Orange County Super. Ct. No.08HF0799; Ct.App. 4/3 G040808.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chin, J.
Are faxed copies of certified court records admissible to establish that a prior conviction qualifies as a serious or violent felony under the "Three Strikes" law?
In this case, the prosecutor presented certified copies of court records from the Circuit Court of Lauderdale County, Alabama to prove that defendant had suffered an out-of-state prior serious felony conviction. During the court trial on the prior conviction, it was determined that the proffered certified copies were incomplete and provided insufficient proof. The prosecutor sought to obtain more evidence over the lunch recess. After the recess, the prosecutor offered a single page of an indictment that she had obtained from the Alabama clerk's office by fax. Over defendant's objection on foundational grounds, the trial court admitted the faxed copy of the original certified document.
In upholding the trial court's ruling, the Court of Appeal determined that the faxed copy had been authenticated by its content and circumstantial evidence. The court compared the content of the faxed document with the other undisputed original certified copies of court records in the Alabama case and concluded that the faxed indictment page was an authentic representation of the actual charges in the Alabama case.
Because there was sufficient evidence to sustain a finding that the faxed document was an accurate copy of an authentic court record from the Circuit Court of Lauderdale County, Alabama, we affirm the Court of Appeal judgment upholding the trial court's admission of the faxed copy of the certified court record.
I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On November 11, 2007, Saida Hudson and her fiancee returned to their motel room in Costa Mesa to find it had been burglarized. Another guest at the motel had seen defendant in front of Hudson's room around the time of the burglary. The police arrested defendant and found in his possession several items that had been taken from the room. The police also found defendant's fingerprints on the motel room windows.
A jury convicted defendant of one count of residential burglary (Pen. Code, §§ 459, 460, subd. (a)) and one count of receiving stolen property (Pen. Code, § 496, subd. (a).) The court held a trial to determine whether defendant had suffered a prior Alabama felony conviction that qualified as a serious felony conviction under the Three Strikes law. (Pen. Code, §§ 667, subds. (d),(e)(1); 1170.12, subds. (b), (c)(1).)
At the court trial, the prosecutor introduced certified copies of court records in the Alabama case, consisting of a minute order, a plea agreement, a single page of an indictment, and the grand jury's true bill. The clerk marked this packet of documents as People's exhibit No. 16. In addition, the prosecutor introduced certified copies of booking documents and fingerprints in the Alabama case, which were marked as People's exhibit No. 17. Together, these documents showed that, in 1995, the grand jury indicted defendant on charges of manslaughter (count 1), driving under the influence of alcohol (count 2), and vehicular homicide (count 3), and that defendant pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charge in exchange for a 10-year prison sentence and dismissal of the remaining charges. The single page of the indictment described the vehicular homicide charge, but did not describe the other two charges. None of the other documents included factual descriptions of those two charges. The trial court admitted the documents in exhibit Nos. 16 and 17 without objection.
The trial court noted that to prove the prior Alabama manslaughter conviction was a serious felony conviction, the prosecution was required to establish that, during its commission, defendant had personally inflicted great bodily injury on a person other than an accomplice.*fn1 (Pen. Code, §1192.7, subd. (c)(8).) In considering the admitted documents, the court observed that none of those documents contained a factual description of the manslaughter charge to which defendant pleaded guilty. In response, the prosecutor offered to provide more information.
During the noon recess, the prosecutor contacted a clerk of the court in Alabama. The clerk faxed a certified copy of the first page of defendant's Alabama indictment, which apparently had been missing from exhibit No. 16. The indictment page (marked as People's exhibit No. 18) alleged that defendant committed manslaughter by running a red light, driving his car into a vehicle being operated by the victim, and recklessly causing the victim's death. Defense counsel objected to exhibit No. 18 on "foundational grounds" because it was a "photocopy." Overruling the objection, the trial court admitted exhibit No. 18 and took the matter under submission.
At the sentencing hearing, the trial court found the evidence established that, in the commission of the prior Alabama manslaughter offense, defendant had personally inflicted great bodily injury on a person other than an accomplice and that his prior foreign conviction qualified as a strike offense in California. Accordingly, the court sentenced defendant as a second-strike offender and imposed a total prison term of nine years.
On appeal, defendant argued that the prosecution had not properly authenticated exhibit No. 18 because it was a copy of the original certified copy of the Alabama indictment. Defendant acknowledged that the copy contained a certification stamp and the signature of Alabama court clerk Missy Homan Hibbett, but questioned whether the certification was legitimate because the initials "DM" appeared next to Hibbett's signature. Because exhibit No. 18 was not properly authenticated, defendant asserted there was insufficient evidence to support the ...