California Penal Code Section 190.2 - Interpretation

In People v. Smith (2006) 135 Cal.App.4th 914, the Court articulated a working definition of "major participant" for purposes of Penal Code section 190.2. A major participant in a felony is one who was one of the "more important" members of the group. (See id. at p. 928.) Smith involved a robbery of a victim in a motel room by three men. One of the men, Taffolla, merely acted as lookout outside the room. The attack was a particularly brutal one. Wrote Justice Ikola for the court: "Even if Taffolla remained outside Star's room as a lookout, the jury could have found Taffolla gained a 'subjective awareness of a grave risk to human life' during the many tumultuous minutes it would have taken for Star to be stabbed and slashed 27 times, beaten repeatedly in the face with a steam iron, and had her head slammed through the wall. In addition, when her attacker and Taffolla's confederate emerged from her room covered in enough blood to leave a trail from the motel to McFadden Street, Taffolla chose to flee rather than going to Star's aid or summoning help." (Smith, supra, 135 Cal.App.4th at p. 927.)