California v. BrownAnnotate this Case
Four male gang members lured a 15-year-old female victim to the bedroom of a house, got her drunk, then had sex with her against her will. She awoke to find herself on a mattress in a nearby vacant apartment. DNA recovered from the victim was identified as that of defendant Darnell Brown. A female accomplice testified that defendant was not one of the four gang members who participated in the initial rapes. However, she also testified that one “Big Dee” took the victim away from the house. A gang expert testified that defendant was a member of the same gang, with the moniker “Big Dee.” Thus, the prosecution argued to the trial court and to the jury that defendant must have taken the victim over to the vacant apartment and raped her there. After a jury trial, defendant was found guilty of rape in concert of a minor 14 or older, rape of an intoxicated person, and rape of an unconscious person. He was sentenced to a total of 29 years in prison, along with the usual fines. Defendant raised a number of issue on appeal, including that there was insufficient evidence of force to support the convictions for rape in concert and forcible rape. Within this argument was a preliminary question: whether the Court of Appeal was limited to reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to support the particular factual scenario that the prosecution argued at trial. The Court found sufficient evidence to support the prosecution’s theory that defendant raped the victim in the vacant apartment, there was insufficient evidence of force in that scenario. On the other hand, despite the accomplice’s denial, there was also sufficient evidence that defendant was one of the men who raped the victim in the bedroom; in that scenario, there was sufficient evidence that defendant’s rape was forcible. "The Supreme Court has made it clear that ordinarily, we can uphold a conviction on any factual theory that is supported by the evidence." The Court concluded that this case came under an exception to that rule: when the prosecution has elected to proceed on one factual theory, and when that election has obviated the need for a unanimity instruction, the Court is bound by the prosecution’s election. Here, because the prosecution’s elected factual theory was not supported by substantial evidence. The Court of Appeal reversed the rape in concert and forcible rape convictions and modified the judgment accordingly.