Ct.App. 5 F056337 Madera County Super. Ct. No. MCR 10473 Judge: John W. DeGroot
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Liu, J.
In general, the proper venue in which to prosecute a criminal offense is the superior court of the county in which the crime was committed. (Pen. Code, § 777.) Penal Code section 781 provides that when a crime is committed "in part" in more than one county, or when "the acts or effects" constituting the crime or requisite to its commission occur in more than one county, the offense may be prosecuted in the superior court of any of those counties. (People v. Posey (2004) 32 Cal.4th 193, 199.)
In the present case, defendant Rayshon Derrick Thomas lived and sold drugs in Madera County. He possessed a key and a receipt for a storage locker that was located in neighboring Fresno County. The storage locker contained drugs and a firearm. The Court of Appeal ruled that the drugs and firearm located in Fresno County did not provide a basis for prosecuting defendant in Madera County for possession for sale of a controlled substance and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. We disagree with the Court of Appeal and conclude that Madera County was a proper venue in which to prosecute defendant.
A felony complaint was filed in the Madera County Superior Court on November 7, 2001, charging defendant Rayshon Thomas with possession of cocaine for sale (Health & Saf. Code, § 11351) and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (Pen. Code, § 12021 subd. (a)(1)).
On June 17, 2002, prior to the preliminary hearing, defendant filed a "Motion to Dismiss Based on Improper Jurisdictional Territory," claiming that the case should be prosecuted in Fresno County, "where the contraband items were located." Defendant conceded that the Madera County Superior Court had subject matter jurisdiction over the charges, but disputed whether Madera County was a proper venue. Following an evidentiary hearing, the court denied the motion to dismiss.
A preliminary hearing was held in January 2003, at which defendant's parole agent, Raquel Merigian, testified that on November 2, 2001, she was riding in a patrol vehicle driven by Madera Police Officer Morrill when they saw defendant driving a red Honda Civic on Clinton Street in Madera County. (Merigian later testified at trial that this was suspicious because, the week before, defendant had declined to provide the registration for this vehicle, as required of all parolees, saying the vehicle was inoperable.) They stopped the vehicle, and a search of defendant's backpack revealed $12,500 in cash and a receipt from Derrel's Mini Storage. Defendant, who had told his parole agent he was unemployed, also had two cell phones and a pager as well as several receipts for rental cars. Madera Police Officer Robert Blehm testified that it is common for drug dealers to transport narcotics in rented vehicles and that cell phones and pagers are often used by narcotics traffickers. Madera Police Officer Jason Dilbeck, a gang liaison officer, testified that defendant was a member of the 916 Sac Town Bloods, a Madera County gang that engages in narcotics trafficking.
Although defendant had told his parole agent that he lived at 524 Adelaide Street, No. 103, in Madera County, his backpack contained several papers that bore his name and an address of 522 Adelaide Street, No. C. Merigian and Officer Morrill went to 522 Adelaide Street, No. C and discovered that a key they had seized from defendant opened the front door. The landlord confirmed that defendant resided there, and numerous bills and other mail bore defendant's name and that address. In the clothes dryer, Merigian found $741 in cash and two more receipts from Derrel's Mini Storage.
Officer Blehm went to Derrel's Mini Storage, which was located on Herndon Avenue in Fresno County, and opened the padlock on the storage locker specified in the receipts using a key seized from defendant. Inside the locker, Officer Blehm found a loaded Smith and Wesson stainless steel revolver wrapped in a handkerchief monogrammed with the initials "RT," as well as $13,000 in cash, a backpack containing 2.4 pounds of cocaine, and Rayshon Thomas's high school diploma. Officer Blehm believed defendant possessed the cocaine "for the purpose of sale," adding that the fact that there was a firearm in the storage locker supported that conclusion.
Defendant was held to answer and an information was filed on October 14, 2003 charging defendant with possession of cocaine for sale (Health & Saf. Code, § 11351) and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (Pen. Code, § 12021, subd. (a)(1)), among other offenses. The information alleged as a sentence enhancement that in possessing the cocaine for sale defendant was personally armed with a firearm under Penal Code section 12022, subdivision (c).
Defendant filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Penal Code section 995, arguing that "[t]he proper and only jurisdictional territory for prosecution of the 'possession' charges in the present matter is Fresno County." In denying the motion, the court relied on the evidence introduced at the preliminary hearing and found venue to be proper in Madera County, reasoning that defendant was operating "a criminal enterprise trafficking in illegal narcotics whose home base or home office is in the City of Madera." The court observed: "We have Mr. Thomas living in the City of Madera . . . . His money is here. . . . His financing is here. He lives here. He is gang related to here. . . . The only thing absent is his inventory. And his inventory . . . is just across the county line on Herndon. . . . [A] jury could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that he is in constructive possession in Madera of the drugs and the gun."
Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted of all charged crimes and sentenced to prison for a term of 33 years to life. The Court of Appeal reversed the judgment on the ground that "the possessory crimes in this case occurred in Fresno and, thus, the appropriate venue was Fresno County." We granted the People's petition for review.
In general, the proper venue for the prosecution of a criminal offense is in the superior court of the county where the crime was committed. (Pen. Code, § 777 ["[E]xcept as otherwise provided by law the jurisdiction of every public offense is in any competent court within the jurisdictional territory of which it is committed."].) Penal Code section 691, subdivision (b) defines the "jurisdictional territory" of a superior court as "the county in which the court sits." The terms "venue" and "territorial jurisdiction" are synonymous, and a criminal offense generally should be prosecuted in the county ...