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P. v. Joiner

P. v. Joiner


P. v. Joiner

9/21/12 P. v. Joiner


California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts
and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or
ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for
publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115>.






Plaintiff and Respondent,



Defendant and Appellant.


(Super. Ct.
No. MH101115)

a judgment of the Superior Court
of href="">San Diego
County, Leo Valentine, Jr., Judge. Reversed and remanded.

In this
case appellant Charles Joiner was found to be a href="">sexually violent predator (SVP) within
the meaning of the Sexually Violent Predators Act (Welf. & Inst. Code,
§ 6600 et seq. (SVPA)). On appeal
he attacks the trial court's rulings and the jury's verdict on a number of
grounds. We reverse and remand for
further proceedings.

As we explain it is not clear from the record the trial
court understood it had the power to enter a verdict in favor of Joiner in the
event the trial court determined that following the first trial of the People's
petition the People failed to present sufficient evidence of Joiner's status as
an SVP.


1. >Sexual Assault History

a. >Frances B.

On December 31,
1979, Joiner raped an acquaintance, Frances B. Joiner drove Frances
to a dark and secluded place, where he made sexual advances on her and she
resisted. In response, Joiner slapped Frances
three times, threw her against his car, threw her to the ground, and choked
her. After threatening her, Joiner then
raped Frances. After being raped, Frances
tried to escape from Joiner by jumping over a fence. In doing so she severed a finger and Joiner was
able to recapture her and take her back to his car.

As a result of his assault on Frances,
Joiner was charged with kidnapping, forcible rape and forcible oral
copulation. Joiner was allowed to plead
guilty to kidnapping in exchange for the prosecutor's agreement to dismiss the
other charges.

b. >Jill H.

Prior to December
12, 1980, Joiner raped another acquaintance, Jill H. On December
12, 1980, Joiner went to Jill's home, knocked on her front door and
told her "[Y]ou are out telling people I raped you. We are going to make it happen." Joiner then entered Jill's home, knocked her
to the floor, raped her and attempted to force her to orally copulate him. Jill resisted and Joiner raped her a second
time. Joiner's assault was interrupted
when another man entered the home and stopped Joiner.

Joiner pled guilty to felony assault on Jill.

c. >Patricia D.

On July 4, 1984,
less than a year after being released on parole, Joiner attempted to rape a
neighbor, Patricia D., and force her to orally copulate him. Joiner went to Patricia's house, made sexual
advances toward her, which she rejected.
In response, Joiner grabbed Patricia by the wrists, dragged her to her
bedroom, choked her and threatened to kill her and burn her house down if she
resisted. After removing Patricia's
panty hose and panties, he discovered she was menstruating. Patricia then informed Joiner she had
herpes. When Joiner tried to force her
to orally copulate him, Patricia told him she had oral herpes as well. Joiner then told her to call her doctor to
confirm she had herpes; while Joiner listened on a second telephone line,
Patricia was able to escape.

As a result of the attack on Patricia, Joiner was
convicted of assault with intent to commit rape and assault with intent to
commit oral copulation and sentenced
to 11 years in prison.

On March 18, 1997, following his release from prison for
the assault on Patricia, Joiner was convicted of href="">second degree burglary and again
sentenced to prison.

2. >Trial Court Proceedings

On May 2, 2007,
while Joiner was still incarcerated on the burglary conviction, the district
attorney filed a petition alleging Joiner is an SVP. On August
17, 2007, the trial court found probable cause to believe Joiner is
an SVP. (§ 6602.)

The district attorney's petition was initially tried
between February 25, 2009
and March 10, 2009. After three days of deliberation the jury
advised the trial court that it was hopelessly deadlocked and the trial court
declared a mistrial. Thereafter Joiner's
counsel learned the jury voted eight to four in Joiner's favor.

Following the mistrial, Joiner moved to dismiss the
petition on the grounds there was insufficient evidence to support it. In particular, he vigorously attacked the
testimony of the two expert witnesses
offered by the district attorney, Shoba Sreenivasan and Christopher
Matosich. Joiner argued that although
the experts concluded that he suffered from paraphilia, their conclusions were
admittedly incomplete because Joiner had declined to be interviewed. Joiner also pointed out the experts' opinions
were inconsistent in many respects with his behavior in prison and some aspects
of the manner in which the predicate sex
offenses were committed, in particular his ability to control himself when
confronted with Patricia's claim she had herpes.

At the time the trial court ruled on Joiner's motion, it
made the following statement: "So
let me state, based upon the status of this case before this Court, the
evidence that was received, that the trier of fact, the jurors, hung, and I
understand it was an eight-to-four of the petition not being true. It appears that the evidence that was before
the jurors as related to the experts in the case, the jurors questioned the
value and the credibility of the expert opinion given that they were prepared
to, at least eight of them, dismiss this particular petition as not being true.

"It must also be stated that subsequent to the jury
not being able to resolve the matter, that there has been communication to this
Court from third parties indicating that they have additional information
which, if in fact is true, appears to this Court to be material and relevant on
the issue of whether or not this petition is true. That evidence seems to provide perspectives
and relevant material as it relates to whether or not Mr. Joiner would be a
threat to the community if he was released.

"It appears to the Court it's germane on one prong
of the question that's before the trier of fact, and the Court believes that if
it's admitted and brought before the trier of fact, it very well may result in
a unanimous verdict of the petition not being true.

"Now, having said that, I would indicate for the
record that given what this Court has heard, given the split in the jury not
being able to reach a decision, given the new information that's been provided
the Court, but for this Court believing it is without authority under Penal
Code section 1385 to dismiss this matter, the Court would strongly consider
granting respondent's motion.

"I don't see that I have legal authority to do
so. So if, in fact, the Court's in
error, I certainly would like the opportunity to reconsider that motion, but I
don't believe there's any authority that provides for this Court to dismiss
this matter on the basis of what has been brought to the Court. So for that reason the Court denies the

Joiner filed a petition for a writ of mandate challenging
the trial court's order, which we summarily denied on the grounds Joiner had an
adequate remedy by way of appeal.
Thereafter the district attorney's petition was tried a second time. Sreenivasan and Matosich again testified
Joiner suffers from paraphilia, a sexual deviancy which manifests itself in
intense and recurrent fantasies, urges, and behaviors involving sexual acts
with nonconsenting partners. Both
experts found traits of sexual sadism in the brutality, domination , containment
and choking Joiner used in his assaults.

Both psychologists also again concluded Joiner was likely
to reoffend. They based their respective
opinions on actuarial assessments which showed a moderate-to-high risk Joiner
would reoffend, the dynamic between Joiner's personality disorder and his
paraphilia, his criminal history, including his poor performance on parole, and
the continuous nature of his criminality.
At the second trial the jury unanimously determined Joiner is an
SVP. Following the jury's verdict, the
trial court then entered an order committing Joiner to the Department of Mental
Health for an indeterminate life term.

Joiner filed a timely href="">notice of appeal.


The first issue Joiner raises on appeal is his contention
that following the mistrial the trial court erred in failing to grant his
motion to dismiss. We asked the parties
for additional briefing with respect to whether, in light of the fact the
second jury eventually determined Joiner is an SVP, any failure to dismiss the
petition earlier is now moot. We
conclude that in light of our summary dismissal of Joiner's petition for a writ
of mandate, the interests of justice require that we reach the merits of
Joiner's procedural claim.


>The Power to Terminate SVP Proceedings

statute does not itself provide for dismissal of a petition following a finding
of probable cause. (See >Bagration v. Superior Court (2003) 110
Cal.App.4th 1677, 1683-1684.) However,
the Supreme Court has recognized the inherent power of courts to review and
determine questions of law when they arise under the SVP statute, even when a
mechanism for such review is not expressly set forth in the statute. (See People
v. Superior Court (Ghilotti)
(2002) 27 Cal.4th 888, 909-915.)

In >Ghilotti a district attorney filed an
SVP petition which alleged that two expert evaluators had erroneously concluded
the inmate was not likely to reoffend.
The district attorney alleged the evaluators had erroneously interpreted
the level of risk required by the statute.
The trial court dismissed the petition as failing to meet the
requirements of section 6601, subdivisions (d) and (e) that it be supported by
two expert evaluations. The Court of
Appeal denied the People's petition for a writ of mandate and the Supreme Court
granted review. The Supreme Court agreed
that the People could not avoid the requirement that its petition be supported
by two expert evaluations but found the People could challenge the evaluators'
conclusions as to the level of risk required by the statute. Although the statute provided no specific
means of making such a challenge, the court found inherent power in the trial
court to make such a legal determination.
"[T]he requirement that SVPA evaluators apply criteria set forth in the statute invokes the inherent judicial
power to determine whether an evaluator's recommendation stems, on its face,
from an inaccurate understanding of those criteria, and thus constitutes legal
error." (Ghilotti, supra, 27 Cal.4th at p. 912.) Thus, the court concluded the Director of the
Department of Corrections "cannot be powerless to take action for the
public safety when he disagrees, on legal grounds, with evaluators' conclusions
that a person does not meet the criteria for commitment or
recommitment." (>Ibid.)
The Supreme Court found the People could file an SVP petition even
though the evaluators did not support it, the alleged SVP could challenge the
petition by way of a motion to dismiss, and in response the People could then
assert the evaluators' legal error. (>Ghilotti, supra, 27 Cal.4th at pp.

When the
People fail to present sufficient evidence of one or more of the elements
required for commitment as an SVP, plainly a question of law is presented. (See People
v. Mendoza
(2011) 52 Cal.4th 1056, 1079 [sufficiency of the evidence is a
question of law].) It is axiomatic than
on appeal we have the power to determine, as a question of law, whether an SVP
commitment is supported by sufficient evidence.
(See People v. Mercer (1999)
70 Cal.App.4th 463, 466.) We believe
that when, following presentation of the People's case at trial, the record
does not provide sufficient evidence of the elements required by the statute,
the trial court also has inherent power to act on such a question of law and
terminate proceedings on the People's petition in favor of the inmate. Our
willingness to recognize such inherent power in the trial court is borne out of
both practical as well as analytical considerations. In the unusual case where, notwithstanding a
finding of probable cause, it later turns out the case presented by the People
at trial is legally insufficient, it makes little sense to require that a jury
decide the issue and potentially leave the inmate with only an appellate remedy
as the means of correcting a legal error.
We do not believe the Legislature intended that the trial court be
unable to confront and determine pure questions of law in an expeditious

We recognize
that in Bagration v. Superior Court,
110 Cal.App.4th at pages 1687-1689, the court held that pretrial
determination of the legal sufficiency of a petition by way of a motion for
summary judgment is not permissible in an SVP proceeding because the reciprocal
pretrial discovery which is the predicate for summary judgment motions in civil
cases is not available under the SVPA.
We agree with the holding and reasoning of Bagration. Here, however,
once the People have presented their case at trial, it is ripe for review of
its legal sufficiency without the need for any discovery or further



In denying
Joiner's motion to dismiss, it does not appear the trial court believed it had
such inherent authority to dismiss the petition if it were to conclude that the
evidence that the People presented at trial was insufficient. We believe the interests of justice will best
be served by giving the trial court an opportunity to fully consider Joiner's
argument in light of our conclusion that the trial court had the power to
review the sufficiency of the evidence presented at the first trial. Thus, we will reverse the judgment of
commitment and remand so that the trial court can consider the merits of
Joiner's motion to dismiss.href="#_ftn1"
name="_ftnref1" title="">[1]

In the event the trial court determines there was
sufficient evidence presented at the first trial and that it properly denied
Joiner's motion in the first instance, the trial court is directed to enter
judgment on the second verdict. In that
instance, Joiner may seek review of the trial court's ruling on the motion as
well as challenge errors he believes occurred during the second trial.

In the event the trial court determines there was
insufficient evidence presented at the first trial, the trial court should
enter a verdict determining Joiner is not an SVP and a judgment in his favor on
the verdict. The People may then
challenge that judgment on appeal; on such an appeal by the People, Joiner may
challenge errors which occurred in the second trial by way of a prophylactic

We offer the following observations for the guidance of
the trial court and parties on remand.
The inherent power we have recognized here is quite limited and does not
give the trial court the power to weigh the evidence presented by the
People. In determining the sufficiency
of evidence, the trial court must review the whole record in the light most
favorable to the People "and decide 'whether it discloses substantial
evidence . . . such that a reasonable trier of fact could
find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.' [Citation.]
Under this standard, the court does not ' "ask itself whether >it believes that the evidence at the
trial established guilt beyond doubt."
[Citation.] Instead, the relevant
question is whether, after reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable
to the prosecution, any rational
trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a
reasonable doubt.'
[Citation.]" (>People v. Hatch (2000) 22 Cal.4th 260,


The judgment of commitment is
reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with the views we have



Acting P. J.



name="_ftn1" title="">[1] In light of our disposition of Joiner's appeal, we need not
and do not consider the additional issues he has raised.

Description In this case appellant Charles Joiner was found to be a sexually violent predator (SVP) within the meaning of the Sexually Violent Predators Act (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 6600 et seq. (SVPA)). On appeal he attacks the trial court's rulings and the jury's verdict on a number of grounds. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.
As we explain it is not clear from the record the trial court understood it had the power to enter a verdict in favor of Joiner in the event the trial court determined that following the first trial of the People's petition the People failed to present sufficient evidence of Joiner's status as an SVP.
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