People v. Soto, 043018 CASC, S236164

Docket Nº:S236164
Opinion Judge:CHIN, J.
Party Name:THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. JUAQUIN GARCIA SOTO, Defendant and Appellant.
Attorney:Stephen B. Bedrick, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant. Molly O'Neal, Public Defender (Santa Clara), and Michael Ogul, Deputy Public Defender, for California Public Defenders Association and Santa Clara County Public Defenders as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendan...
Case Date:April 30, 2018
Court:Supreme Court of California

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,


JUAQUIN GARCIA SOTO, Defendant and Appellant.


Supreme Court of California

April 30, 2018

Superior Court Monterey County Super. Ct. No. SSC120180, Ct.App. 6 H041615 Carrie McIntyre Panetta Judge.

Stephen B. Bedrick, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Molly O'Neal, Public Defender (Santa Clara), and Michael Ogul, Deputy Public Defender, for California Public Defenders Association and Santa Clara County Public Defenders as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Jeffrey M. Laurence, Assistant Attorney General, Seth K. Schalit, Kevin Kiley and Amit Kurlekar, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Keiter Appellate Law and Mitchell Keiter for Senator Ray Haynes as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Respondent.


A conviction of murder requires a finding of malice, which may be either express or implied. (Pen. Code, §§ 187, 188.)1 Express malice requires an intent to kill “unlawfully, ” but implied malice does not. (§ 188.) By statute, evidence of voluntary intoxication is admissible on the issue of whether the defendant “harbored express malice.” (§ 29.4. subd. (b).) We have held that if a person kills in the actual but unreasonable belief that doing so is necessary, the person does not intend to kill “unlawfully, ” and is guilty of voluntary manslaughter, not murder. (In re Christian S. (1994) 7 Cal.4th 768, 771 (Christian S.).)

We must decide whether section 29.4 permits evidence of voluntary intoxication on the question of whether a defendant believed it necessary to act in self-defense. Reading the statutory language in context and in light of the apparent legislative intent in enacting it, we conclude such evidence is not admissible on this question. Accordingly, CALCRIM No. 625 correctly permits the jury to consider evidence of voluntary intoxication on the question of whether defendant intended to kill but not on the question of whether he believed he needed to act in self-defense.

I. Facts and Procedural History

The Court of Appeal's opinion summarized the evidence regarding the offense. On July 10, 2012, defendant, Juaquin Garcia Soto, entered an apartment building on Oak Avenue in Greenfield, California. He briefly entered and then left Bernardino Solano's apartment. Then, “armed with a knife, [he] kicked in the front door of Israel Ramirez's apartment. Upon entering the apartment, defendant found Ramirez and his partner, Patricia Saavedra, sitting in the living room watching television. The couple's young son was also in the living room. Shortly thereafter, defendant and Ramirez engaged in a knife fight in which both parties stabbed each other multiple times. Defendant then fled the scene and Ramirez died from his wounds.” (People v. Soto (2016) 248 Cal.App.4th 884, 887 (Soto).) “Police found Ramirez's body lying facedown in a pool of blood on the floor of the hallway outside the apartment.” (Id. at p. 888.)

“At trial, Saavedra testified that defendant started the knife fight by stabbing Ramirez first.” (Soto,

supra, 248 Cal.App.4th at p. 887.) Her testimony was supported by evidence that a drop of blood was found on the floor several inches in front of the couch on which Ramirez was sitting. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing of the blood showed it matched a sample of Ramirez's DNA. (Id. at pp. 891, 902.)

Defendant told a different version of the events. The Court of Appeal's opinion reviewed his testimony in detail: “Defendant testified in his defense as follows. He had never seen Ramirez or Saavedra before the night of the offense. In the three- or four-day period before the offense, he had been living on the street, drinking alcohol, and using methamphetamine. His state of mind ‘wasn't right.' Drinking alcohol and using methamphetamine over a three- or four-day period caused him to feel tired and weak. He heard voices and saw shadows.

“On July 10, he began drinking and smoking methamphetamine early in the day, and he used methamphetamine throughout the day. He was carrying a knife that he used for field work. In the evening, he went to the Oak Avenue apartment building to seek work. He had been hired by a man outside the building a few years before. At 6:30 p.m., he went upstairs to Solano's apartment. Defendant had never met Solano before. Defendant recalled knocking on the door, stepping into the apartment, and asking if anyone else was there. He did not intend to harm anyone; he was only looking for the man who had hired him before.

“After leaving Solano's apartment, defendant walked over to the next door. This time, instead of knocking on the front door, he kicked it in and saw a woman and a man inside. (In his testimony, defendant could not explain why he kicked in the door.) Defendant walked into the apartment, whereupon he saw the woman go into another room and close the door. Defendant then walked ‘a little past the entryway.' Ramirez went the other way, into the kitchen. Defendant started walking out. When defendant was at the hallway area entering the living room, he saw Ramirez approaching him with a knife. Ramirez was swinging and ‘jabbing' the knife.

“Defendant was scared for his life. He put up his hands and tried to defend himself. Defendant pushed Ramirez away and took out his knife, but Ramirez kept coming at him while swinging and jabbing with the knife. The two moved around, fighting each other with their knives in the hallway and in the kitchen area of the apartment. At some point, defendant pushed Ramirez away and ‘took off running.' Defendant was not sure whether he or Ramirez had been stabbed inside the apartment.

“Defendant ran into the hallway outside the apartment, but Ramirez followed right behind him with the knife. Defendant was moving backwards and trying to block the knife while Ramirez was swinging it at him. Defendant tripped and fell backwards, and Ramirez landed on top of him. Ramirez tried to stick his knife into defendant's chest with both hands. Defendant was scared for his life. While holding Ramirez's arm with his left hand, he began stabbing Ramirez with the knife in his right hand. Defendant then felt Ramirez ‘freeze up' and collapse on top of him. Defendant slid out from under Ramirez, got up, and went downstairs, ” after which he left the area. (Soto, supra, 248 Cal.App.4th at pp. 892-893.)

The Court of Appeal opinion also summarized the expert witness testimony defendant presented: “Dr. Amanda Gregory, a neuropsychologist, testified for defendant as an expert on methamphetamine induced psychosis. Dr. Gregory opined that defendant was suffering from a methamphetamine-induced psychotic disorder at the time of the offense. Persons suffering from this disorder experience paranoia and delusional thinking, causing them to falsely believe that others are threatening them. Furthermore, sleep deprivation caused by methamphetamine use negatively affects users' ability to process information, form judgments, and make good decisions. Methamphetamine users may also experience hallucinations, such as hearing voices or seeing things that are not there. As a result of paranoid delusions, persons suffering from a methamphetamine-induced psychotic disorder may misperceive interactions with others, perceiving threats when there are no actual threats.

“Dr. Gregory observed conduct by defendant consistent with this psychotic disorder, such as incoherent explanations and disorganized behavior. Defendant's actions on the day of the offense were consistent with her diagnosis, showing impulsiveness and poor decisionmaking. Dr. Gregory had also observed these symptoms in a video of defendant being interviewed at the hospital where he appeared disoriented and incoherent at times. Dr. Gregory conceded this behavior could have been the effect of the pain medication defendant had been given.” (Soto, supra, 248 Cal.App.4th at p. 893.)

Defendant was charged with first degree murder and first degree burglary, with a weapon use enhancement alleged as to both counts. He claimed he acted in self-defense. Particularly relevant here, he also claimed he was guilty of at most voluntary manslaughter because he killed in what is called unreasonable (or, as courts sometime refer to it, imperfect) self-defense; that is, he actually believed he needed to act in self-defense even if that belief was unreasonable. (Christian S., supra, 7 Cal.4th at p. 771.)

In addition to instructions on first degree murder, the court instructed the jury on second degree murder, based on either implied or express malice, as well as on voluntary manslaughter, based on the doctrine of unreasonable self-defense. The court also instructed the jury with CALCRIM No. 625, as adapted to the case: “You may consider evidence, if any, of the defendant's voluntary intoxication only in a limited way. You may consider that evidence only in deciding whether the defendant acted with an intent to kill, or the defendant acted with deliberation and premeditation, or the defendant was unconscious when he acted. Voluntary intoxication can only negate express malice, not implied malice.... You may not consider evidence of voluntary intoxication for any other purposes.” (Soto, supra, 248 Cal.App.4th at p. 895.)

The jury acquitted defendant of first degree murder, but it found him guilty of second degree murder and first degree burglary. It also found the weapon use allegation true as to both counts. On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erroneously prohibited the jury from considering evidence of voluntary intoxication on the question of whether he believed he...

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