Aiding and Abetting Boyfriend in a Robbery in California

In People v. Carrillo (2004) 119 Cal.App.4th 94, "the prosecution introduced a considerable amount of evidence showing the defendant was in difficult financial straits when she allegedly aided and abetted her boyfriend in a robbery." (Carrillo, supra, 119 Cal.App.4th at p. 97; see id. at p. 103.) The boyfriend had taken a chain and medallion from the victim's neck and then had run to the defendant's car. The defendant tried to drive away, but was blocked by another vehicle. The boyfriend fled. The defendant claimed that she had no idea her boyfriend had committed a robbery and that she had no intention of helping him get away. (Id. at p. 98.) At trial, the prosecutor elicited "considerable evidence regarding the defendant's financial circumstances," including that she was unemployed in the months leading up to the robbery, that her rent was several hundred dollars per month, and that she acquired a car possibly a couple of months before the robbery. (Ibid.; see id. at pp. 99-100.) In closing argument the prosecutor reminded the jury that the defendant and her boyfriend were out of work at the time of the robbery. (Id. at p. 100.) The prosecutor also argued that "'if you are somebody looking to get something of value so you can get some money, boom, of course, quick, easy, take the chain, guaranteed. Guaranteed value right there. Go to your local pawn store, you get whatever, 50 bucks, whatever it is, 40 bucks.'" (Ibid.) The defendant was convicted of robbery. (Ibid.) The appellate court determined that the evidence concerning the defendant's financial situation was inadmissible. The court observed that, "'Lack of money gives a person an interest in having more. But so does desire for money, without poverty. A rich man's greed is as much a motive to steal as a poor man's poverty. Proof of either, without more, is likely to amount to a great deal of unfair prejudice with little probative value.' " (Carrillo, supra, 119 Cal.App.4th at p. 102.) After evaluating the error under People v. Watson (1956) 46 Cal.2d 818, the appellate court reversed the judgment. (Carrillo, supra, 119 Cal.App.4th at pp. 103-104.) The court explained that the case against the defendant "was entirely circumstantial," the defendant "offered the jury a marginally plausible explanation of events that was consistent with her claim of innocence," and the jury appeared to struggle with that explanation in view of the nature of its questions during deliberations. (Id. at p. 104.) The court believed that the jury, "knowing the defendant was an unemployed, unwed mother on government assistance, . . . may very well have been inclined to view her as a feckless pauper whose station in life and lack of support for her two children provided her with a motive to steal. Although the prosecutor did not expressly argue this point, she did not have to. The evidence of the defendant's finances was so extensive, the notion was virtually inescapable." (Ibid.)