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Steven David Catlin v. the Superior Court of Kern County

January 27, 2011

STEVEN DAVID CATLIN, PETITIONER,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF KERN COUNTY, KERN COUNTY RESPONDENT;
THE PEOPLE, REAL PARTY IN INTEREST.



Ct.App. 5 F053705 Super. t. No. 30594

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kennard, Acting, C. J.

After petitioner Steven D. Catlin was sentenced to death, the Legislature enacted Penal Code section 1054.9.*fn1 That statute permits a defendant who has been sentenced either to death or to life imprisonment without parole to obtain discovery of "materials . . . to which the . . . defendant would have been entitled at time of trial" (§ 1054.9, subd. (b)) if the defendant shows that good faith efforts to obtain such materials from trial counsel were unsuccessful. Four and one-half years after the law's passage, petitioner sought discovery under its provisions. The trial court denied the request as untimely, because it had not been made within a "reasonable time" after section 1054.9's enactment. Petitioner filed a writ petition in the Court of Appeal challenging the trial court's denial order; the Court of Appeal upheld the order.

At issue here is whether a trial court may deny as untimely a section 1054.9 motion for post-conviction discovery. Our answer is "no," for these reasons: The statute lacks any language allowing a trial court to deny such a motion as untimely, and the statute's legislative history shows that the Legislature specifically chose not to impose a timeliness limitation.

I

In 1986, in Monterey County Superior Court, petitioner was convicted of murdering Glenna Catlin, one of his ex-wives; he was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. In 1988, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. (People v. Catlin (June 13, 1988, H002078) [nonpub. opn.].) In 1990, in Kern County Superior Court, petitioner was convicted of murdering Martha Catlin (his mother) and Joyce Catlin (another ex-wife). For Martha's murder, petitioner was sentenced to death; for Joyce's murder, he was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. In 2000, while petitioner's appeal from the Kern County Superior Court judgment was pending before us, he petitioned us for a writ of habeas corpus, challenging the judgment. In 2001, we resolved the appeal by affirming the judgment in its entirety. (People v. Catlin (2001) 26 Cal.4th 81.) At that time, the habeas corpus petition remained pending.

In 2002, the Legislature enacted section 1054.9. That statute permits a defendant sentenced to death or to life imprisonment without possibility of parole to obtain post-conviction discovery from the prosecution of any materials that the defendant would have been entitled to receive at the time of trial, upon a showing that good faith efforts to obtain those materials from trial counsel were unsuccessful.

Section 1054.9 became effective on January 1, 2003. Four and one-half years later, in August 2007, petitioner moved in Kern County Superior Court for post-conviction discovery. Pertaining to his three murder convictions, he sought materials in the possession of the prosecution and law enforcement authorities to which he would have been entitled at the time of trial. In support of the motion, petitioner submitted a declaration from his current habeas corpus counsel, J. Wilder Lee, stating that Lee, as well as Attorney Horace Freedman (petitioner's counsel on appeal) and Attorney Jeffrey Schwartz (petitioner's initial habeas corpus counsel) had "made diligent and repeated informal attempts to obtain the discovery materials requested" from "trial counsel, counsel's investigators and defense experts," and that they had reviewed "trial counsel's files and the files of other defense team members."

The trial court denied the motion as untimely because petitioner had not justified the four-and-one-half year delay between the effective date of section 1054.9 and petitioner's filing of the discovery motion. In September 2007, petitioner sought a writ of mandate from the Court of Appeal directing the trial court to grant his post-conviction discovery motion. Later that month, while the mandate petition was pending in the Court of Appeal, we denied the 2000 habeas corpus petition. The next month, the Court of Appeal summarily denied the mandate petition. Petitioner sought review in this court, and we transferred the matter back to the Court of Appeal for issuance of an alternative writ.

The Court of Appeal, after briefing and oral argument, again denied the mandate petition, this time in a written opinion. The two-justice majority relied on a footnote in our decision in In re Steele (2004) 32 Cal.4th 682 (Steele), which stated that an inmate who seeks post-conviction discovery under section 1054.9 must do so within a "reasonable time." (Steele, supra, at pp. 692-693, fn. 2.) The Court of Appeal majority agreed with the Attorney General that the footnote's language supported the trial court's denial of the discovery motion for being untimely. The dissenting justice viewed the Steele footnote as ambiguous, and pointed out that section 1054.9 lacked any timeliness requirement. Petitioner sought review in this court, and we granted review to clarify the matter.

II

To determine whether a section 1054.9 post-conviction discovery motion may be denied as untimely, we must construe the statutory language.

"The basic rules of statutory construction are well established. 'When construing a statute, a court seeks to determine and give effect to the intent of the enacting legislative body.' [Citation.] ' "We first examine the words themselves because the statutory language is generally the most reliable indicator of legislative intent. [Citation.] The words of the statute should be given their ordinary and usual meaning and should be construed in their statutory context." [Citation.] If the plain, commonsense meaning of a statute's words is unambiguous, the plain meaning controls.' [Citation.] But if the statutory language may reasonably be given more than one interpretation, ' " 'courts may consider various extrinsic aids, including the purpose of the statute, the evils to be remedied, the legislative history, public policy, and the statutory scheme encompassing the statute.' " ' " (People v. King (2006) 38 Cal.4th 617, 622; accord, Klein v. United States of America (2010) 50 Cal.4th 68, 77.)

As pertinent here, section 1054.9 provides: "(a) Upon the prosecution of a post-conviction writ of habeas corpus or a motion to vacate a judgment in a case in which a sentence of death or of life in prison without the possibility of parole has been imposed, and on a showing that good faith efforts to obtain discovery materials from trial counsel were made and were unsuccessful, the court shall . . . order that the defendant be provided reasonable access to any of the materials described in subdivision (b). [¶] (b) For purposes of this section, 'discovery materials' means materials in the possession of the prosecution and law enforcement authorities to which the same defendant would have been entitled at time of trial." (Italics added.)

Section 1054.9 is silent about untimely motions. It simply says that "on a showing that good faith efforts to obtain discovery materials from trial counsel were made and were unsuccessful, the court shall . . . order" discovery. The language could not be ...


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