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PG III(A) Defendant’s Right To Directly Relate The Theory Of Defense To An Element Of The Charge.
It is generally recognized that a party has a right to have the jury instructed on its theory of the case. (See FORECITE PG V(B)(1.1).) A criminal defendant is entitled upon request to an instruction pinpointing the theory of the defense. (See People v. Ward (2005) 36 C4th 186, 214 [requested pinpoint instruction must be given if supported by substantial evidence]; People v. Wharton (91) 53 C3d 522, 570 [280 CR 631]; see also Mathews v. United States (88) 485 US 58, 63 [99 LEd2d 54; 108 SCt 883] citing Stevenson v. United States (1896) 162 US 313 [40 LEd 980; 16 SCt 839] [refusal of voluntary manslaughter instruction in murder case where self-defense was primary defense constituted reversible error]; U.S. v. Sotelo-Murillo (9th Cir. 1989) 887 F2d 176, 178-79; U.S. v. Lesina (9th Cir. 1987) 833 F2d 156, 159-60; U.S. v. Escobar de Bright (9th Cir. 1984) 742 F2d 1196, 1201.) Such an instruction may “‘direct attention to evidence from … which a reasonable doubt could be engendered.’ [Citation].” (People v. Hall (80) 28 C3d 143, 159 [167 CR 844]; People v. Sears (70) 2 C3d 180, 190 [84 CR 711]; see also People v. Gonzales (99) 74 CA4th 382, 390 [88 CR2d 111] [trial court required to instruct that defense need only raise a reasonable doubt regarding the defense of accident].) In People v. Wright (88) 45 C3d 1126, 1136-37 [248 CR 600], the court clarified this rule holding that the defendant has no right to direct the jury’s attention to specific evidence or testimony. Nevertheless, Wright specifically held that CJ 2.91 (re: eyewitness testimony) and CJ 4.50 (re: alibi) are proper pinpoint instructions. Each of those instructions calls attention, in a generic form, to the evidence upon which the defense theory is based and admonishes the jurors that if they have a reasonable doubt after considering such evidence, they must acquit. (See EC 502; see also, People v. Simon (95) 9 C4th 493, 500-01 [37 CR2d 278] [as to defense theories, the trial court is required to instruct on who has the burden and the nature of that burden].)
Hence, a requested instruction which follows the pattern of CJ 2.91 and CJ 4.50 should be given when appropriate. (See also People v. Saille (91) 54 C3d 1103, 1120 [2 CR2d 364] [Defendant has the right to a pinpoint instruction which relates “his [evidentiary theory] to an element of the offense”].)
Sufficiency Of Evidence To Support Defense Instructions. In determining whether there is sufficient evidence to support defense instructions, the trial court does not consider issues of credibility, but simply whether there is “substantial evidence” to support them; that is, “evidence that a reasonable jury could find persuasive. [Citations.]” (People v. Cunningham (2001) 25 CA4th 926, 1008.) “The testimony of a single witness, including the defendant, can constitute substantial evidence” in this regard. (People v. Lewis (2001) 25 CA4th 610, 646.) Moreover, “[d]oubts as to the sufficiency of the evidence to warrant instructions should be resolved in favor of the accused. [Citations.]” (People v. Petznick (2003) 114 CA4th 663, 677.) “‘The fact that evidence may be incredible, or is not of a character to inspire belief, does not authorize the refusal of an instruction based thereon, for that is a question within the exclusive province of the jury.’ [Citations.]” (People v. Lemus (1988) 203 CA3d 470, 477; accord, People v. Webster (1991) 54 CA3d 411, 443; People v. Mejia-Lenares (2006) 135 CA4th 1437, 1446.)
See also FORECITE PG V(A)(6); PG X(A)(1).