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The People v. Amir A. Ahmed

December 22, 2011

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
AMIR A. AHMED, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



Court: Superior County: Riverside Ct.App. 4/2 E049932 Super. Ct. No. RIF145548 Judge: Sharon J. Waters

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chin, J.

Riverside County

A jury convicted defendant of one crime -- assault with a firearm -- and found true two sentence enhancement allegations as to that crime -- personal use of a firearm and personal infliction of great bodily injury. We granted review to decide the relevance, if any, of Penal Code section 654, which generally prohibits multiple punishments for the same act or omission, to the question of whether a court may impose multiple enhancements for a single crime; and, more specifically, whether the court properly imposed both enhancements in this case.*fn1

We conclude that a court deciding how multiple enhancements interact should first examine the specific sentencing statutes. If, as is often the case, these statutes provide the answer, the court should apply that answer and stop there. Because specific statutes prevail over general statutes, consideration of the more general section 654 will be unnecessary. Only if the specific statutes do not provide the answer should the court turn to section 654. We conclude that section 654 does apply in that situation, but the analysis must be adjusted to account for the differing natures of substantive crimes and enhancements.

In this case, the relevant specific statute, section 1170.1, permits the court to impose both one weapon enhancement and one great-bodily-injury enhancement. Accordingly, the trial court properly imposed both enhancements. Because the specific statute provides the answer, we do not turn to section 654.

I. Facts and Procedural History

On August 7, 2006, defendant shot his girlfriend, Larin Romo, in the stomach with a .38-caliber handgun. For this act, a jury convicted him of assault with a firearm (§ 245, subd. (a)(2)), and found true sentence enhancement allegations that he personally used a firearm (§ 12022.5, subd. (a)) and inflicted great bodily injury under circumstances involving domestic violence (§ 12022.7, subd. (e)). Defendant also admitted that he had served two prior prison terms within the meaning of section 667.5, subdivision (b).

The court sentenced defendant to state prison for 13 years, a sentence consisting of the upper term of four years for the assault, three years for using a firearm, four years for inflicting great bodily injury, and one year each for the two prior prison terms. Defendant appealed. The Court of Appeal held that section 654 prohibited imposing both the firearm-use and the great-bodily-injury enhancements. It stayed the sentence for the firearm-use enhancement, reducing the prison sentence to 10 years, and otherwise affirmed the judgment.

We granted the Attorney General's petition for review.

II. Discussion

As relevant, section 654, subdivision (a), provides: "An act or omission that is punishable in different ways by different provisions of law shall be punished under the provision that provides for the longest potential term of imprisonment, but in no case shall the act or omission be punished under more than one provision."

Defendant argues, and the Court of Appeal held, that this statute bars the imposition of separate enhancements for using a firearm and inflicting great bodily injury because both enhancements were based on the same act -- shooting the victim in the stomach. This conclusion gives rise to the threshold question of how, if at all, section 654 applies to whether a court may impose multiple enhancements for a single crime. As we explain in part II.A., post, courts should look first to the statutory language concerning the enhancements to determine how they interact and consider section 654 only if those statutes do not provide the answer. Accordingly, in part II.B, post, we will examine the relevant statute to determine whether the trial court properly imposed both enhancements.

A. Application of Penal Code section 654 to sentence enhancements.

"On July 1, 1977, the Legislature replaced California's indeterminate sentencing scheme with a new law, the Determinate Sentencing Act. Under the new law, most felonies specify three possible terms of imprisonment (the lower, middle, and upper terms); after weighing any aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the trial court selects one of these terms. (§ 1170, subd. (b).)" (People v. Jefferson (1999) 21 Cal.4th 86, 95.) An example of such a felony is the one of which defendant was convicted, assault with a firearm, which specifies lower, middle, and upper terms of two, three, and four years, respectively. (§ 245, subd. (a)(2).)

"A determinate term for a given offense might also be lengthened by sentence enhancements." (People v. Felix (2000) 22 Cal.4th 651, 655.) "Enhancements typically focus on an element of the commission of the crime or the criminal history of the defendant which is not present for all such crimes and perpetrators and which justifies a higher penalty than that prescribed for the offenses themselves." (People v. Hernandez (1988) 46 Cal.3d 194, 207-208.) "[T]here are at least two types of sentence enhancements: (1) those which go the nature of the offender; and (2) those which go the nature of the offense." (People v. Coronado (1995) 12 Cal.4th 145, 156.) The first category typically enhances the sentence due "to the defendant's status as a repeat offender." (Ibid.) "The second category of enhancements, which are exemplified by those authorized under sections 12022.5 and 12022.7, arise from the circumstances of the crime and typically focus on what the defendant did when the current offense was committed." (Id. at p. 157, fn. omitted.)

The two enhancements in this case are the ones cited as examples of the second category in People v. Coronado, supra, 12 Cal.4th at page 157. Section 12022.5, subdivision (a), adds an enhancement of three, four, or 10 years for personal use of a firearm.*fn2 This provision is intended to deter persons from creating the potential for death or injury that the presence of firearms at a crime scene causes and to deter the use of firearms in the commission of violent crimes. (In re Tameka C. (2000) 22 Cal.4th 190, 196.) Section 12022.7, subdivision (e), adds an enhancement of three, four, or five years for personal infliction of great bodily injury under circumstances involving domestic violence in the commission of a felony or attempted felony. "Section 12022.7 is a legislative attempt to punish more severely those crimes that ...


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