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People v. Dueñas

Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District, Division Seven

January 8, 2019, Opinion Filed



 [**270]  ZELON, Acting P. J.—Velia Dueñas, an indigent and homeless [***3]  mother of young children, pleaded no contest to driving with a suspended license. The trial court placed her on probation, imposed $220 in fees and fines, and ordered that if an outstanding debt remained at the end of her probation, the amount due would go to collections without further order of the court. Dueñas contends that imposing the fees and fine without considering her ability to pay violates state and federal constitutional guarantees because it simply punishes her for being poor. We agree. “Whatever hardship poverty may cause in the society generally, the judicial process must make itself available to the indigent; it must free itself of sanctions born of financial inability.” (Preston v. Municipal Court (1961) 188 Cal.App.2d 76, 87–88 [10 Cal. Rptr. 301], quoted in Jameson v. Desta (2018) 5 Cal.5th 594, 623 [234 Cal. Rptr. 3d 831, 420 P.3d 746].)

Because the only reason Dueñas cannot pay the fine and fees is her poverty, using the criminal process to collect a fine she cannot pay is unconstitutional. Accordingly, we reverse the order imposing court facilities and court operations assessments, and we remand the case to the trial court with directions to stay the execution of the restitution fine until the People prove that Dueñas has gained an ability to pay.


Dueñas is a married mother of two young [***4]  children. She has cerebral palsy, and because of her illness she dropped out of high school and does not have a job. Dueñas's husband is also unemployed, although occasionally he is able to obtain short-term work in construction.


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30 Cal. App. 5th 1157 *; 242 Cal. Rptr. 3d 268 **; 2019 Cal. App. LEXIS 20 ***; 2019 WL 125861

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. VELIA DUEÑAS, Defendant and Appellant.

Subsequent History: Time for Granting or Denying Review Extended People v. Duenas, 2019 Cal. LEXIS 1585 (Cal., Feb. 26, 2019)

Request denied by People v. Duenas, 2019 Cal. LEXIS 2076 (Cal., Mar. 27, 2019)

Prior History:  [***1] APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. 5VY02034, Eric P. Harmon, Judge.

Disposition: Reversed and remanded with directions.


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Criminal Law & Procedure, Sentencing, Costs, Fines, Excessive Fines, Restitution, Constitutional Law, Equal Protection, Nature & Scope of Protection, Fundamental Rights, Procedural Due Process, Scope of Protection, Sentencing Alternatives, Probation, Conditions, Case or Controversy, Constitutional Questions, Necessity of Determination