People v. Teron, Cr. 20538

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation23 Cal.3d 103,588 P.2d 773,151 Cal.Rptr. 633
Parties, 588 P.2d 773 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Gregory John TERON, Jr., Defendant and Appellant.
Docket NumberCr. 20538
Decision Date11 January 1979
[588 P.2d 774] Quin Denvir, State Public Defender, under appointment by the Supreme Court, Charles M. Sevilla, Chief Asst. State Public Defender, and Donald L. A. Kerson, Deputy State Public Defender, for defendant and appellant

Evelle J. Younger, Atty. Gen., Jack R. Winkler, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Daniel J. Kremer, Asst. Atty. Gen., Harley [23 Cal.3d 108] D. Mayfield and Karl J. Phaler, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

TOBRINER, Justice.

Defendant Gregory Teron, convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to die, [588 P.2d 775] comes before us on automatic appeal. After obtaining permission from the trial court to represent himself, defendant questioned no witnesses and presented neither evidence nor argument on his own behalf. Appointed appellate counsel now argues that the court erred in permitting defendant to represent himself. We conclude, however, that on the record before it the trial court properly ruled that defendant was competent to waive counsel and thus to represent himself. (See Faretta v. California (1975)422 U.S. 806, 95 S.Ct. 2525, 45 L.Ed.2d 562.) A defendant is not obligated to present a vigorous defense; the decision to plead guilty, or simply not to oppose the prosecution case, is one which a competent defendant has a right to render.

We explain, however, that although the conviction for first degree murder must be affirmed, the judgment imposing the death penalty cannot stand. Defendant's crime occurred on October 4, 1975; yet the state seeks to impose the death penalty under a statute effective August 11, 1977. The Legislature, in enacting the 1977 statute, plainly intended to increase the penalty for first degree murder under particular circumstances. An established principle of statutory interpretation declares that a statute which increases the penalty for a crime should be construed to apply only to crimes committed after the effective date of the new legislation. Accordingly, we conclude that the 1977 statute does not apply to defendant's offense. In light of this conclusion, we have no occasion in the instant case to pass on the constitutional validity of the 1977 or 1978 death penalty legislation.

1. Summary of proceedings

On January 18, 1978, the Grand Jury of Orange County indicted defendant, accusing him of the murder of Earl Reed on October 4, 1975. The indictment specified that defendant personally committed the acts causing Reed's death, and that defendant had been previously convicted of two other murders. Defendant pled not guilty.

[23 Cal.3d 109] On April 7, 1978, defendant asked the court to relieve the public defender and to grant defendant permission to represent himself. Defendant offered to state the reasons for his request, but the court, advised by the public defender that the explanation might incriminate or prejudice defendant, declined to hear the explanation. Instead, the court interrogated defendant at length to determine that defendant's waiver of counsel was voluntary, knowing and intelligent; the court explained at length the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation.

The interrogation revealed that defendant was literate, had been educated through sophomore year in high school, and was familiar with criminal proceedings from past experience. In response to questions, defendant demonstrated that he understood the distinction between manslaughter, second degree murder, and first degree murder, but that he did not understand the felony-murder rule. He affirmed, however, that despite the deficiencies in his legal knowledge, he still wanted to represent himself. The court inquired if defendant had ever suffered from mental illness or received treatment for psychiatric disability; defendant responded "no." Defendant then stated that "In the past, trials I've been involved in, I was never aware of the right that I could represent myself. . . . Now that it has come to my attention, I'm able to do so, that is what I want to do."

The trial court expressly found that defendant "has made . . . a voluntary and intelligent and understanding waiver of his right to be represented by counsel. I'm satisfied that the defendant is taking this action against the advice of this court, and he is fully advised and aware of the pitfalls,

dangers and consequences of acting as his own attorney." The court then granted defendant a seven-day continuance to prepare for trial, and offered to appoint the public defender as standby counsel (see Faretta v. California, supra, 422 U.S. 806, 834-835, fn. 46, 95 S.Ct. 2525, 45 L.Ed.2d 562). The public defender declined the appointment, stating that "I don't feel that I could ethically have any participation in this case [588 P.2d 776] in view of the way the defendant wants to proceed."

On April 25, the day before trial was scheduled to begin, defendant waived trial by jury. The court took up the motion to suppress the tape recording of defendant's confession, filed earlier by the public defender; defendant stated that "whichever portions of that tape recording that (the prosecutor) wants to admit is perfectly fine with me."

Trial commenced on April 26. Prosecution witnesses testified that Reed, the victim, checked into the Caravan Inn in Anaheim at 9 p. m. on [23 Cal.3d 110] October 3, 1975. Reed rented room 227; defendant occupied room 229 on a weekly basis. At about 3 a. m. a Mr. White, staying in room 228, heard a cry, "Help. They are killing me. This is murder." Although similar cries continued for about five minutes, he did not investigate the source of the noise.

The next morning, the maid who entered to make up room 227 discovered Reed's body. Police officers described the scene. The body was lying face down on the bed wrapped in the bedding. Reed's face was bruised and had been bleeding and several teeth were dislodged. The police observed bloodstains on the pillowcase and a towel. The room had been ransacked, and Reed's wallet was missing. An autopsy determined that Reed died from aspiration of blood caused by the extensive bleeding from his mouth and nose.

The prosecution then offered into evidence the tape recording of defendant's confession. After determining that the confession was voluntary, the court admitted the tape. In his confession, defendant stated that he spoke to Reed in the Caravan Inn parking lot, decided at that time to rob Reed, and to kill Reed so he could get away with the robbery. Early in the morning Reed invited him to his room for beer. By this time both Reed and defendant had been drinking, and Reed was drunk. Defendant went to Reed's bathroom and passed out briefly while sitting on the toilet. When defendant emerged from the bathroom, he demanded Reed's money. Reed refused, and defendant struck him several times in the face, forcing Reed back onto the bed. Defendant then tried to strangle Reed, but Reed resisted and began yelling. Defendant then smothered Reed with a pillow until Reed died. 1 Defendant searched the room, taking Reed's wallet, which contained only $1.75, and three or four credit cards.

Police officers talked to defendant the next day, but made no arrest. Defendant promised to take a polygraph examination, but instead fled to Colorado. Two years later, following defendant's conviction for murders in Michigan he waived extradition and was returned to California.

During the prosecution case, defendant asked no questions of witnesses and presented only one objection; he suggested that the court should admit the transcripts of the taped confession instead of listening to the tape itself. The court overruled the objection on the ground that the tape was the best evidence of the confession.

[23 Cal.3d 111] When the prosecution rested its case, the court inquired whether defendant desired to present evidence. He replied "no." The court then addressed him: "I think it would be wise of me to advise you that on the tape, you had indicated to Officer Johnson your state of intoxication on the night in question and your mental state on the occasion of the incident is important and relevant. Do you desire to present any evidence in that regard at this time?" Defendant

replied "No, I do not." Following a brief argument by the prosecutor, to which defendant did not reply, the court found defendant guilty of first degree murder

Before beginning the special circumstance phase of the trial, the judge again warned defendant of the perils of self-representation; defendant again waived his [588 P.2d 777] right to representation by counsel and to trial by jury. The prosecutor then introduced evidence that defendant had been convicted of two second degree murders in Michigan, and proved that the elements of second degree murder under Michigan law are the same as under California law. The court then found a special circumstance, that the defendant had personally committed the acts causing death and had "been convicted in a prior proceeding of the offense of murder of the first or second degree" (Pen.Code, § 190.2), permitting capital punishment. 2

At the commencement of the penalty phase the defendant again waived right to counsel and to trial by jury. The court admitted evidence relating to the murder of Mrs. Maxham in Michigan. That evidence showed that in October 1976, a year after the Reed murder, defendant rented a room from Maxham. On October 17, he became enraged when she criticized the condition of the room, beat her unconscious, and hanged her from the bedpost until she died. Defendant then took Maxham's money and fled to Florida, where he was apprehended. Defendant's taped confession also admitted the killing of Crane, his cellmate in the Michigan prison, and hinted that he had killed at least two other...

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