Mandatory Presumptions Jury Instructions (Criminal Law)

A mandatory presumption, in effect, removes an element from the jury's consideration and thereby lessens the prosecution's burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt every element of the charged offense. Instructions that relieve the state's burden violate state and federal constitutional guarantees of due process and the rights to a jury trial and proof beyond a reasonable doubt. (United States v. Gaudin (1995) 515 U.S. 506, 522-523 [115 S. Ct. 2310, 2319-2320, 132 L. Ed. 2d 444]; Sullivan v. Louisiana (1993) 508 U.S. 275, 278 [113 S. Ct. 2078, 2080-2081, 124 L. Ed. 2d 182]; Carella v. California (1989) 491 U.S. 263, 265 [109 S. Ct. 2419, 2420, 105 L. Ed. 2d 218]; People v. Flood (1998) 18 Cal. 4th 470, 481-482, 491 [76 Cal. Rptr. 2d 180, 957 P.2d 869]; People v. Kobrin (1995) 11 Cal. 4th 416, 423 [45 Cal. Rptr. 2d 895, 903 P.2d 1027].) For example, in People v. Flood, supra, 18 Cal. 4th 470, the defendant was convicted of violating Vehicle Code section 2800.3, which proscribes evading a vehicle operated by a pursuing peace officer and causing serious bodily injury. To establish this offense, the prosecution must prove, among other things, that the vehicle the defendant attempted to evade was driven by a uniformed "peace officer." In instructing the jury, however, the trial court told the jury that the police officers who chased the defendant were "peace officers." The California Supreme Court found that this instruction effectively removed an element of the offense from the jury's consideration and directed a verdict on it. (18 Cal. 4th at pp. 475-479, 491-504; cf. People v. Figueroa (1986) 41 Cal. 3d 714 [224 Cal. Rptr. 719, 715 P.2d 680] [error to instruct that the promissory notes sold by the defendant were "securities" as defined by law].) In contrast to the instruction in Flood, is that given in People v. Brown (1988) 46 Cal. 3d 432 [250 Cal. Rptr. 604, 758 P.2d 1135], certiorari denied (1989) 489 U.S. 1059 [109 S. Ct. 1329, 103 L. Ed. 2d 597]. There, the defendant was charged with murder, with the special circumstance that the victim was an on-duty "peace officer." The trial court instructed the jury that " 'a Garden Grove Regular Police Officer and a Garden Grove Reserve Police Officer are peace officers.' " (46 Cal. 3d at p. 443, italics omitted.) Our Supreme Court upheld the instruction, finding that it did not remove an element of the special circumstance allegation from the jury's consideration. Rather, as the court explained, the challenged instruction "merely instructed the jury on a point of statutory law--a point not open to dispute--that a Garden Grove police officer is a peace officer. The jury was left to make all essential factual determinations, including whether the victim was a Garden Grove police officer." (Id., at pp. 443-444, fn. omitted; cf. People v. Runnion (1994) 30 Cal. App. 4th 852 [36 Cal. Rptr. 2d 203] [upholding instruction that "firearm" includes handgun].)