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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