Supreme Court of California Justia
Citation 48 Cal. 4th 1, 224 P.3d 86, 104 Cal. Rptr. 3d 764

People v. Super. Ct. (Sparks)

Filed 2/8/10

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA

THE PEOPLE,
Petitioner,
S164614
v.
Ct.App. 3 C057766
THE SUPERIOR COURT
OF YUBA COUNTY,
Yuba County
Respondent;
Super. Ct. No. CFR0600126
DUSTIN WILLIAM SPARKS,
Real Party in Interest.

Real party in interest, Dustin William Sparks (hereafter defendant or
Sparks), was charged with two felony murders. Before his case came to trial, two
other persons were tried for the same murders. One was convicted of voluntary
manslaughter, and the other was acquitted. Concerned about possible inconsistent
verdicts, and applying the doctrine of nonmutual collateral estoppel adopted in a
criminal case in People v. Taylor (1974) 12 Cal.3d 686 (Taylor), the superior court
ruled that those verdicts prohibit the prosecution from trying defendant for a crime
greater than voluntary manslaughter.
We conclude that decisions postdating Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d 686,
including decisions from this court and the United States Supreme Court, have
undermined Taylor‘s reasoning and the authority on which it relied. Occasional
inconsistent jury verdicts are inevitable in our criminal justice system. If a verdict
1


regarding one participant in alleged criminal conduct is inconsistent with other
verdicts, all of the verdicts may stand. (Standefer v. United States (1980) 447 U.S.
10, 25-26 (Standefer); People v. Palmer (2001) 24 Cal.4th 856, 860 (Palmer).)
Accordingly, a verdict regarding one defendant has no effect on the trial of a
different defendant. Courts should determine the propriety of a prosecution based
on that prosecution‘s own record, not a different record. Nonmutual collateral
estoppel does not apply to verdicts in criminal cases.
We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which set aside the
superior court‘s ruling, and overrule People v. Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d 686.
I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Defendant was charged with two counts of felony murder based on a plan
to steal marijuana plants that resulted in the killing of two people. Two other
participants in the events leading to the deaths, Michael Huggins and Matthew
Griffin, were tried separately for the murders before defendant‘s case came to trial.
Griffin was acquitted and Huggins convicted of voluntary manslaughter.
The Court of Appeal summarized the evidence presented at Huggins‘s trial,
which that court and this court have judicially noticed:
―In September 2005, Huggins lived in a house in Antelope with his
girlfriend, Angelic Rampone, Matthew Griffin, and Griffin‘s girlfriend, Amy
Butler. Levill Hill would sometimes spend the night at the house.
―In the house one day there was a discussion in which Butler told Griffin,
Huggins, Rampone, and Hill that she knew of a house in Olivehurst where they
could steal marijuana plants. The Olivehurst house belonged to Michael Hance.
In back of the Olivehurst house was a trailer occupied by two men who had gone
to school with Butler — Scott Davis and Michael Hance‘s son, Christopher Hance.
Davis lived rent free in the trailer in exchange for guarding marijuana plants that
were on the property.
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―One evening in the beginning of September 2005, Butler, Griffin,
Huggins, Rampone, and Hill drove to the Olivehurst house but decided not to steal
the marijuana plants at that time. Later, Huggins, Griffin, and Butler talked about
returning to the Olivehurst house, tying ‗the boys up,‘ and trying to steal the
marijuana plants. Butler said she wanted nothing more to do with the plan.
―In the early morning of September 27, Huggins, Rampone, Hill, and
Griffin drove back to the Olivehurst house. En route, they picked up Huggins‘s
cousin, Sparks. When they got to the Olivehurst house, they parked the car, and
Huggins, Sparks, Griffin, and Hill got out. Huggins had a .45-caliber pistol and
Sparks had a toy gun that looked real. Hill was handed duct tape and Griffin rope
‗just in case‘ they needed to tie anybody up. Hill threw the duct tape back inside
the car. They all then walked past the house and decided that none of them were
going to go ahead with the plan to steal marijuana. They then split up in to two
groups — Huggins and Sparks ahead and Hill and Griffin behind — and all
headed back toward the Olivehurst house.
―When they got to the house, however, Huggins kneeled down between the
south and north gate to the house. Sparks stood right by Huggins. Hill and Griffin
walked by them, and Hill asked what they were doing. Huggins replied, ‗ ―We‘re
going to do it.‖ ‘ Hill responded, ‗ ―No, you‘re not.‖ ‘ Hill and Griffin then
walked away. In Hill‘s view, he and Griffin abandoned the plan, but Huggins and
Sparks did not.
―Huggins walked through the gate to the side of the house. Sparks stayed
at the gate. While Sparks was at the gate, someone hit him.
―After Sparks was hit, Hill heard a gunshot. Hill and Griffin ran back to
the car. Sparks and Huggins followed. They drove back to the Antelope house.
―Michael Hance was home at the time of the shooting and described what
he heard and saw. He was in the house talking with his son while Davis was
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sleeping in the trailer. Michael and Christopher Hance heard one of the gates
open, so Christopher went out to investigate. Michael Hance then heard
‗scuffling‘ ‗between the two gates‘ and heard a shot.
―Michael Hance ran outside and saw Huggins go into the trailer, heard
‗some yelling,‘ and then ‗a shot or two‘ inside the trailer. As Michael Hance
started going toward the trailer, Christopher Hance, Huggins, and Davis ‗poured
out‘ of the trailer. Davis, who was holding his neck, fell to the ground.
―Michael Hance called 911. When police arrived, they found Davis dead.
Christopher Hance was bleeding profusely from his lower abdomen and right leg
and died from blood loss.
―Based on this and other evidence introduced at trial, the jury in Huggins‘s
case was instructed on felony murder with the underlying felony being robbery or
burglary or attempted robbery or burglary and on voluntary manslaughter based on
intent to kill or conscious disregard for life. The jury found Huggins guilty of two
counts of voluntary manslaughter while personally using a firearm.‖
As a result of the verdicts as to Huggins and Griffin, defendant moved to
preclude the prosecution from trying him for any crime greater than voluntary
manslaughter. He argued that collateral estoppel prevented the prosecution from
relitigating issues decided in the previous trials.
In opposing the motion, the district attorney argued that evidence not
admitted at the earlier trials could be used in defendant‘s trial. As the Court of
Appeal summarized: ―This evidence included statements made by Sparks during a
police interview. In that interview, Sparks initially explained that he, Huggins,
Griffin, and Hill all planned to participate in stealing the marijuana with his role
being to ‗grab the plants.‘ When they got to the street, Griffin got scared,
‗punk[ed] out,‘ and went back to the car. Sparks and Huggins stood by the gate.
Huggins went onto the property. As Sparks was standing outside the gate, he was
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confronted by someone wanting to know who he was, leading to a short physical
altercation. Sparks then heard gunshots and ran back to the car. When Huggins
returned to the car, he said to Sparks, ‗[W]here the Fuck were you a[t] Dustin?‘
Not wanting Huggins to think he ‗just punked out,‘ Sparks said that he got into a
fight.‖ (Fn. omitted.)
The trial court, which had presided over Huggins‘s trial, granted
defendant‘s motion. Relying largely on Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d 686, it found that
collateral estoppel applied because it would preclude a ―third trial on these same
facts‖ and would prevent inconsistent judgments, thus ―eliminat[ing] the risk of
undermining the integrity of the justice system.‖ It prevented the prosecution
―from pursuing a conviction for homicide . . . on the basis [that] the homicides
allegedly occurred during the commission of a robbery, burglary, or an attempt of
either crime.‖
The People filed a petition for a writ of mandate in the Court of Appeal
challenging the trial court‘s ruling. The Court of Appeal issued an alternative writ
and ultimately a peremptory writ directing the superior court to vacate its order
and to issue a new order denying defendant‘s motion to preclude the People from
trying him for any crime greater than voluntary manslaughter.
We granted defendant‘s petition for review. We also directed the parties to
brief the question of whether Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d 686, should be overruled.
II. DISCUSSION
In Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d 686, three persons (Taylor, Daniels, and Smith)
planned to rob a liquor store operated by Jack and Linda West. Taylor remained
in the getaway car while the other two entered the store. There Daniels and Smith
robbed the Wests at gunpoint of money in the cash register. In the process, a gun
battle broke out in which the Wests shot Smith, killing him. (Id. at pp. 689-690.)
We explained that, in an earlier opinion, we had held that Taylor could be
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prosecuted for Smith‘s murder ―on a theory of vicarious liability if it
independently appeared that his confederates entertained malice
aforethought . . . .‖ (Id. at p. 691; see Taylor v. Superior Court (1970) 3 Cal.3d
578.) However, before Taylor‘s trial, Daniels was tried for that murder and,
although convicted of robbery, was acquitted of murder. In light of this verdict,
this court held that principles of collateral estoppel prohibited Taylor from being
tried for the same murder.
In overturning the trial court‘s ruling in this case, the Court of Appeal
distinguished Taylor, partly on the basis that evidence admissible against
defendant in his trial was not available in the prior trials of Huggins and Griffin.
Defendant argues that Taylor is indistinguishable, and that the Court of Appeal
erred in not applying it. Whether Taylor would apply to the facts of this case is a
complex and difficult question. But we need not decide that question. As we
discuss, intervening judicial decisions have deprived Taylor of any continuing
validity. In Palmer, supra, 24 Cal.4th at page 866, we distinguished, but did not
overrule, Taylor because there was no need to do so. But the time has come to
overrule it entirely.
Taylor began its analysis by explaining that ―[c]ollateral estoppel has been
held to bar relitigation of an issue decided at a previous trial if (1) the issue
necessarily decided at the previous trial is identical to the one which is sought to
be relitigated; if (2) the previous trial resulted in a final judgment on the merits;
and if (3) the party against whom collateral estoppel is asserted was a party or in
privity with a party at the prior trial.‖ (Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d at p. 691.) ―As to
the third requirement of identity of parties,‖ Taylor continued, ―it is the rule in
civil cases that the party benefitting from collateral estoppel need not have been a
party in the prior trial so long as the party bound by the doctrine was such a party.
Mutuality is thus not required.‖ (Id. at p. 692, italics added.) Taylor observed,
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however, that ―courts have sometimes declined to apply the doctrine in behalf of a
criminal defendant who was not involved in the prior trial.‖ (Ibid.) This
observation gave rise to the question of whether what is sometimes called
―nonmutual collateral estoppel‖ applies in a criminal case, that is, whether a
defendant can obtain the benefit of a favorable verdict involving a different person
even though that defendant would not have been bound by an unfavorable verdict
regarding that other person.
In support of applying collateral estoppel even when there is no identity of
defendants, Taylor cited some out-of-state and federal cases applying the defense
of collateral estoppel. (Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d at p. 693.) It also relied in part on
cases that ―have applied the doctrine to preclude the conviction of an alleged
conspirator when all other alleged coconspirators have been acquitted [citation] or
the charges against all the other coconspirators have been dismissed because of
insufficient evidence [citation].‖ (Id. at pp. 694-695.)
In addition to citing supporting cases, Taylor identified three ―strong policy
considerations‖ behind the collateral estoppel doctrine: ―(1) to promote judicial
economy by minimizing repetitive litigation; (2) to prevent inconsistent judgments
which undermine the integrity of the judicial system; and (3) to provide repose by
preventing a person from being harassed by vexatious litigation.‖ (Taylor, supra,
12 Cal.3d at p. 695.)
Regarding the first of these considerations, the court explained that ―[t]he
need for judicial economy by minimizing repetitive litigation is even more
important in criminal than in civil trials. Crowded court dockets inevitably will
impose a heavy burden on criminal defendants as substantial periods of
incarceration may result while they await trial, and long delays between arrest and
sentencing will decrease the effectiveness of the punishment which is ultimately
meted out. [Citation.] Although the saving of the resources of the court system
7
may be somewhat reduced when, in addition to the crime against which a plea of
collateral estoppel is urged, other crimes must also be litigated, the other goals of
an application of the doctrine can nevertheless be achieved.‖ (Taylor, supra, 12
Cal.3d at p. 695.)
Regarding the second of these considerations, the court explained that
―[p]erhaps the most compelling reason for an application of collateral estoppel
where vicarious liability is at issue is to prevent the compromising of the integrity
of the judicial system caused by the rendering of inconsistent verdicts. Criminal
trials generally receive more publicity than civil ones, and the public‘s view of the
judicial system in general is often shaped by the impression of the fairness of the
criminal justice system in particular. [Citation.] Few things undermine the
layman‘s faith in the integrity of our legal institutions more than the specter of a
system which results in a person being punished for the acts of another, when the
actor himself under identical charges had been previously exonerated from
responsibility for those very acts. This is particularly so under the facts of the
instant case when the People seek to punish defendant, who was not even present
on the immediate scene, for the death of an accomplice caused by the acts of
another confederate who himself has been exonerated.‖ (Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d
at pp. 695-696.)
The court acknowledged that ―the third purpose of collateral estoppel,
preventing harassment through vexatious litigation, does not appear to be fulfilled
if the doctrine is applied when different defendants are tried but once in separate
trials . . . .‖ (Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d at p. 696.) But it believed the ―other general
purposes‖ of the doctrine supported applying it under the circumstances of the
case. (Ibid.) The court stressed that the defendant tried first ―did not offer a
defense such as insanity, intoxication, or duress based on his personal lack of
culpability irrespective of the criminality of his acts‖ (id. at p. 697, fn. 13), and
8
that the inconsistency in the verdicts ―cannot be explained by differences in
evidence or jury instructions‖ (id. at p. 698, fns. omitted). It noted that the ―case
therefore does not present the issue of whether and under what circumstances the
prosecution‘s discovery of new evidence after the first trial will preclude a plea of
collateral estoppel which otherwise may have been valid‖ (id. at p. 698, fn. 16),
and it did ―not reach the question of whether the bar of collateral estoppel is
applicable when the People allege that the prior verdict of acquittal was based on
erroneous rulings which they were unable to correct through appellate review‖ (id.
at p. 698, fn. 17).
Under these circumstances — where the prior trial involved no defense
personal to the defendant, there was no difference in evidence between the trials,
and there was no claim the prior acquittal was based on erroneous rulings —
Taylor ―conclude[d] that the lack of identity of parties defendant does not preclude
the application of the doctrine of collateral estoppel; we limit today‘s holding to
the particular circumstances of the instant case where an accused‘s guilt must be
predicated on his vicarious liability for the acts of a previously acquitted
confederate.‖ (Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d at p. 698.)
Six years after Taylor, the United States Supreme Court refused to apply
nonmutual collateral estoppel to a criminal case. (Standefer, supra, 447 U.S. 10.)
The Standefer court described the issue as being ―whether a defendant accused of
aiding and abetting in the commission of a federal offense may be convicted after
the named principal has been acquitted of that offense.‖ (Id. at p. 11.) As we
explained in Palmer, in Standefer, ―the petitioner was convicted of aiding and
abetting a crime despite the fact that the alleged actual perpetrator, Niederberger,
had previously been acquitted of that crime in a different prosecution. Relying on
the doctrine of nonmutual collateral estoppel, the petitioner argued that the prior
acquittal precluded the government from relitigating the question of the actual
9
perpetrator‘s guilt.‖ (Palmer, supra, 24 Cal.4th at p. 862.) The high court had
granted certiorari because of the importance of the issue and the existence of
conflicting federal decisions. (Standefer, supra, at p. 14.) The court cited, and
ultimately implicitly disapproved, two cases that had applied collateral estoppel in
similar circumstances. (Id. at p. 14, fn. 7.) The Taylor court had cited those same
cases in support of its ruling. (Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d at p. 693.)
The Standefer court noted (as had Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d at page 692)
that the doctrine of nonmutual collateral estoppel first arose in civil cases.
(Standefer, supra, 447 U.S. at p. 21.) But, unlike the court in Taylor, the high
court in Standefer refused to extend the doctrine to criminal cases; it refused to
give a verdict regarding one defendant preclusive effect on the trial of a different
defendant. ―This, however, is a criminal case, presenting considerations different
from those in [the civil cases it had cited]. First, in a criminal case, the
Government is often without the kind of ‗full and fair opportunity to litigate‘ that
is a prerequisite of estoppel.‖ (Standefer, supra, at p. 22.) The court noted that
the prosecution has limited discovery rights, cannot obtain a directed verdict or
judgment notwithstanding the verdict no matter how clear the evidence of guilt,
and cannot appeal an adverse verdict. ―The absence of these remedial procedures
in criminal cases permits juries to acquit out of compassion or compromise or
because of ‗ ―their assumption of a power which they had no right to exercise, but
to which they were disposed through lenity.‖ ‘ ‖ (Ibid.) The court explained that
―in a criminal case the Government has no . . . avenue to correct errors. Under
contemporary principles of collateral estoppel, this factor strongly militates against
giving an acquittal preclusive effect.‖ (Id. at p. 23.)
The court also noted that sometimes evidence is available in one case
against one defendant that is not available in another case against another
defendant. The unavailability of evidence in the one case may result in an
10
acquittal that might not occur in a trial where the evidence was available. In these
circumstances, the court explained, ―application of nonmutual estoppel would be
plainly unwarranted. [¶] It is argued that this concern could be met on a case-by-
case basis by conducting a pretrial hearing to determine whether any such
evidentiary ruling had deprived the Government of an opportunity to present its
case fully the first time around. That process, however, could prove protracted
and burdensome. Under such a scheme, the Government presumably would be
entitled to seek review of any adverse evidentiary ruling rendered in the first
proceeding and of any aspect of the jury charge in that case that worked to its
detriment. Nothing short of that would insure that its opportunity to litigate had
been ‗full and fair.‘ If so, the ‗pretrial hearing‘ would fast become a substitute for
appellate review, and the very purpose of litigation economy that estoppel is
designed to promote would be frustrated.‖ (Standefer, supra, 447 U.S. at p. 24, fn.
omitted.)
The high court also noted ―the important federal interest in the enforcement
of the criminal law.‖ (Standefer, supra, 447 U.S. at p. 24.) It quoted with
approval from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals opinion: ― ‗To plead crowded
dockets as an excuse for not trying criminal defendants is in our view neither in
the best interests of the courts, nor the public.‘ ‖ (Id. at p. 25.) The high court
then noted, ―In short, this criminal case involves ‗competing policy
considerations‘ that outweigh the economy concerns that undergird the estoppel
doctrine.‖ (Ibid.)
The Standefer court explained that in denying preclusive effect to the actual
perpetrator‘s acquittal, it did ―not deviate from the sound teaching that ‗justice
must satisfy the appearance of justice.‘ [Citation.] This case does no more than
manifest the simple, if discomforting, reality that ‗different juries may reach
different results under any criminal statute. That is one of the consequences we
11
accept under our jury system.‘ [Citation.] While symmetry of results may be
intellectually satisfying, it is not required. [Citation.] [¶] Here, petitioner
received a fair trial at which the Government bore the burden of proving beyond
reasonable doubt that Niederberger violated [the statute] and that petitioner aided
and abetted him in that venture. He was entitled to no less — and to no more.‖
(Standefer, supra, 447 U.S. at pp. 25-26.)
Standefer, supra, 447 U.S. 10, was based on federal law and is not binding
on this court in interpreting state law. (See People v. Guiton (1993) 4 Cal.4th
1116, 1126.) California is permitted to have a collateral estoppel rule more
favorable to criminal defendants than the federal rule. ―Nevertheless, a decision
by the United States Supreme Court, and especially a unanimous one such as
[Standefer] . . . , is entitled to ‗respectful consideration.‘ ‖ (Ibid., quoting People
v. Teresinski (1982) 30 Cal.3d 822, 836.) After careful consideration, we find
Standefer persuasive.
Indeed, we have already found Standefer persuasive. In Palmer, supra, 24
Cal.4th 856, defendants Price and Palmer were tried together, but with separate
juries, for various crimes they committed together, including one count of
conspiracy to murder. One jury convicted Price of all charges, including the
conspiracy charge, but the other jury acquitted Palmer of the conspiracy charge,
although it convicted him of other charges. There was no evidence anyone other
than Price and Palmer was involved in the alleged conspiracy. Price contended
that ―the so-called rule of consistency — that the acquittal of all alleged
coconspirators but one requires acquittal of the remaining alleged conspirator‖ —
required reversal of his conspiracy conviction. (Id. at p. 858.) We concluded ―that
the rule of consistency is a vestige of the past with no continuing validity. Many
reasons may explain apparently inconsistent verdicts: lenience, compromise,
differing evidence as to different defendants, or, possibly, that two juries simply
12
viewed similar evidence differently. If substantial evidence supports a jury verdict
as to one defendant, that verdict may stand despite an apparently inconsistent
verdict as to another defendant.‖ (Ibid.)
Relying on a number of California and federal cases holding that
inconsistent verdicts may stand — some involving multiple defendants and some
involving multiple verdicts as to a single defendant — we explained that ―[t]he
law generally accepts inconsistent verdicts as an occasionally inevitable, if not
entirely satisfying, consequence of a criminal justice system that gives defendants
the benefit of a reasonable doubt as to guilt, and juries the power to acquit
whatever the evidence.‖ (Palmer, supra, 24 Cal.4th at p. 860.)
We relied heavily on the reasoning of Standefer, supra, 447 U.S. 10, as
well as United States v. Powell (1984) 469 U.S. 57 (Powell), a case in which the
high court held — for many of the same reasons it had given in Standefer — that
the criminal justice system must accept inconsistent verdicts as to a single
defendant. (Palmer, supra, 24 Cal.4th at pp. 862-864.) We quoted Powell as
noting ― ‗that a criminal defendant already is afforded protection against jury
irrationality or error by the independent review of the sufficiency of the evidence
undertaken by the trial and appellate courts. This review should not be confused
with the problems caused by inconsistent verdicts. Sufficiency-of-the-evidence
review involves assessment by the courts of whether the evidence adduced at trial
could support any rational determination of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
[Citations.] This review should be independent of the jury‘s determination that
evidence on another count was insufficient. The Government must convince the
jury with its proof, and must also satisfy the courts that given this proof the jury
could rationally have reached a verdict of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. We do
not believe that further safeguards against jury irrationality are necessary.‘ ‖
(Palmer, supra, at pp. 863-864, quoting Powell, supra, at p. 67.)
13
Palmer further explained that ―[o]ur criminal justice system, which permits
a conviction only if the jury unanimously finds beyond a reasonable doubt that a
defendant is guilty of the particular charge, gives the defendant the benefit of the
doubt. Moreover, a jury clearly has the unreviewable power, if not the right, to
acquit whatever the evidence. An inevitable result of this system, and one that
society accepts in its quest to avoid convicting the innocent, is that some criminal
defendants who are guilty will be found not guilty. This circumstance does not,
however, mean that if one person receives lenient treatment from the system, all
must.‖ (Palmer, supra, 24 Cal.4th at p. 865.)
Palmer rejected Price‘s reliance on Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d 686. We
concluded that the three purposes of collateral estoppel that Taylor cited did not
warrant extending its holding to Price‘s situation. ―Reversing Price‘s conviction
would not serve judicial economy; this case was litigated once, not repetitively.
The rule of consistency cannot prevent an inconsistent verdict that has already
occurred; the only question that remains is what to do with that verdict. Nothing
about this case hints at vexatious litigation; defendant was tried but once on good,
credible evidence. Moreover, occasional inconsistent verdicts do not undermine
the integrity of our criminal justice system but are an inevitable consequence of
that system. Indeed, a ‗rule that could promote the duplication of an erroneous
acquittal to all persons who participate in a criminal transaction‘ [citation] might
itself undermine the system more than accepting inconsistent verdicts once they
have occurred.‖ (Palmer, supra, 24 Cal.4th at p. 866.)
Palmer specifically disapproved Court of Appeal decisions that had applied
the rule of consistency, including the two cases Taylor had cited in this regard to
support its own conclusion. (Palmer, supra, 24 Cal.4th at pp. 861, 867; see
Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d at p. 695.)
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It is readily apparent that little remains of the foundation on which Taylor
based its conclusion. Most of the authority Taylor cited has now been
disapproved, either implicitly by the high court in Standefer, supra, 447 U.S. 10,
or expressly by this court in Palmer, supra, 24 Cal.4th 856. The high court in
Standefer, although not citing Taylor, rejected all of its reasoning. In Palmer, we
rejected what Taylor described as ―[p]erhaps the most compelling reason‖ for its
conclusion, namely preventing a perceived compromising of the integrity of the
judicial system. (Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d at p. 695.) Courts of this state that have
considered Taylor have generally distinguished it and limited it to its very narrow
factual scenario. In People v. Howard (1988) 44 Cal.3d 375, 412, for example, we
said that ―Taylor is of limited application,‖ and that the ―general rule is that
acquittal of one codefendant normally will not require acquittal of another.‖ (See
also People v. Lawley (2002) 27 Cal.4th 102, 163-164; People v. Garrison (1989)
47 Cal.3d 746, 781-782.) Even a Court of Appeal refused to apply Taylor to the
closely similar situation where the actual shooter was acquitted, but an aider and
abettor convicted, of the same murder. (People v. Wilkins (1994) 26 Cal.App.4th
1089.) Except for cases we disapproved in Palmer, supra, 24 Cal.4th 856, we are
aware of no reported California case that actually followed Taylor.
Palmer is distinguishable from this case and from Taylor. In Palmer, the
inconsistent verdicts occurred simultaneously, so Taylor‘s judicial economy
rationale was not implicated. As we noted in Palmer, no rule can prevent an
inconsistent verdict that has already occurred. (Palmer, supra, 24 Cal.4th at p.
866.) Here, defendant has not yet been tried, so the judicial economy rationale
may apply.
Taylor‘s judicial economy rationale, however, does not warrant a departure
from the general rule enunciated in Palmer and other cases that an acquittal of one
defendant has no preclusive effect on another defendant. We do not know how
15
many, if any, trials never occurred due to Taylor, but over the years the decision
itself has generated much litigation, generally resulting, at least at the appellate
level, in Taylor being distinguished rather than followed. Moreover, if, as Taylor
itself suggested, its rule would require examination of the prior trial‘s record to
determine whether the acquitted defendant had proffered a defense personal to that
defendant, or whether judicial error had occurred, or whether the evidence at the
new trial might be different than at the prior trial (as the Court of Appeal found in
this case), that examination would itself create substantial additional litigation
which, as the high court pointed out, would frustrate ―the very purpose of
litigation economy that estoppel is designed to promote . . . .‖ (Standefer, supra,
447 U.S. at p. 24.) Thus, Taylor may actually have caused more litigation than it
saved.
This case presents a good example of Taylor‘s inefficiencies. In deciding
whether Taylor applies here, the Court of Appeal judicially noticed, and
extensively reviewed, the appellate record in Huggins‘s case. At defendant‘s
request, we have judicially noticed that same record. The parties‘ briefs discuss
and analyze that record in detail. Defendant also asked us to judicially notice the
record of Griffin‘s trial. But because Griffin was acquitted, no appellate record
currently exists. No one appeals an acquittal. Thus, to analyze Griffin‘s trial, a
record of that case would have to have been created. Because no appellate record
of Griffin‘s trial currently exists, and the Court of Appeal had not noticed the
record of that case, we denied defendant‘s request to notice that record, but
without prejudice to a party‘s citing the trial court‘s discussion of Griffin‘s trial or
arguing that the Court of Appeal should have noticed that record. In his brief on
the merits in this court, defendant no longer relies on Griffin‘s trial or acquittal.
But in many cases involving collateral estoppel, a record of a trial resulting in an
acquittal might have to be prepared. Doing so solely to decide whether the
16
acquittal should have preclusive effect on another case would hardly further
judicial economy.
Additionally, here the trial court did not preclude a trial but merely reduced
the seriousness of the charge. Another full trial would be needed even under the
trial court‘s ruling. Thus, in this case, applying Taylor has caused much litigation
and much expenditure of judicial resources. Because a trial would be required in
any event, whether the trial court‘s ruling would have saved any resources is
questionable. On balance, we can confidently say that it would have been much
more sparing of judicial resources simply to have tried defendant long ago.
Moreover, even if we were to assume that the Taylor rule might
occasionally save some judicial resources, as the high court also pointed out, it is
not in the best interests of the courts or public to use judicial economy as a reason
not to try criminal defendants. (Standefer, supra, 447 U.S. at p. 25.)
Distinguishing Palmer on the basis that here no inconsistent verdict has yet
occurred would also have the unfortunate effect of making collateral estoppel‘s
application turn on the happenstance of which trial goes first. If this defendant
had been tried first and convicted of murder, and the other two participants tried
later, then Palmer would compel acceptance of defendant‘s conviction even if it
were inconsistent with the later verdicts. As we have explained, occasional
inconsistent verdicts do not undermine the integrity of the justice system. But a
rule that defendants can assert the preclusive effect of other trials if, and only if,
their trial was scheduled to go later than the other trials would, we believe, itself
cast discredit on that system. It would mean that, of two participants in an alleged
criminal enterprise, the one tried first would have only one trial in which to
prevail — that participant‘s own trial; but the participant scheduled to be tried
second might have two trials in which to prevail — either the first or the second
trial. If, instead, both participants were tried together, neither could benefit from
17
an inconsistent verdict. (Palmer, supra, 24 Cal.4th 856.) Such a system would
give the appearance of arbitrariness, not integrity. Accordingly, the appearance of
justice the criminal justice system needs is best served if all participants in alleged
criminal conduct are tried on their own merits, without concern for the results of
other trials.
Applying the doctrine of nonmutual collateral estoppel would have another
unfortunate effect on the criminal justice system. Because no criminal defendant
can be bound by an adverse factual finding in a trial in which that defendant did
not participate, retention of nonmutual collateral estoppel in criminal cases creates
what we might call a one-way ratchet. That is, if the first coconspirator to be tried
receives a favorable verdict, that verdict, if given collateral estoppel effect,
ratchets down the potential punishment for other defendants whose trials might
follow; in contrast, because nonmutual collateral estoppel would apply against the
prosecution but not against any defendant, if the first coconspirator received an
unfavorable verdict, additional defendants would still be fully eligible to argue for
acquittal or a lesser punishment. All defendants may thus receive the benefit of
the most favorable verdict any jury might render (provided they time their trials
correctly). Nothing in our jury system suggests such a scale-tipping is either
compelled or beneficial. A rule that can extend the effect of an erroneous acquittal
to all persons who participated in the criminal enterprise might undermine the
system more than accepting the potential for inconsistent verdicts. (Palmer,
supra, 24 Cal.4th at p. 866.)
Stressing the narrowness of Taylor‘s holding, defendant seeks to
distinguish its facts from both Standefer, supra, 447 U.S. 10, and Palmer, supra,
24 Cal.4th 856. He argues that the latter cases involve aider-and-abettor or
coconspirator liability (that is, liability for intended crimes) and not, like Taylor,
true vicarious liability (that is, liability for unintended crimes under the natural and
18
probable consequences doctrine). (See People v. McCoy (2001) 25 Cal.4th 1111,
1117.) Attempting to draw an analogy to civil cases, he argues that even if we
reject nonmutual collateral estoppel everywhere else in the criminal realm, we
should preserve it for cases like Taylor. We disagree. The reasons that caused the
high court in Standefer to reject nonmutual collateral estoppel in criminal cases, as
well as our reasoning in accepting inconsistent verdicts in Palmer, apply no matter
what the basis for criminal liability is. If the liability in Taylor was truly
vicarious, that merely means that Daniels‘s not-guilty verdict was inconsistent
with Taylor‘s guilty verdict. But, as both the high court and this court have
already held, the criminal justice system must accept inconsistent verdicts.
Moreover, if an evidentiary hearing, or perhaps a jury trial, were necessary to
determine a defendant‘s precise intent in order to decide whether collateral
estoppel applies, the system would be particularly inefficient, contrary to the
doctrine‘s supposed benefit of saving judicial resources.
There are, certainly, factual differences among the cases. But, crucially, in
both Standefer, supra, 447 U.S. 10, and Palmer, supra, 24 Cal.4th 856, the
verdicts regarding the coperpetrators, if given preclusive effect, would have meant
the defendant could not have been guilty of the same charges. Defendant argues
that ―under the Huggins jury‘s verdicts, it was factually and legally impossible for
Huggins to be innocent of felony-murder, but Mr. Sparks to be guilty.‖ We may
assume this to be true. But, similarly, under the jury‘s acquittal of Niederberger in
Standefer, it was impossible for the defendant to be guilty of aiding and abetting
crimes that never occurred; in Palmer, under the jury‘s acquittal of Palmer of
conspiracy, it was impossible for Price to have been guilty of conspiring with
himself. Standefer‘s and Palmer‘s rationale supports denying preclusive effect to
any verdict regarding a different criminal defendant, a conclusion at odds with
Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d 686.
19
Defendant also cites People v. Caesar (2008) 167 Cal.App.4th 1050. In
that case, Caesar and Godbolt were tried together. As relevant, the jury convicted
both of the attempted murder of Clayton. Caesar‘s guilt was solely based on the
theory that he was guilty of Godbolt‘s attempted murder of Clayton on an aiding
and abetting theory. The jury found the attempted murder was premeditated as to
Caesar but not premeditated as to Godbolt. The Court of Appeal reduced Caesar‘s
attempted murder conviction to unpremeditated attempted murder because the
premeditation finding as to Godbolt was inconsistent with the premeditation
finding as to Caesar. The court reasoned that ―because the jury made an explicit
finding that Godbolt did not act with premeditation in attempting to murder
Clayton,‖ it ―did not make the necessary finding to convict Caesar of attempted
premeditated murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine.‖ (Id.
at p. 1059.) The court distinguished our decision in People v. McCoy, supra, 25
Cal.4th 1111, where we held that, under some circumstances, an aider and abettor
may be convicted of a greater crime than the actual perpetrator. (People v.
Caesar, supra, at p. 1057.) But it did not cite Palmer, supra, 24 Cal.4th 856, or
consider whether inconsistent verdicts as to separate defendants may be given
effect. Instead, it made the ― ‗precipitous leap‘ ‖ from a finding that the verdicts
were inconsistent ―to a rule requiring reversal of the inconsistent verdict . . . .‖
(Palmer, supra, at p. 864, quoting U.S. v. Andrews (11th Cir. 1988) 850 F.2d
1557, 1560.) We disapprove People v. Caesar, supra, 167 Cal.App.4th 1050, to
the extent it is inconsistent with Palmer or this opinion.
Courts from other states that have considered Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d 676,
have also generally distinguished it or rejected it, or both. Indeed, the cases
postdating Standefer, supra, 447 U.S. 10, have uniformly followed Standefer
rather than Taylor. (See Kott v. State (Alaska 1984) 678 P.2d 386, 392-393
[affirming the Alaska Court of Appeal‘s decision, which had rejected the
20
defendant‘s collateral estoppel argument]; State v. Kott (Alaska Ct. App. 1981)
636 P.2d 622, 626-627 [the Court of Appeal decision affirmed in Kott v. State,
supra, finding Taylor ―distinguishable on its facts‖ but ―prefer[ring] to reject its
holding‖]; State v. Jimenez (Ariz. 1981) 634 P.2d 950, 952-953 [both
distinguishing and disagreeing with Taylor]; Jared v. State (Ark. Ct. App. 1986)
707 S.W.2d 325, 328 [―The rule in Taylor simply is contrary to that which governs
in Arkansas‖]; People v. Allee (Colo. 1987) 740 P.2d 1, 5-6 [agreeing with
―almost all jurisdictions [that] continue to require mutuality of parties in criminal
proceedings‖ and dismissing Taylor with a ―[b]ut see‖ citation]; State v. Santiago
(Conn. 2005) 881 A.2d 222, 229-230, fn. 21 [finding Taylor not persuasive]; Potts
v. State (Fla. Ct. App. 1981) 403 So.2d 443, 445 [rejecting Taylor and stating that
―the acquittal of appellant‘s confederate of the assault has no bearing on the
disposition of the charge against appellant‖]; People v. Franklin (Ill. 1995) 656
N.E.2d 750, 755 [following what it described as ―[m]ost‖ courts in refusing to
apply collateral estoppel and dismissing Taylor with a ―but see‖ citation]; Com. v.
Scala (Mass. Ct. App. 1979) 392 N.E.2d 869, 873 [rejecting the application of
collateral estoppel and dismissing Taylor with a ―[c]ontrast‖ citation]; People v.
Paige (Mich. Ct. App. 1983) 345 N.W.2d 639, 641 [finding Taylor not
persuasive]; State v. Hall (Mo. Ct. App. 1985) 687 S.W.2d 924, 926 [rejecting a
collateral estoppel contention without citing Taylor], see also id. at pp. 930-931
(conc. opn. of Clark, J.) [discussing the issue in greater detail and citing Taylor but
rejecting it in favor of Standefer]; Larsen v. State (Nev. 1977) 566 P.2d 413, 414
& fn. 2 [saying that generally collateral estoppel does not apply in criminal cases,
citing Taylor for the proposition that ―[t]here may be special circumstances which
warrant deviation from this rule,‖ but finding no such circumstances in the case];
State v. Campbell (Or. Ct. App. 1982) 642 P.2d 346, 348 [rejecting Taylor in favor
of the ―policy considerations‖ articulated in Standefer, and concluding ―that the
21
rule requiring mutual identity of parties in criminal cases should be retained‖];
Com. v. Brown (Pa. 1977) 375 A.2d 331, 335 [finding Taylor‘s reasoning
―unpersuasive‖]; State v. Mullin-Coston (Wn. 2004) 95 P.3d 321.)
One of the most recent of these cases, the Washington Supreme Court‘s
opinion in State v. Mullin-Coston, supra, 95 P.3d 321, discussed the issue
extensively. It viewed our decision in Palmer, supra, 24 Cal.4th 856, as having
already ―rejected Taylor.‖ (Mullin-Coston, supra, at p. 327.) It then said,
―California is not alone; the overwhelming majority of courts to confront the issue
have held that issues decided by one defendant‘s jury are not binding in the
subsequent prosecution of a different defendant. We agree with all of those courts
and the United States Supreme Court; the public interest in the justice of criminal
results outweighs the interest in judicial economy.‖ (Ibid., fn. omitted.)
We are aware of only two cases, both predating Standefer, supra, 447 U.S.
10, that appear to follow Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d 686, at all, and they are readily
distinguishable. The first of these cases, State v. Gonzalez (N.J. 1977) 380 A.2d
1128, did not involve jury trials but court rulings regarding identical suppression
motions based on the same facts brought separately by two defendants. One court
had granted the motion as to one defendant, but a different court later denied the
same motion as to the second defendant. In the second defendant‘s appeal, the
New Jersey Supreme Court expressed ―misgivings as to the broader implications
of extending the collateral estoppel doctrine‖ (id. at p. 1135) but it found under the
―exceptional circumstances‖ of the case — including the facts that the second
defendant had failed to join in the first suppression motion through no fault of his
own, and that the State could have, but did not, appeal the adverse suppression
ruling — that it should give collateral estoppel effect to the earlier suppression
ruling. (Ibid.) In support of this conclusion, it simply cited Taylor with the signal
―cf.‖ (Gonzalez, supra, at p. 1135.) Gonzalez thus provides no support for
22
extending collateral estoppel to a jury verdict in a criminal case. (We express no
opinion on whether collateral estoppel might apply in a situation not involving
nonappealable rulings.)
The second of these cases, People v. Felton (N.Y.Sup.Ct. 1978) 408
N.Y.S.2d 646, is the only case following Taylor that involved a jury verdict. But
even that case is distinguishable. In Felton, the defendant had originally been
tried with a codefendant. The jury in the earlier trial had found the codefendant
not guilty of a certain charge but could not reach a verdict on that charge as to the
defendant. The appellate court concluded that the codefendant‘s acquittal had
collateral estoppel effect in the defendant‘s case and cited Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d
686, to support its conclusion. But it pointedly based its conclusion on the fact
that the defendant had participated in the earlier trial, and it cautioned that it was
not going ―so far as to rule that a ‗total stranger‘ to a prior proceeding would be
entitled to invoke the relief sought herein.‖ (Felton, supra, at p. 649.) ―To extend
the doctrine to a ‗stranger,‘ ‖ the court explained, ―would create an incentive for
co-defendants to schedule motions and trials consecutively so as to capitalize on
any favorable rulings rendered in the prior proceeding. This would only serve to
pervert the underlying policies of collateral estoppel.‖ (Ibid.) In this case,
defendant did not participate in, but was a ―stranger‖ to, the trials of his alleged
coparticipants. Thus, even Felton does not aid him. Moreover, in light of the
other authorities and reasons we have cited, we find Felton unpersuasive.
Defendant argues that the doctrine of stare decisis militates against
overruling Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d 686. (See People v. Garcia (2006) 39 Cal.4th
1070, 1080.) But ―the doctrine is flexible, and ‗permits this court to reconsider,
and ultimately to depart from, our own prior precedent in an appropriate case.‘ ‖
(People v. King (1993) 5 Cal.4th 59, 78.) As we have explained, Taylor has
almost never been followed, and its rationale and the authorities it cited have now
23
been largely discredited. Defendant claims we ―strongly reiterated‖ Taylor 19
years ago in Lucido v. Superior Court (1990) 51 Cal.3d 335. Lucido, which
involved an entirely different collateral estoppel issue, did, indeed, cite Taylor and
quote its rationale. But then it distinguished Taylor and refused to extend it to its
own situation. (Lucido, supra, at pp. 347, 350-351.) Citing and distinguishing a
case is not strongly reiterating it. Instead, we rejected Taylor‘s main rationale in
Palmer, supra, 24 Cal.4th 856.
Defendant notes that the Legislature has never acted to overturn Taylor,
supra, 12 Cal.3d 686, in the 35 years since it was decided and cites this inaction as
a reason not to overturn it. In some situations, legislative acquiescence might
support a conclusion the Legislature has effectively ratified a judicial
interpretation of a statute. (E.g., Cel-Tech Communications, Inc. v. Los Angeles
Cellular Telephone Co. (1999) 20 Cal.4th 163, 178; but see People v. Farley
(2009) 46 Cal.4th 1053, 1120.) Taylor, however, interpreted no statute. It
extended a judicial doctrine developed in civil cases to the criminal realm. Taylor
did not claim a constitutional basis for its ruling, so presumably the Legislature
could have overturned it if the question had come before it, and it had wished to
do so. But because Taylor extended a judicial doctrine, and did not interpret a
statute, it is primarily up to the courts to reconsider its correctness.
Finally, citing People v. Morante (1999) 20 Cal.4th 403, defendant argues
that if we overrule Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d 686, we can do so only prospectively.
Morante explained that ―a judicial enlargement of a criminal statute that is not
foreseeable, ‗applied retroactively, operates in the same manner as an ex post facto
law. [Citation.]‘ [Citations.] Holding a defendant criminally liable for conduct
that he or she could not reasonably anticipate would be proscribed, ‗violates due
process because the law must give sufficient warning so that individuals ―may
conduct themselves so as to avoid that which is forbidden.‖ [Citation.]‘
24
[Citations.] ‗[A] state Supreme Court, no less than a state Legislature, is barred
from making conduct criminal which was innocent when it occurred, through the
process of judicial interpretation. . . .‘ [Citation.]‖ (People v. Morante, supra, at
p. 431.) For similar reasons, concerns about stare decisis are ―at their acme . . .
where reliance interests are involved . . . .‖ (Payne v. Tennessee (1991) 501 U.S.
808, 828; accord, People v. King, supra, 5 Cal.4th at p. 78 [overruling a previous
opinion of this court but doing so only prospectively due to reliance and ex post
facto concerns].)
These concerns are not implicated here. Overruling Taylor will not
criminalize conduct that had been innocent. Murder has always been a crime. At
the time of the alleged crime, defendant could not have relied on the fact that
Huggins would be tried before him or on the verdict as to Huggins, for that trial
and that verdict had not yet occurred. Reliance is of less concern in cases
―involving procedural and evidentiary rules.‖ (Payne v. Tennessee, supra, 501
U.S. at p. 828.) No doctrine requires that defendant receive the benefit of Taylor‘s
collateral estoppel holding.
III. CONCLUSION
We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal and overrule People v.
Taylor, supra, 12 Cal.3d 686.
CHIN, J.

WE CONCUR:

GEORGE, C.J.
KENNARD, J.
BAXTER, J.
WERDEGAR, J.
MORENO, J.
CORRIGAN, J.
25


See next page for addresses and telephone numbers for counsel who argued in Supreme Court.

Name of Opinion People v. Superior Court (Sparks)
__________________________________________________________________________________

Unpublished Opinion

XXX NP opn. filed 6/6/08 – 3d Dist.
Original Appeal
Original Proceeding
Review Granted

Rehearing Granted

__________________________________________________________________________________

Opinion No.

S164614
Date Filed: February 8, 2010
__________________________________________________________________________________

Court:

Superior
County: Yuba
Judge: James L. Curry

__________________________________________________________________________________

Attorneys for Appellant:

Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Michael P.
Farrell, Assistant Attorney General, John G. McLean, R. Todd Marshall and George M. Hendrickson,
Deputy Attorneys General, for Petitioner.

Mitchell Keiter as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Attorneys for Respondent:

No appearance for Respondent.

S. Michelle May, under appointment by the Supreme Court; Scott and Heitman and Justin B. Scott for Real
Party in Interest.

Counsel who argued in Supreme Court (not intended for publication with opinion):

George M. Hendrickson
Deputy Attorney General
1300 I Street, Suite 125
Sacramento, CA 94244-2550
(916) 324-5270

S. Michelle May
Central California Appellate Program
2407 J Street. Suite 301
Sacramento, CA 95816
(916) 441-3792


Petition for review after the Court of Appeal granted a petition for peremptory writ of mandate. This case presents the following issues: (1) Did principles of collateral estoppel, as applied in People v. Taylor (1974) 12 Cal.3d 686, preclude the prosecution from trying defendant for murder on a felony-murder theory after the actual killer had been acquitted of murder on such a theory? (2) Is Taylor still good law, or should that decision be overruled or disapproved?

Opinion Information
Date:Citation:Docket Number:Category:Status:Cross Referenced Cases:
Mon, 02/08/201048 Cal. 4th 1, 224 P.3d 86, 104 Cal. Rptr. 3d 764S164614Review - Criminal Original (non-H.C.)submitted/opinion due

PEOPLE v. S.C. (RAMPONE) (S173290)


Parties
1The People (Petitioner)
Represented by George M. Hendrickson
Office of the Attorney General
P.O. Box 944255
Sacramento, CA

2Superior Court of Yuba County (Respondent)
215 Fifth Street, Suite 200
Marysville, CA 95901

3Sparks, Dustin William (Real Party in Interest)
Represented by Justin B. Scott
Law Office of Scott & Heitman
604 "B" Street, Suite 2
Yuba City, CA

4Sparks, Dustin William (Real Party in Interest)
Represented by S. Michelle May
Central California Appellate Program
2407 "J" Street, Suite 301
Sacramento, CA

5Keiter, Mitchell (Amicus curiae)
Represented by Mitchell Keiter
Attorney at Law
17621 Irvine Blvd., Suite 200
Tustin, CA


Opinion Authors
OpinionJustice Ming W. Chin

Dockets
Jun 24 2008Request for publication filed (initial case entry)
  The People, Petitioner by George M. Hendrickson, counsel
Jul 16 2008Petition for review filed
  Dustin W. Sparks, Real party in Interest Justin B. Scott, counsel
Jul 16 2008Record requested
  via email
Jul 18 2008Received Court of Appeal record
  file jacket
Aug 5 2008Answer to petition for review filed
  The People, petitioner by George M. Hendrickson, counsel
Sep 11 2008Time extended to grant or deny review
  The time for granting or denying review in the above-entitled matter is hereby extended to and including October 14, 2008, or the date upon which review is either granted or denied.
Sep 17 2008Petition for review granted (criminal case)
  The parties also are directed to brief and address: Is People v. Taylor (1974) 12 Cal.3d 686, still good law, or should that decision be overruled or disapproved? Votes: George, C.J., Kennard, Werdegar, Chin, and Corrigan, JJ.
Sep 29 2008Filed:
  Letter from Justin Scott, counsel for RPI, re status of counsel appointment. a copy of this letter has been sent to the Central Calif. Appellate Program.
Dec 1 2008Counsel appointment order filed
  Upon request of real party in interest for appointment of counsel, the Central California Appellate Program is hereby appointed to represent real party in interest on the appeal now pending in this court. The brief on the merits must be served and filed on or before thirty (30) days from the date of this order.
Dec 30 2008Motion filed (non-AA)
  "Motion for Provision of Transcripts and Application for Enlargement of Time" from appellant, by S. Michelle May, counsel
Dec 30 2008Request for judicial notice filed (granted case)
  Dustin Sparks, appellant by S. Michelle May, Counsel
Jan 14 2009Request for judicial notice granted
  Real party in interest's request for judicial notice and motion for provision of transcripts, filed on December 30, 2008, are granted in part and denied in part as follows. The court grants the request to judicially notice the record in People v. Michael John Huggins, C056765. To expedite this matter, the Attorney General, who requested the Court of Appeal to notice that same record, is directed to supply a copy of that record to counsel for real party in interest and to this court as promptly as possible, but no later than January 23, 2009. The request to have a record prepared in the case of People v. Matthew Griffin, Yuba County Superior Court No. CRF06-00127, is denied without prejudice to any party's citing the trial court's discussion of Griffin's trial or arguing that the Court of Appeal should have noticed that record. Real party in interest's request for an extension of time to file the opening brief on the merits is granted. The brief is now due on February 13, 2009. No further extensions of time are contemplated. George, C.J., was absent and did not participate.
Feb 2 2009Received:
  case record from Attorney General for People v. Huggins, as requested in court's order of 1-14-09 contents: 8 vol. reporter's transcripts, 4 vol. clerk's transcripts, 6 compact disks.
Feb 10 2009Received:
  Proof of service from A.G. re delivery of Huggins case record to RPI and Cal. Supreme Ct.
Feb 17 2009Request for extension of time filed
  for RPI to file the opening brief on the merits, to March 16, 2009.
Feb 24 2009Extension of time granted
  On application of real party in interest and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file the opening brief on the merits is extended to and including March 16, 2009. No further extensions of time are contemplated.
Mar 16 2009Request for extension of time filed
  for RPI to file the opening brief on the merits, to April 15, 2009.
Mar 25 2009Extension of time granted
  On application of real party in interest and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file the opening brief on the merits is extended to and including April 15, 2009. No further extensions of time will be granted.
Apr 15 2009Received:
  RPI's opening brief on the merits (oversized) with application. Sent to court for permission.
Apr 21 2009Order filed
  The application of petitioner filed April 15, 2009, for permission to file an oversized Opening Brief on the Merits is granted.
Apr 21 2009Opening brief on the merits filed
Real Party in Interest: Sparks, Dustin WilliamAttorney: S. Michelle May  
May 18 2009Request for extension of time filed
  by The People, petitioner, to have until June 22, 2009, to file the Answer Brief on the Merits.
May 22 2009Extension of time granted
  On application of the petitioner and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file the answer brief on the merits is extended to and including June 22, 2009.
Jun 19 2009Request for extension of time filed
  for respondent to file answer brief on the merits, to July 22, 2009.
Jun 25 2009Extension of time granted
  On application of respondent and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file the answer brief on the merits is extended to and including July 22, 2009. No further extensions of time are contemplated.
Jul 17 2009Answer brief on the merits filed
Petitioner: The PeopleAttorney: George M. Hendrickson   the People, petitioner George Hendrickson, De. A.G.
Aug 5 2009Request for extension of time filed
  for RPI Sparks to file the reply brief on the merits, to 9/8/09.
Aug 13 2009Extension of time granted
  On application of real party in interest and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file the reply brief on the merits is extended to and including September 8, 2009. No further extensions of time are contemplated.
Sep 8 2009Request for extension of time filed
  for RPI Sparks to file reply brief on the merits, to Oct. 7.
Sep 10 2009Extension of time granted
  On application of real party in interest and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file the reply brief on the merits is extended to and including September 21, 2009. No further extensions of time will be granted.
Sep 22 2009Received:
  Oversized reply brief on the Merits, Dustin Sparks, RPI
Sep 25 2009Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
Real Party in Interest: Sparks, Dustin WilliamAttorney: S. Michelle May   oversized brief filed with permission
Oct 27 2009Application to file amicus curiae brief filed
  by Mitchell Keiter, attorney, pro se, in support of petitioner. (sent by Fed X on 10/26)
Oct 29 2009Case ordered on calendar
  to be argued Tuesday, December 8, 2009, at 9:00 a.m., in Los Angeles
Oct 30 2009Permission to file amicus curiae brief granted
  The application of Mitchell Keiter for permission to file an amicus curiae brief in support of petitioner is hereby granted. An answer thereto may be served and filed by any party within 20 days of the filing of the brief.
Oct 30 2009Amicus curiae brief filed
Amicus curiae: Keiter, MitchellPro Per  
Nov 20 2009Response to amicus curiae brief filed
Real Party in Interest: Sparks, Dustin WilliamAttorney: S. Michelle May  
Dec 8 2009Cause argued and submitted
 
Jan 21 2010Compensation awarded counsel
  Atty May - Central California Appellate Progam
Feb 5 2010Notice of forthcoming opinion posted
  To be filed Monday, February 8, 2010 @ 10 a.m.

Briefs
Apr 21 2009Opening brief on the merits filed
Real Party in Interest: Sparks, Dustin WilliamAttorney: S. Michelle May  
Jul 17 2009Answer brief on the merits filed
Petitioner: The PeopleAttorney: George M. Hendrickson  
Sep 25 2009Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
Real Party in Interest: Sparks, Dustin WilliamAttorney: S. Michelle May  
Oct 30 2009Amicus curiae brief filed
Amicus curiae: Keiter, MitchellPro Per  
Nov 20 2009Response to amicus curiae brief filed
Real Party in Interest: Sparks, Dustin WilliamAttorney: S. Michelle May  
Brief Downloads
application/pdf icon
Sparks - Appellant's Opening Brief.pdf (307553 bytes)
application/pdf icon
Sparks - Appellant's Reply Brief.pdf (266083 bytes)
application/pdf icon
Sparks - Appellant's Response to Amicus Brief.pdf (157957 bytes)
application/pdf icon
Sparks - Appellant's Cert Petition.pdf (280366 bytes)
If you'd like to submit a brief document to be included for this opinion, please submit an e-mail to the SCOCAL website
May 25, 2010
Annotated by hshearer

Issues: double jeopardy, inconsistent verdicts for co-conspirators, nonmutual collateral estoppel, rule of consistency

Significance:
In holding that the nonmutual collateral estoppel doctrine does not apply in criminal cases, Sparks overruled United States v. Taylor (Cal. 1974) and adopted Standefer v. United States (U.S. 1980). Because disallowing use of the doctrine permits re-litigation of issues in a criminal case even when prior verdicts make alternate findings on those issues to be logically impossible, Sparks also discredits the rule of consistency and allows inconsistent verdicts to stand.

Definitions:
1. Nonmutual collateral estoppel: a doctrine that developed in civil case law allowing for defendants to benefit from prior favorable verdicts to which they were not a party, even though as a nonparty they would not have been bound by those verdicts if they were unfavorable.
2. The rule of consistency: the doctrine (discredited in this case) that the acquittal of all other alleged co-conspirators means a remaining co-conspirator must also be acquitted.

Facts & Procedural History:
Dustin William Sparks was involved in a plan to steal marijuana plants that ended with the fatal shootings of Scott Davis and Christopher Hance, occupants of the property targeted in the theft. Sparks instigated the plan with three other men, including Michael Huggins, who prior to this case was tried and convicted of two counts of voluntary manslaughter for the same events. On the night of the murders the two other men claimed to have abandoned the plan, while Sparks and Huggins entered the property carrying a firearm (Huggins) and a toy gun (Sparks). Witnesses at Huggins' trial describe that Sparks got into a physical fight with Christopher Hance while Huggins entered a trailer on the property. Shots were heard. Sparks' whereabouts were unclear from the record from Huggins' trial, but Huggins was seen leaving the trailer with Hance and Davis, who both died of gunshot wounds.

Huggins was charged with two counts of felony murder but convicted of the lower crime of two counts of voluntary manslaughter while personally using a firearm. Subsequently, the Government tried to charge Sparks with felony murder. Sparks appealed, claiming that under Taylor, the prosecution should be barred from trying him for a greater crime than voluntary manslaughter because a conviction of a greater crime would be inconsistent with the outcome of Huggins' trial. The trial court agreed that felony murder charges were barred under Taylor, but the appeals court reversed by distinguishing Taylor on a factual basis. The California Supreme Court agreed to hear another appeal and also asked parties to brief the issue of whether Taylor should be overruled.

Issue:
Whether or not People v. Taylor applies to extend the nonmutual collateral estoppel doctrine to criminal cases like Sparks'.

Applicable Law:
[Case law rather than statutes, since nonmutual collateral estoppel is a judicial doctrine.]

  • United States v. Taylor (1974): California Supreme Court decision that extended the nonmutual collateral estoppel doctrine to criminal cases on grounds that doing so would promote judicial economy, prevent inconsistent verdicts, and provide defendants with repose.
  • Standefer v. United States (1980): U.S. Supreme Court decision that refused to apply nonmutual collateral estoppel to a criminal case because of the countervailing considerations at work in criminal cases as opposed to civil ones: in criminal cases the Government does not have a “full and fair opportunity to litigate,” has limited discovery rights, is sometimes precluded from invoking evidence for one defendant that would be relevant to another, and cannot appeal or obtain a directed verdict. Note that Standefer does not represent binding authority to the Sparks Court since it interpreted federal law.
  • People v. Palmer (2001): California Supreme Court decision that approved of Standefer and eliminated the “rule of consistency,” arguing that jury verdicts by definition have the potential for inconsistency. In Palmer, inconsistent jury verdicts were reached at the same time, so there is a question of whether Palmer's holding applies to Sparks, where one potentially inconsistent verdict has been reached but the other has not.

Holding:
Taylor is overruled under the reasoning in Standefer, a persuasive authority. The nonmutual collateral estoppel doctrine does not apply to criminal cases, meaning inconsistent criminal verdicts may stand. Juries can consider the record of each criminal trial independently regardless of the fact that the defendants are co-conspirators. Sparks may be charged with felony murder.

Reasoning:

(1) A number of other circuits have explicitly disapproved Taylor, and California already found Standefer persuasive in the Palmer decision.

(2) The rule of consistency no longer stands, per the following statement from Palmer:
“[T]he rule of consistency is a vestige of the past with no continuing validity. Many reasons may explain apparently inconsistent verdicts: lenience, compromise, differing evidence as to different defendants, or, possibly, that two juries simply viewed similar evidence differently. If substantial evidence supports a jury verdict as to one defendant, that verdict may stand despite an apparently inconsistent verdict as to another defendant.”

(3) There are no longer compelling efficiency or policy rationales in favor of extending the doctrine to criminal cases. Preventing inconsistent verdicts is an invalid goal after Palmer, and providing repose was never a sound justification given that the nonmutual collateral estoppel doctrine applies to non-party defendants who haven't been subject to repeated litigation. Finally, judicial economy is not served by the extension of nonmutual collateral estoppel because Taylor does not reduce lawsuits when, as in this case, it merely demands a reduction of charges - Sparks must still stand trial for involuntary manslaughter. Moreover, even in cases where nonmutual collateral estoppel would completely acquit a defendant, establishing the necessity of acquittal would require building appellate records for acquitted co-conspirators who would normally not have such records.

(4) Justice would be best served by eliminating nonmutual collateral estoppel for criminal cases. There are no double jeopardy concerns, because allowing relitigation of the felony murder issue for defendant Sparks does not criminalize something innocent – murder has always been illegal. Moreover, extending nonmutual collateral estoppel would not even enhance the appearance of justice because it would create an unjust “one way ratchet” by which favorable verdicts ratchet down to other co-conspirators but unfavorable verdicts do not. Applying the doctrine to criminal cases would also increase arbitrariness because verdicts would depend on which defendants are charged first. This logic also explains why Palmer is not distinguished based on the fact that its inconsistent verdicts were reached simultaneously. Allowing for a difference in cases like Palmer and cases like Sparks, where verdicts will not be reached simultaneously, such would “have the unfortunate effect of making collateral estoppel's application turn on the happenstance of which trial goes first.”

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Author: Hannah Shearer