CALJIC 2.50.01 - Interpretation

In People v. Van Winkle (1999) 75 Cal.App.4th 133, the defendant molested the daughter of a woman he had lived with for a short period of time. At trial, the prosecution introduced evidence that the defendant had previously molested his own daughter and her cousin. In his defense, the defendant stated that the victims had fabricated their stories of alleged abuse. ( Van Winkle, supra, 75 Cal.App.4th at pp. 136-138.) After the defendant was convicted of the charged offense, he appealed, contending that CALJIC No. 2.50.01 was unconstitutional. ( Id. at p. 142.) In rejecting the defendant's appeal, the Court of Appeal noted that there are ultimate or elemental facts that prove the elements of a crime. In contrast, evidentiary or basic facts do not necessarily prove the elements of the crime. ( Van Winkle, supra, 75 Cal.App.4th at p. 142.) The court reasoned that since proof of a prior sexual offense was an evidentiary or basic fact, and not an element of the crime charged, proof of the prior offense did not lead to the elements of the charged crime. (Id. at p. 143.) The court also noted that although inferences and presumptions often take a prominent position in the fact finding process, they do not infringe on the right to due process unless "they undermine the jury's responsibility in a criminal trial to find the ultimate facts (i.e., the elements of the crime) beyond a reasonable doubt." (Van Winkle, supra, 75 Cal.App.4th at pp. 142-143.) In determining whether inferences or presumptions infringe on due process rights, courts must distinguish between mandatory presumptions, which encroach upon the reasonable doubt standard, and permissive presumptions, which leave the jury free to accept or reject the inference suggested by the record. (Ibid.) The court in Van Winkle then concluded that CALJIC No. 2.50.01 did not violate due process rights because it contained permissive, rather than mandatory inferences, that allowed, but did not require the jury to find that the defendant was likely to commit, or did in fact commit, the charged crime. ( Van Winkle, supra, 75 Cal.App.4th at p. 143.) Because the inferences were permissive, the instruction did not dilute the prosecution's burden of proof to prove the charged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. ( Id. at p. 144.)