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California: Prior Conviction for Being a “Felon in Possession of Firearm” Admissible as Evidence in Subsequent Criminal Trials

The California Court of Appeal has held that a prior conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm is a crime of moral turpitude, and therefore that evidence of such a conviction is not inadmissible as a matter of law.

In December 2008, while incarcerated at California State Prison in Lancaster, Lamar Robinson was charged with battery on a correctional officer. Robinson testified at his subsequent trial and disputed the truth of virtually every significant fact used by the prosecution against him. Because the case was a credibility contest between Robinson, on the one hand, and the correctional officers who testified against him, on the other hand, the prosecution introduced evidence that, in 2005, Robinson had been convicted of the crime of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Under People v. Castro (1985) 38 Cal.3d 301, 314, evidence of a prior conviction is admissible in a criminal case (subject to certain limitations) only if the conviction involves moral turpitude. Robinson unsuccessfully objected to the prior-conviction evidence used against him at trial and was convicted of the battery.

On appeal, Robinson renewed his objection to the admissibility of evidence that he had been convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, arguing that the crime did not involve moral turpitude. Applying the Castro test, the Court of Appeal held that, in enacting Penal Code section 12021, the California Legislature had determined that a felon in possession of a firearm is "ready to do evil." It rejected Robinson's arguments to the contrary and affirmed his conviction for battery. See: People v. Robinson, 199 Cal.App.4th 707 (2011).

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Related legal case

People v. Robinson