Law School Case Brief
People v. Garcia - 20 Cal. 4th 490, 85 Cal. Rptr. 2d 280, 976 P.2d 831 (1999)
Cal. Penal Code § 1385(a) authorizes a trial court to act on its own motion to dismiss a criminal action in furtherance of justice. This power includes the ability to strike prior conviction allegations that would otherwise increase a defendant's sentence.
In 1996, the defendant, Jerry Garcia, burglarized three homes – he admitted to the offenses, and even described the burglaries to the police officers. The district attorney charged defendant with three counts of burglary (Cal. Pen. Code § 459), but moved to dismiss the second count in exchange for defendant’s waiving his right to a jury trial. Thereafter, the trial court found defendant guilty of two counts of burglary (Cal. Pen. Code, § 459). The court also found true an allegation that defendant had five prior serious felony convictions qualifying under the Three Strikes Law (Cal. Pen. Code, §§ 667, subds. (b)-(i), 1170.12, subds. (a)-(d)) and other sentence enhancement statutes. The trial court imposed a sentence of 30 years to life under the Three Strikes Law for the first count, but dismissed the prior convictions as to the second count, resulting in a consecutive term of one year and four months for that count. Defendant appealed, arguing that the sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The Court of Appeal, Second Dist., Div. Seven, No. B113080, did not decide the punishment issue, but instead reversed and remanded for resentencing, finding that dismissing prior convictions as to some, but not all, current counts was inconsistent with the Three Strikes Law.
In a Three Strikes Law case, can a trial court strike prior conviction allegations as to one count, but not as to another?
The Supreme Court of California held that a trial court, in a Three Strikes Law case, may exercise its discretion under Cal. Pen. Code § 1385(a), to dismiss a prior conviction allegation with respect to one count, but not with respect to another. The court further held that, in this case, the trial court acted within its discretion. According to the court, the sentence of 31 years, 4 months to life in state prison was not lenient, and therefore the sentence was consistent with the purpose of the Three Strikes Law. Moreover, defendant's five prior convictions all arose from a single period of aberrant behavior for which he served a single prison term. Further, defendant cooperated with police, his crimes were related to drug addiction, and his criminal history did not include any actual violence. Cumulatively, the court concluded that all these circumstances indicated that defendant could be deemed outside the spirit of the Three Strikes Law at least in part.
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