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Law School Case Brief

People v. Canfield - 12 Cal. 3d 699, 117 Cal. Rptr. 81, 527 P.2d 633 (1974)

Rule:

Cal. Evid. Code § 27707 provides that the court or the public defender may require a defendant or person requesting services of the public defender to file a financial statement under penalty of perjury. If there is doubt that the defendant is eligible to have the public defender represent him, the court, which is empowered to make the final determination, may make oral inquiry of the defendant with respect to his assets or, even if the defendant has given a financial eligibility statement to the public defender, require that he give another to the court. Even if it were held that the court can require the public defender to turn over to it a financial eligibility statement given by a defendant, the sole use which the court can make of the statement is to enable it to determine whether the defendant is eligible for the services of the public defender and not, to turn the statement over to the people to use in the prosecution of the case in chief against the defendant.

Facts:

Defendant was convicted of auto theft under Cal. Veh. Code § 10857 and receiving stolen property under Cal. Penal Code § 496. Defendant was required to sign a financial eligibility statement by the public defender to determine his eligibility for legal assistance. The trial court held that defendant's financial statement was not protected by the lawyer-client privilege and allowed the state to impeach defendant with its contents. Defendant was convicted of the auto theft charge but was acquitted of the charge of receiving stolen property.

Issue:

  1. Did the trial court err in admitting defendant’s financial statements as evidence?
  2. If the trial court erred in admitting defendant’s financial statements as evidence, was the error material to constitute reversal of the defendant’s conviction?

Answer:

1) Yes. 2) No.

Conclusion:

On appeal, the court found that the trial court erroneously admitted defendant's financial statement without his consent, as there needed to be a relationship of trust and confidence between an indigent defendant and his attorney. The court, nonetheless, affirmed defendant's conviction for auto theft and found that defendant's testimony was so incredible that there was no reasonable probability that the jury would have reached a verdict more favorable to defendant had defendant's statement not been admitted into evidence. Thus, the error of admitting defendant's financial statement was harmless, and an affirmance of his conviction was required.

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