Destruction of Notes from a Criminal Trial by a Court Reporter

In People v. Valdez (1982) 137 Cal.App.3d 21, the defendant was convicted of second degree burglary in 1970 and failed to appear for sentencing. He was apprehended in August 1981 and returned to court for sentencing. In February 1981, however, the county clerk had destroyed the court reporter's notes of his trial pursuant to an order signed by the superior court's presiding judge, expressly relying on section 69955's provisions for the destruction of notes from a criminal trial after 10 years. The defendant moved for a new trial because the destruction of the reporter's notes and the lack of any adequate substitute precluded an effective appeal. (Valdez, supra, 137 Cal.App.3d at p. 24.) Valdez held that a judgment may only be vacated or reversed "where the fault, if any, for defendant's predicament could be ascribed to governmental authorities or employees, not to defendant. " (Valdez, supra, 137 Cal.App.3d at p. 25.) Valdez reviewed section 69955 and held the destruction of the reporter's notes "was statutorily authorized and wholly without fault of the state or any government employee." (Id. at p. 27.) "Defendant is solely responsible for the predicament with which he is faced. But for his culpable misconduct in fleeing the jurisdiction, his appeal would have been processed and a transcript prepared long before the authorized destruction of the notes. We are not persuaded by defendant's claim that he should be granted a new trial because that destruction precludes the possibility of his effectively appealing his conviction. The trial court could have sentenced defendant in his absence, pursuant to Penal Code section 1193. Even at common law, 'a defendant waived his right to be personally present when he absconded or ran away from the court after learning of the verdict of the jury.' Had the court chosen to enter judgment in his absence, defendant's time for appeal would have expired. Moreover, even if an appeal had been filed, it could have been dismissed since defendant was a fugitive at large." (Valdez, supra, 137 Cal.App.3d at p. 27.) Valdez also rejected the defendant's argument that his due process rights were violated by the destruction of the reporter's notes. "Defendant has not been deprived of any fundamental right. the destruction of the records did not leave him in any worse position than a fugitive who was sentenced in his absence or fled after his sentence. We are not inclined to treat defendant differently from other fugitives merely because of the fortuitous circumstance that the judge did not sentence him." (Valdez, supra, 137 Cal.App.3d at pp. 27-28.)