People v. Rogers

In People v. Rogers (2006) 39 Cal.4th 826, the defendant contended the trial court had erred by failing to instruct the jury with CALJIC No. 2.01 (which is substantially similar to CALCRIM No. 224) as to the sufficiency of circumstantial evidence even though the trial court had instructed the jury with CALJIC No. 2.02 (which is substantially similar to CALCRIM No. 225) as to the sufficiency of circumstantial evidence of specific intent or mental state. (Rogers, supra, at p. 885.) The court held, "An instruction on the principles contained in CALJIC No. 2.01 'must be given sua sponte when the prosecution substantially relies on circumstantial evidence to prove guilt. 'The instruction should not be given "when the problem of inferring guilt from a pattern of incriminating circumstances is not present."" (Id. at p. 885.) The court found error because the prosecution's case as to the identity of one victim's killer rested principally on circumstantial evidence. (Ibid.) However, the court rejected the defendant's argument that the error was of constitutional dimensions (id. at pp. 886-887) and found the error harmless under People v. Watson (1956) 46 Cal.2d 818, 836.) (Rogers, supra, at p. 886.) The court explained that because CALJIC No. 2.02 had been given, the failure to give CALJIC No. 2.01 could have affected only the issue of identity, and on that issue, the evidence "while circumstantial, was strong." (Rogers, supra, at p. 886.) The Court "suggested the instructions on heat-of-passion voluntary manslaughter were misleading because the jury might have understood them as implying that provocation that was inadequate to reduce the murder to manslaughter was irrelevant to any issue." (Rogers, supra, 39 Cal.4th at pp. 879-880.) Rogers observed that the trial court in Valentine had given several erroneous instructions on first and second degree murder and stated that "Valentine does not stand for the general proposition that the standard heat-of-passion voluntary manslaughter instructions are always misleading in a homicide case where the jury is instructed on premeditated murder and there is evidence of provocation, or that such manslaughter instructions always must be accompanied by instructions on the principle of inadequate provocation set out in CALJIC No. 8.73. In the absence of instructional errors such as were present in Valentine, the standard manslaughter instruction is not misleading, because the jury is told that premeditation and deliberation is the factor distinguishing first and second degree murder. Further, the manslaughter instruction does not preclude the defense from arguing that provocation played a role in preventing the defendant from premeditating and deliberating; nor does it preclude the jury from giving weight to any evidence of provocation in determining whether premeditation existed." (Rogers, supra, at p. 880.)