Appellate Court Backs Judge Who Blocked Jury Sympathy for Food Thief

Should a defendant’s full crime scene statement have been hidden from a jury in a 2017 Anaheim robbery case?

A three-justice panel at the California Court of Appeal today answered yes.

The dispute involves Daniel Mora Mendoza, who walked out of a grocery store carrying a clear bag of stolen food.

A female employee confronted him in the parking lot and asked if he possessed a receipt for the items.

“No bitch,” an angry Mendoza replied as he slapped the employee’s hand. “I don’t have a receipt. I’m hungry.”

Police captured him as he tried to flee.

At trial, the defense argued the last two words should have been admissible.

But Superior Court Judge Lawrence Bauer accepted the prosecution’s request to omit the “I’m hungry” portion of the statement by claiming it would confuse the jury.

After his robbery conviction, Mendoza appealed.

Justices Raymond Ikola, Richard Aronson and Thomas M. Goethals sided with Bauer.

“The ‘I’m hungry’ statement could have evoked an emotional response of sympathy toward Mendoza’s situation that was not relevant to his guilt or innocence,” Ikola wrote for the panel in an 11-page opinion. “Evoking such sympathy is not a legitimate purpose for introducing evidence because the jury is not permitted to use sympathy or emotional bias during the guilt phase of a trial.”

Mendoza, 48, will continue to serve his three-year prison sentence inside the California Correctional Institution at Tehachapi.

CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; earned six dozen other reporting awards; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; featured in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.

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