Multiple Charges for the Same Crime

On July 9th, 2014, the California Fourth District Court of Appeal allowed the state to file multiple charges against a defendant for the same activity. This court order followed the decision by the Court of Appeal on June 30 which adhered to a California Supreme Court precedent that followed the letter of an old statute, but not its spirit. Please call our toll-free number at (855) 977-1212 to see how one of our attorney members can provide you a FREE CONSULTATION on your Criminal Law issue.

In 1872, California passed Criminal Code Section 1387 that limits the number of times that a person can be charged for the same conduct. The statute has been amended nine times since then, but its purpose remains clear. The law does not allow for the prosecution to charge the accused more than twice for the same felony and more than once for the same misdemeanor.

The problem that exists in People v. Juarez (2014) is that the prosecution has seen fit to charge the defendants with a crime based on the same conduct that it had twice previously filed a different felony against the defendants. Both defendants were involved in an assault on two unnamed victims that eventually led to one of the defendants allegedly firing a gun at each victim once. For this conduct, the People charged both defendants with attempted murder. This charge was dismissed for an undeclared reason in July 2012 and the defendants were once again charged with attempted murder on the same day of the original dismissal. On December 10, 2012, the prosecution was not prepared to go to trial and the charges against the defendants were again dismissed.

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The People tried again to pursue this prosecution and therefore charged the defendants with conspiracy to commit murder. The defendants requested a writ that the trial court treated as a writ of habeas corpus. At the hearing on the Defendants’ petition, the Superior Court judge asked, “Where is the limit in regard to your theory of refiling? [¶] If we take assaultive conduct like attempted murder, you could have two dismissals for an attempted murder, and then you could have two dismissals for an assault with a deadly weapon, and then you could have two dismissals for an attempted vol[untary manslaughter], and then you could have two dismissals for assault by force likely to produce great bodily injury, and then you could have two dismissals for a [section] 243[, subdivision (d)] battery causing great bodily injury. Where would it end?” (quotation marks in original). To avoid that ridiculous result, the trial court granted the writ and dismissed the prosecution of the two Defendants.

The People appealed to the Court of Appeal who were required by California Supreme Court precedent to reverse the decision of the lower court and remand the case for trial. As the Court of Appeal notes, section 1387 was enacted to enforce the “speedy trial” provision of the Sixth Amendment. The purpose of the law was to ensure that an accused person was not charged repeatedly for the same crime that would be repeatedly dismissed. And for over a century, the law protected criminal defendants from being charged multiple times for the same crime. Yet two recent California Supreme Court precedents have limited the Court of Appeal to following a precedent that they feel is incongruent with the purpose of the section.

In Burris v. Superior Court (2005) and People v. Traylor (2009) established the new precedents that have led to this absurd result where the Court of Appeal states clearly that “the result we reach is counter-intuitive, and generally not in keeping with the policies section 1387.” In Burris, the Supreme Court confronted a situation where the police charged the defendant with a misdemeanor driving under the influence offense, but later learned that they had enough evidence to pursue a felony. The People dismissed the misdemeanor and charged the defendant with a felony.  The Burris Court decided that the second filing would determine if the charge is considered a misdemeanor or a felony for the purposes of section 1387.

The corollary of the situation in Burris is when the prosecution originally files a felony charge against a person, then dismisses that charge and files a misdemeanor against the same person for the same conduct. The Traylor Court confronted that very situation. In Traylor, the defendant was charged with felony vehicular manslaughter, but the prosecution could not find sufficient evidence of gross negligence and therefore dismissed the felony charge. The prosecutor next refiled the charge as a misdemeanor (which does not require gross negligence). Using the logic from Burris, the Traylor Court should have dismissed the misdemeanor, but the Supreme Court decided that the prosecution could proceed with the misdemeanor. The Court said that the prosecution did not violate section 1387, because that statute only applies if the crime charged is the “same offense”, which the Court defines as having identical elements. Since the felony in Traylor requires gross negligence and the misdemeanor does not, re-filing the charges as a misdemeanor did not violate section 1387.

These two precedents lead us to the absurd result that is the Court of Appeal’s decision in Juarez. In that case, the Court of Appeal acknowledges in the last two paragraphs of the opinion that the Court’s holding is violative of the spirit and purpose of section 1387, but they are bound by the Traylor precedent. Therefore, in this case, the Court of Appeal is bound by the narrow definition from Traylor that the “same offense” is a crime with identical elements to the one previously charged. As the trial court noted, this can lead to the absurd situation where the accused is charged twice for each crime where the elements even remotely relate to the conduct.  

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Three Strikes Reform is NOT Vague

Today, the California Second District Court of Appeal decided that California’s Three Strike Reform law was not unconstitutionally vague. In the People v. Flores (2014), the California Court of Appeal reviewed the language of Proposition 36 to ensure that the statute was not so vague that it would lead to improper results because people would interpret the language differently. Please call our toll-free number at (855) 977-1212 to see how one of our attorney members can provide you a FREE Lawyer CONSULTATION on your Criminal Law issue.three strikes law

As many people know, the Three Strikes Reform initiative sought to reduce the number of people sentenced to 25 years to life for the conviction of a third crime. The initiative states that if a person’s third conviction is for a non-violent, non-serious crime, then that person will not receive a sentence of 25 years to life. The law also provides for prisoners convicted of a third strike to petition for a resentencing if the third conviction was for a non-violent and non-serious felony and if the person would not “pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.”

Mark Anthony Flores petitioned the Superior Court for a resentencing but was denied.  He therefore appealed the decision and challenged the law by stating that the word “unreasonable” makes the statement about posing a risk of danger to the public unconstitutionally vague.  The Second District Court of Appeal reviewed the language and found that it was not impermissibly vague. Relying on a U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Cameron v. Johnson (1968), the Court of Appeal stated that “unreasonable” is not a vague term and does not render the law unconstituational. The Court goes on to state that a Superior Court judge has the requisite knowledge and expertise to determine if releasing a prisoner or granting a lesser sentence would lead to an unreasonable risk to public safety. To demonstrate this point, the Court refers to a case where earlier this year the Court of Appeal granted a lower sentence via the Three Strikes Reform initiative.

In addition, the Court reaffirmed that the appropriate standard of proof that the prosecution needs to make to demonstrate that the prisoner poses a danger to public safety is preponderance of the evidence. Mr. Flores argued that the standard should be beyond a reasonable doubt, but the Court of Appeal decided in People v. Superior Court (Kaulick) (2012) that the People do not need to use the beyond a reasonable doubt standard.  In Kaulick, the Court applied another U.S. Supreme Court precedent that stated that a downward revision of a sentence does not require the use of the beyond a reasonable doubt standard.  The Kaulick Court therefore held that the preponderance of the evidence standard is appropriate for Three Strikes Reform petitions.  The Flores Court reaffirmed that opinion.

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