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People v. Acosta

August 6, 2009

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
ROBERT RALPH ACOSTA, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT



APPEAL from the Superior Court of Riverside County. Jeffrey Prevost, Judge. Reversed. (Super.Ct.No. RIF138895).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ramirez P.J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Defendant, Robert Acosta, was charged by information in Riverside County with, inter alia, committing a lewd and lascivious act on a minor (Pen. Code, § 288, subd. (a))*fn1 between July 2001 and February 2002 in San Bernardino County*fn2 and committing a lewd and lascivious act on another minor between January and August 2007 in Riverside County. It was further alleged that defendant was subject to 15-year-to-life sentences under section 667.61, subdivision (e)(5) because he committed violations of section 288, subdivision (a) against two victims. Following defendant‟s demurrer to the information, the trial court dismissed the allegation under section 667.61, subdivision (e)(5), finding it violated the proscription against ex post facto laws, and ordered it stricken. The People appeal from that order. We agree with them and reverse the trial court‟s order.

ISSUE AND DISCUSSION

At the time defendant committed the San Bernardino offense, former section 784.7 provided, in pertinent part, "When more than one violation of section... 288... occurs in more than one jurisdictional territory, and the defendant and the victim are the same for all of the offenses, the jurisdiction of any of those offenses is in any jurisdiction where at least one of the offenses occurred." Applying former section 784.7, as it read at the time of the San Bernardino offense, would have prohibited charging defendant for that offense in this case, which was filed in Riverside County. (§ 777)*fn3

Before defendant committed the Riverside offense, former section 784.7 was amended to provide, in pertinent part, "When more than one violation of... 288... occurs in more than one jurisdictional territory, the jurisdiction of any of those offenses,... is in any jurisdiction where at least one of the offenses occurred...." Applying section 784.7, as it read at the time of the Riverside offense, would have allowed defendant to be charged in this Riverside County case for the San Bernardino offense.

The allegation under section 667.61, subdivision (e)(5) made this difference significant, as it mandates the imposition of 15-year-to-life terms (see People v. Jones (1997) 58 Cal.App.4th 693, 719 [opinion of this court]) should defendant be convicted of both offenses in the same case.*fn4

Defendant demurrered to the information below, contending that the Riverside court lacked jurisdiction over the San Bernardino offense because at the time the latter was committed, proper venue resided only in San Bernardino County.*fn5 With the San Bernardino offense removed from this case, no allegation could be made under section 667.61, subdivision (e)(5) and defendant would no longer be subject to 15-year-to-life terms for the charged offenses. Defendant argued that to utilize the version of section 784.7 which was enacted after the San Bernardino crime was committed to charge that crime in Riverside County would violate the proscription against ex post facto laws.

The trial court denied the demurrer in part, ruling that defendant could be charged in Riverside for the San Bernardino offense by applying the version of section 784.7 that was enacted after the San Bernardino crime was committed because the amendment to section 784.7 "[wa]s a procedural change only in the law that does not increase [the] potential penalty to defendant[.]" However, the court granted the demurrer as to the section 667.61, subdivision (e)(5) allegation, finding "there is an increased penalty that could apply due to the change in statute..., and that... would represent an ex-post facto increase of penalty for defendant."

As is pertinent here, ex post facto laws increase the punishment associated with the crime after its commission. (Miller v. Florida (1987) 482 U.S. 423, 429 [107 S.Ct. 2446].) Of course, when defendant committed the San Bernardino crime, he was not subject to the 15-year-to-life term provided by section 667.61, subdivision (e)(5) because, at that point, he had not committed a sexual offense against another victim.

The People analogize this situation to the numerous cases that have held that a law which is dependent on prior conduct to enhance a penalty for a new crime is not ex post facto even though the prior conduct occurred after enactment of that enhancement. (See People v. Forrester (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th 1021, 1024 ["Courts have routinely rejected ex post facto challenges to statutes that increase penalties for recidivism."]; People v. Sweet (1989) 207 Cal.App.3d 78, 83 (Sweet) ["[A] statute does not function retroactively "merely because it draws upon facts antecedent to its enactment for its operation.‟ [Citation.]"; People v. Hatcher (1995) 33 Cal.App.4th 1526 [and cases cited therein].) Defendant counters, arguing correctly, that all these were habitual offender laws, and the defendants had been convicted of prior offenses. Additionally, many of the cases held that the enhanced punishment was being imposed for the current, not the previous, crimes. Here, in contrast, he asserts both offenses are current ones and there is no prior conduct or conviction to be considered.

While there may not be a prior conviction, however, section 667.61, subdivision (e)(5) relates to defendant‟s status as a repeat offender (People v. Desimone (1998) 62 Cal.App.4th 693), therefore, the analogy the People draw is not without merit. Moreover, the provision does not really become relevant until defendant has, in fact, been convicted of two of the listed offenses, one, in most cases, occurring before the other.

Additionally, "[t]he central concern to the ex post facto prohibition is ""the lack of fair notice and governmental restraint when the legislature increases punishment beyond what was prescribed when the crime was consummated."‟" (Sweet, supra, 207 Cal.App.3d at p. 82.) As in the cases involving other habitual offender statutes, when defendant committed the Riverside offense, the amended version of section 784.7 was already in effect, giving him notice that if he committed the latter offense, he could ...


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