. Piatt, after hearing argument by counsel, granted the motion. Execution of the order was stayed to permit appellant to petition for a writ of prohibition. On August 5, 1992, Division Three of this court summarily denied appellant's petition. The next day, on August 6, 1992, Judge Piatt personally turned the subject writings over to the prosecutor.

Trial began on September 8, 1992. Jury deliberations began September 22, 1992, and later that day the jury found appellant guilty of first degree murder (§ 187) and found true the allegation he had personally used a deadly weapon, a rope. (§ 12022, subd. (b).) The trial court, Superior Court Judge Thomas F. Nuss, denied appellant's new trial motion and sentenced him to state prison for 26 years to life.

There being no insufficiency of evidence claim, we summarize the evidence. Our perspective favors the judgment. (People v. Barnes (1986) 42 Cal.3d 284, 303-304, 228 Cal.Rptr. 228, 721 P.2d 110.)

That appellant strangled Ruth 2 Huerta in his bedroom of his parents' house in the early afternoon of March 28, 1992, was not disputed. Appellant admitted as much before and during trial. In dispute was only the degree of his culpability.

Appellant and the victim began dating in October 1991 and some months later became engaged. But in late February or early March 1992 their relationship became strained. Appellant was unemployed, lived with his parents, and was depressed. During a meeting with Ruth appellant became upset and shook her. She said she didn't want to see him anymore. Appellant continued to telephone her, became angry, and called her names.

On March 28, 1992, the victim and her 16-year-old sister Roxanne planned to celebrate Roxanne's good grades by going shopping in the mall and then out to eat. But early that morning appellant called and told Roxanne he wanted to speak to Ruth. Informed she was in the bathroom, he called again. Ruth talked to appellant and they yelled at each other. Finally, Ruth agreed to briefly see appellant.

Before she left, around 1 p.m., Ruth told Roxanne to telephone her at appellant's house and say there was an emergency, otherwise appellant probably wouldn't let her leave.

A little after 1 p.m. appellant's uncle arrived at appellant's house, saw Ruth's car in the driveway, and spoke briefly to appellant outside the house. The uncle left but returned in about 15 minutes, saw Ruth's car still in the driveway, talked to appellant for a few minutes outside the house, and left. He had not seen or heard Ruth. Appellant did not appear intoxicated to him, appellant seemed "normal."

Appellant's parents returned home about 5:30 p.m. and saw a note from appellant on the kitchen table. It stated: "Mom Dad I love you and I'm so sorry for what has happened. I love you. Please forgive me. I will call you. If anyone calls for Ruth, say that we went to Newport Beach."

A short time later appellant's married sister, Sherri Lucero, called her parents and asked if appellant's bedroom door was locked. 3 When told it was, she urged her parents to get into the room. They did. On the floor was an object wrapped in a tarp and covered by a blanket. Appellant's mother called 911.

The police arrived and found Ruth inside the blanket and tarp coverings, dead, strangled by a double looped rope around her neck. Her ankles, wrists, and elbows were bound with telephone cord.

Appellant, after killing Ruth, drove her car to a bank and used her ATM card to withdraw $200. Later, about 6:30 p.m., he drove to his sister Kathy's house and told her something bad had happened, that someone had been killed.

The next day, March 29, 1992, accompanied by his sisters, appellant surrendered to the police.

Appellant testified that on March 28, 1992, he consumed quantities of alcohol and cocaine, argued with Ruth at his house, put a rope around his neck and then remembered sitting on the bedroom floor, looking up and seeing Ruth's eyes staring at him. He didn't see the rope around her neck, he only saw her eyes. He was scared and, still seated, flipped the blanket over Ruth. He felt weak, hot, had difficulty standing up, ran around the house yelling, returned to the bedroom, and, in stumbling, pulled Ruth from the bed onto the floor. He tried to lift her in order to carry her to the car and get help but he couldn't lift her. So he tied her ankles together to lift her, but still couldn't. He didn't remember tying her wrists and elbows and didn't remember strangling her.

A. Did the trial court err in furnishing the inculpatory writings to the prosecutor?
1. The inculpatory writings.

About a week after the offense, appellant's sisters Kathy and Sherri decided to air out appellant's bedroom and also to look for letters. They, along with appellant's parents, other relatives and friends began looking into the closets of his two bedrooms. In the middle bedroom, where Ruth's body had been found, Sherri saw a bag in the closet filled with magazines. Among the magazines were papers with appellant's writing.

In a back bedroom, also used by appellant, Sherri found other papers on the closet floor. Some were balled up. Others were in a little box. They also had appellant's writing.

The writings were of various sorts. Some were dated (Mar. 26 or Mar. 27 or Mar. 28), some were signed by appellant, and almost all referred to Ruth and appellant's feelings toward her. One dated "3/26" stated: "I don't want to hurt my girl but if she's not going to be mine, she won't be anyone else's either. Our love was meant to be 'Death do us Part'."

Another stated that Saturday "could be the perfect opportunity, to follow through with what may very well be necessary. [p] I really do wish that I had a gun, it would be so much easier and less painful. Although if Still another appeared to be a murder checklist. On a 3 1/2 X 7 1/2 inch piece of paper were the following numbered entries: "(1) strangle-stab 4 (2) enter into 4-ply gray plastic bags (3) seal bags thoroughly (4) empty trunk and line w/blanket to place 4-ply into a cover with blanket. Check all oil, fluids, tires. (5) place two (5 gall.) gas containers in both corners of trunk (6) P. hills [?] ATM bogus deposit of $320 5 --/withdraw $200--try to write check to guerrero bail for $100 $200 (7) use credit card to fill gas tank and containers, purchase tire flat fix cans (9) 6 Roy (cocaine) (10) need two cocaine bullets to be able to snort and drive calmly and safely to Seattle. 7 "

it needs to come to this, maybe pain should be felt?"

2. Transmission of the inculpatory writings.

In a declaration filed with the trial court, the prosecutor described the transmission and delivery of the subject writings as follows. Sherri, appellant's sister, and other family members found the writings and gave them to Kathy Gonzales, another sister of appellant. She gave them to an attorney, Henry Gonzales. Mr. Gonzales gave them to a public defender investigator who gave them to appellant's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Henry Bastien. Mr. Bastien placed the writings in a sealed envelope, and without informing the prosecutor, delivered them to the clerk of the court.

The prosecutor learned of the writings from Sherri Lucero's husband who also told the prosecutor that appellant's sister Kathy had given them to the attorney Henry Gonzales.

3. Defense counsel's delivery of the inculpatory writings to the trial court.

Although defense counsel did not explain why he delivered, under seal, the inculpatory writings to the trial court, case law suggests an explanation.

In People v. Lee (1970) 3 Cal.App.3d 514, 526, 83 Cal.Rptr. 715 8 the court stated it was " 'an abuse of a lawyer's professional responsibility knowingly to take possession of and secrete the instrumentalities of a crime.' " Its discussion made clear the responsibility extended to other physical evidence. (Ibid.) Defense counsel could withhold the physical evidence for a reasonable time to examine it but then " 'should, as an officer of the court, on his own motion turn the same over to the prosecution.' " (Ibid.)

Our Supreme Court extended this responsibility in People v. Meredith (1981) 29 Cal.3d 682, 175 Cal.Rptr. 612, 631 P.2d 46. In Meredith the victim was robbed and murdered. One of the defendants (Scott) told his lawyer he took "the victim's wallet, divided the money with Meredith, attempted to burn...

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