Brief Bank # B-713 (Re: F 7.20 n5 [Perjury: Definition Of “Material Matter”].)
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Date of Brief: October 1996
IN THE COURT OF APPEAL OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
IN AND FOR THE SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, B00000
Los Angeles Co.
Plaintiff and Respondent, No. PA000000
Defendant and Appellant.
APPELLANT’S SUPPLEMENTAL OPENING BRIEF
On Appeal from the Judgment of the
Superior Court of the State of California
County of Los Angeles
HONORABLE WILLIAM MCLAUGHLIN
State Bar #50410
P.O. Box 380
Hornbrook, CA 96044
Attorney for Appellant
THE TRIAL COURT’S FAILURE TO DEFINE “MATERIAL
MATTER” WITH RESPECT TO PERJURY WAS
A court has a sua sponte duty to define terms used in the jury instructions which have a “technical meaning” peculiar to the legal field. (People v. Reynolds (1988) 205 Cal.App.3d 776, 779; People v. McElheny (1982) 137 Cal.App.3d 396, 403.) Such terms as “assault”, “accident”, “dangerous”, and “explosive” have all been determined to be “technical terms”, requiring sua sponte definition for the jury. (People v. Valenzuela (1985) 175 Cal.App.3d 381, 393; People v, Jininez (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 1611, 1628; People v. Kirk (1975) 49 Cal.App.3d 765, 769; People v. Clark (1990) 50 Cal.3d 583, 599-606 – definition of “unconscious” is required sua sponte.)
Appellant contends that the term “material matter”, found in CALJIC No. 7.20 (CT 24; RT 1653-1654) was a term with a “technical meaning” peculiar to the legal field. The term “material matter” is not commonly used in the in the course of normal discourse. (Cf. People v. Brigham (1979) 25 Cal.3d 283, 295-296.) The term appears to have been invented by lawyers (or legislators, who are often lawyers themselves, or use lawyers to construct statutes). The term “explosive” is in much more common usage, yet it requires a sua sponte definition. (Clark, supra, 50 Cal.3d at pp. 599-606.)
Even the courts have struggled with a proper definition of “material”. In People v. Hedgecock (1990) 51 Cal.3d 395, 404405, the court points out that the definition of “material” with respect to perjury differs from a proper definition of “material” with respect to reporting campaign contributions. Since each statute has a somewhat different purpose, the definition of “material” differs with respect to persons charged with false reporting of campaign contributions, versus those charged with making a false statement at trial. (Ibid.)
In a similar situation, the court in People v. Enriguez (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 661, 664-666, held that the term “under the influence” was a term with a technical meaning in the law, and had to be defined, sua sponte, by the trial court. The reviewing court noted that “under the influence” had different meanings under Health and Safety Code section 11550, and Vehicle Code section 23152. (Ibid.) For this reason the court concluded that the term had a technical meaning under the law, and that the failure to define it for the jury was reversible error. (Ibid.)
The jury in the instant case was given the following jury instruction under CALJIC No. 7.20:
Every person who, having taken an oath to testify truly, and who willfully and contrary to such oath, then states as true any material matter which is false and which such person knows to be false, is guilty of the crime of perjury . . . .
Nowhere was the jury given a definition of either “material”, or “material matter”, with respect to perjury. Since these are terms of art in the legal community, the jury should have been informed of the meaning of the terms.
“A jury’s verdict cannot stand if the instructions provided the jury do not require it to find each element of the crime under the proper standard of proof . . . . (Hedgecock, supra, 51 Cal.3d at p. 407.) In the instant case, the jury was not given proper instructions on the “materiality” element of the crime of perjury. The jury was unable to determine whether the false statements were “material”, without guessing at the meaning of that term. This error is similar to removing an element of the offense from the charge to the jury. In that situation, the correct test of prejudice is that the error is prejudicial per se. (People v. Cummings (1993) 4 Cal.4th 1233, 1316; People v. Hernandez (1988) 46 Cal.3d 194, 210-211; Yates v. Evatt (1991) 500 U.S. 391, 403-406, 413-416 (conc. opn. of Scalia, J. – if jury is improperly instructed, jury evaluates evidence “with the wrong question in mind” and therefore it is impossible to say, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the error was harmless); Osborne v. Ohio (1990) 495 U.S. 103, 122-126; Carella v. California (1989) 491 U.S. 263, .) For these reasons, appellant contends that the failure to define the term “material matter” in the jury instructions effectively removed this element from the jury’s determination, and requires reversal of the perjury convictions per se.
The failure to define “material matter” with respect to perjury meant that the jury was without definition of a term with a technical meaning peculiar to the law, and requires reversal of the perjury convictions per se.