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Spouses Can be Convicted of Theft from Their Spouse

Posted By Anthony P. Azemika, Esq.   |   Comments (0)
Community & Separate Property, Divorce, Legal Cases,

 

 

In the case of People vs. Aguilera, a California Court of Appeals has ruled that one spouse can be convicted of robbing the other spouse of community property on temporary taking theory. The principles of community property and separate property are immaterial in a robbery prosecution.

When Mother and Father went to a baptism party on August 3, 2014, Mother carried a purse which contained her wallet, ID and other documents, the keys to the family car, and a white cell phone. Father always carried a black cell phone. As the party ended, an argument began between Mother and Father, who was apparently angry about a restraining order Mother had obtained after an incident of domestic violence. Mother ran to the family car and Father followed her. He put his hands around Mother’s neck and proceeded to strangle her, telling her to give him “the phone.” Mother was able to break free, get in her car, and roll up the window. When she turned the ignition on, Father broke the car window, reached in, and turned the engine off. Even though the broken glass had already cut Mother’s feet and hands, Father tried to pull her through the car window. Mother and Father struggled over Mother’s purse, but Father was too strong and took the purse. At that point, a bystander saw Mother and Father struggling and heard Father shouting “give me the bag and phone.” After the bystander and his friend pulled Father away from the car, Father grabbed Mother’s cell phone and wallet from the purse, threw the purse at Mother, and left. When deputies caught up with Father, he was talking on his cell phone and had Mother’s cell phone and wallet in his pocket. The officers returned Mother’s phone and wallet to her, interviewed her, took pictures of her injuries, and noted minor cuts on Father’s arm and hand.

Father was subsequently charged with violating California Penal Code Section 211 [second-degree robbery] and Penal Code Section 273.5(a) [corporal injury to a spouse]. At trial, the prosecution presented evidence of Father’s history of domestic violence toward both Mother and a former girlfriend, which included his habit of taking Mother’s cell phone so that she could not call the police after the incidents. Mother testified about the many and various injuries that Father had inflicted on her during several incidents of domestic violence. Mother also stated that Father had given her the purse and white cell phone as Mother’s Day gifts, but he paid the phone bill and was free to use the phone and the purse if he wished to. Mother concluded that she fought with Father over the purse “because it was [hers].” In closing, the prosecution argued that Father took Mother’s phone to remove it from her possession for such an extended period of time as to deprive her of a major portion of its value and enjoyment, leaving her without the means to make a call to the police to get help. The jury convicted Father of second degree robbery and misdemeanor battery, a lesser included offense to the corporal injury charge.

Father appealed his conviction. Father claimed that pursuant to the case of Llamas (1997) 51 Cal.App.4th 1729, that he could not be guilty of robbery because the phone he took was community property and he intended to deprive Mother of it for only a brief period of time.

California Court of Appeals has now affirmed the jury’s conviction of Father. The Appellate Court has found that (1) in Llamas, the court held that (a) a spouse could be convicted of theft of community property if the taking exceeds the spouse’s interest in the community property and (b) the spouse could not be convicted of violating California Vehicle Code Section 10851(a) [vehicle theft] if he or she took the community property vehicle with the intent to temporarily deprive the other spouse of its use; (2) pursuant to the case of Avery (2002) 27 Cal.4th 49, the requisite intent for robbery is satisfied if the perpetrator has the intent to deprive another of property temporarily, but for an unreasonable time that deprives the person of a major portion of its enjoyment or value; (3) a spouse may be convicted of robbery if he or she takes the community property temporarily, but for an unreasonable period of time that deprives the other spouse of its value or enjoyment; and (4) Father had the requisite intent when he took Mother’s cell phone, regardless of whether it was community property or separate property, thus Trial Court need not give jury instruction on separate property and community property.

 

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