Does Defendant’s Temporary Refusal to Attend Trial Justify A Consciousness of Guilt Instruction?
October 24th, 2022

In People v. Gomez (2018) 6 Cal.5th 243, 283 the defendant briefly refused to leave his jail cell and attend trial before the deputy sheriff advised him that an extraction order had been issued by the judge.  Defendant’s disobedience resulted in a 38-minute delay in the proceedings.

At the conclusion of the trial, the judge gave the following instruction to the jury: “If you find that the defendant Gomez voluntarily absented himself from this trial by refusing to come to court, you may consider that as a circumstance tending to prove a consciousness of guilt. That conduct, however, is not sufficient by itself to prove guilt, and its weight and significance, if any, are for you to decide.” (Id. at 286.)

The CSC held that the evidence did not support an inference of consciousness of guilt because it only suggested that defendant intended to temporarily disrupt the proceedings.  Therefore, “the trial court’s decision to admit evidence regarding [defendant’s] refusal to attend court and its jury instruction on consciousness of guilt violated [his] constitutional rights to due process.” (People v. Gomez (2018) 6 Cal.5th 243, 290.)

Compare FORECITE F 2.009a re: sample cautionary instructions regarding defendant’s absence from trial.