People v. Bradford: Court Determines that Security Guards Can be Victims of Robbery Due to ‘Special Relationship’ with Stores

Sep 3, 2010

The California Court of Appeals determined on Wednesday, September 1st, that security guards at a shopping mall can be victims of a robbery although they are not the owners of the stolen property and are not directly employed by the store that owned the property. The court determined this based on the evidence that the guards had a ‘special relationship’ with the store and had the duty and authority to retrieve its stolen property. Additionally, the court rejected the defendant’s claims that the jury instructions on this point were incorrect and his mid-trial motion for self-representation under Faretta v. California (1975) 422 U.S. 806, (Faretta).

Richard Gary Bradford stole six bottles of perfume from Victoria’s Secret and was noticed by the shift manager, Nina Paiz, walking out of the store with the perfume. Paiz spoke with two security guards, Steven Conyers and Arthur Sandoval, and reported Bradford’s actions. Conyers and Sandoval followed Bradford and contacted him just inside another store. After speaking with him briefly in an attempt to retrieve the property, Conyers told Bradford he was placing him under citizen’s arrest. Bradford brandished a knife from his pocket, waved it at the guards, and ran away. The guards chased him outside and Conyers tackled him. Bradford once again took a knife from his pocket. Sandoval grabbed his hand to prevent Bradford from stabbing Conyers and forced Bradford to drop the weapon. Bradford was turned over to the Fairfield police and convicted on two counts of second degree robbery with knife use enhancements, one count of assault by means likely to cause great bodily injury. The guards were both named victims of the robbery and Conyers was named the victim of the assault count.

The Defendant’s appeal sought to argue three main points: the question of Conyers and Sandoval constituting robbery victims; the instruction given to the jury as defective because it did not advise the jury that it needed to find a ‘special relationship’ that imbued the guards with the authority or responsibility to protect the property before it was stolen; and that the trial court improperly denied the defendant’s motion for self-representation.

In regard to the first point, the court concluded that, as shown in People v. Scott, individuals other than employees can be victims of robbery if they have a ‘special relationship’ with the owner of the property such that they had the authority or responsibility to protect the stolen property on the owner’s behalf. [People v. Scott, (2009) 45 Cal. 4th]. In this case, Conyers and Sandoval did have a ‘special relationship’ with the property owner through their contractual obligation to provide security to all of the businesses at the mall. Furthermore, Paiz specifically asked Conyers and Sandoval for assistance in recovering the stolen property, which, was determined in People v. Bekele, when the owner of stolen property gave “implied authority to a co-worker to prevent a theft of his personal property.” [People v. Bekele (1995) 33 Cal. App. 4th 1457 (Bekele)]. The defendant also argued that the guards are akin to police officers, who are not recognized as victims of robbery. The court disagreed with this argument because unlike police officers relations with the general public, the guards did have a ‘special relationship’ with the theft victim by virtue of their employment.

In response to the second point the court concluded that while the instructions given to the jury did not advise the jury to find ‘a special relationship’ it did require a determination that they find the guards to be “representatives” of the store with express or implied authority over the property. The court contended that this instruction was in fact more stringent than finding a ‘special relationship.’ Therefore, it was reasonable to conclude that the jury found a ‘special relationship’ between the store and the guards having determined that the guards were “representatives.”

The court also rejected the defendant’s third point. According to Faretta, the right to self-representation is absolute. Absolution holds if a request to do so is knowingly and voluntarily made and is asserted a reasonable time before the trial begins. [People v. Doolin (2009) 45 Cal.4th 390]. If not, requests for self-representation are subject to the trial court’s discretion. [People v. Windham (1977) 19 Cal. 3d 121, 127-129 (Windham)]. The factors the trial court should consider: the defendant’s reasons for the motion, the quality of defense counsel’s representation, the defendant’s proclivity to substitute counsel, the length and stage of the proceedings, and the disruption or delay that might reasonably be expected to follow if the motion were granted. The defendant in this case filed his motion after the close of evidence, but before the closing arguments began. The court found that in this case the defendant’s motion was not timely. The defendant’s reason for seeking self-representation was dissatisfaction with his counsel’s representation, which the court found to be of good quality. Additionally, the defendant had shown himself to be disruptive to the court by, for example, speaking out inappropriately.

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This case is: People v. Bradford; Sept. 1, 2010; No. A125040.