California Court of Appeals, Third District, Placer
CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION[*]
APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Placer County, No. 72-005365 Colleen M. Nichols, Judge.
Michelle May, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.
Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Michael P. Farrell, Assistant Attorney General, Catherine Chatman and Wanda Hill Rouzen, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.
NICHOLSON, Acting P. J.
Defendant Douglas Harold Doyle was previously convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated (driving under the influence [DUI] manslaughter). (Pen. Code, § 191.5, subd. (a).) The conviction in this case was for another DUI offense. (Veh. Code, § 23152, subd. (b).) His current DUI was elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony because of the prior DUI manslaughter (Veh. Code, § 23550.5, subd. (b)), and he was sentenced under the “Three Strikes” law to 25 years to life in state prison with the prior DUI manslaughter as one of his strikes.
On appeal, defendant contends that it was illegal to use the prior DUI manslaughter conviction both to elevate the current DUI to a felony and to serve as a strike. To the contrary, the statutory scheme authorizes both uses.
Defendant also contends that use of the prior DUI manslaughter conviction both to elevate the current DUI to a felony and to serve as a strike violates equal protection guarantees because the statute elevating the current DUI to a felony as a result of the DUI manslaughter does not also elevate a current DUI to a felony if the offender, instead, has a prior conviction for second degree murder while driving intoxicated. This argument is unpersuasive because DUI offenders with prior DUI manslaughter convictions and those with prior second degree murder convictions are not similarly situated.
Because neither these nor any other of defendant’s arguments has merit, we affirm.
Under the influence of valium, cocaine, and alcohol, defendant nonetheless got behind the wheel of his van in December 1987. Going southbound on Highway 89, defendant sped around a blind curve in the oncoming lane to pass cars in his own lane. He hit an oncoming car head-on, killing the driver of the oncoming car. As a result, in 1988, he pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter. (Pen. Code, § 191.5, subd. (a).)
The 1988 DUI manslaughter conviction was not defendant’s first brush with the law, and it would not be his last. Most seriously, defendant was convicted of spousal abuse in 1996 and assault with a deadly weapon in 2007.
In August 2008, defendant again drove drunk on Highway 89, this time northbound, and again he passed on a blind curve. Fortunately, defendant did not cause another collision, and, again fortunately, a sheriff’s deputy saw the unsafe driving and stopped defendant. After observing that defendant was drunk, the deputy arrested defendant for DUI.
The district attorney charged defendant by information with felony DUI, with a prior DUI manslaughter. (Veh. Code, §§ 23152, subds. (a) & (b), 23550.5, subd. (b).) The district attorney also alleged that defendant had two prior strike convictions (the 1988 DUI manslaughter conviction (Pen. Code, § 191.5) and a 2007 assault with a deadly weapon conviction (Pen. Code, § 245)) and had four prior prison terms (Pen. Code, § 667.5, subd. (b)).
Defendant pleaded guilty to felony DUI,  with a prior DUI manslaughter. He also admitted the prior serious felony convictions and prison terms. He did so with the understanding that this exposed him to a potential sentence of 29 years to life under the Three Strikes law.
The trial court considered and denied a Romero motion to strike one or both of the prior serious felony convictions. The court sentenced defendant under the Three Strikes law to state prison for an indeterminate term of 25 years to life. It stayed the prior prison term enhancements.
Use of Prior DUI manslaughter
A DUI -- violation of Vehicle Code section 23152 -- is normally a misdemeanor. However, if the defendant has a prior DUI manslaughter conviction (Pen. Code, § 191.5), the DUI may be charged as a felony, as was the case here. (Veh. Code, § 23550.5; People v. Baez (2008) 167 Cal.App.4th 197, 199.)
Defendant contends that his prior DUI manslaughter conviction cannot be used twice to (1) elevate his current DUI to a felony and (2) impose Three Strikes sentencing. To the contrary, the applicable statutes and precedents allow both uses.
We look first to the legislative intent and discern no indication that the Legislature intended to preclude the use of a prior DUI manslaughter both to elevate a DUI to a felony and to serve as a strike. We then turn to defendant’s arguments for limiting such use and find them unavailing.
A. Legislative Intent and Case Law
The fundamental goal of statutory construction is to determine the Legislature’s intent. We begin with the ordinary and usual meaning of the language the Legislature used, and we do not alter that meaning if it is clear. We resort to extrinsic aids to understand the Legislature’s intent only if the Legislature’s language can reasonably be interpreted more than one way. (People v. Cornett (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1261, 1265.)
Applying these fundamental canons of statutory construction, we examine the applicable statutes to determine whether they evince any legislative intent to preclude the use of a prior DUI manslaughter both to elevate a DUI to a felony and to serve as a strike. We discern no such intent.
In 1994, the Three Strikes law was enacted by both the Legislature and the voters in nearly identical form. (Stats. 1994, ch. 12, § 1, p. 71, eff. Mar. 7, 1994; Prop. 184, eff. Nov. 9, 1994.) Under this law, a person who commits a felony and has previously been convicted of one or more serious or violent felonies is sentenced to a longer state prison term. (Pen. Code, § 667, subd. (b).) The term for such a person with one prior serious or violent felony is twice the term otherwise provided for the current felony. The term for such a person with two or more prior serious or violent felonies, as applicable to this case, is an indeterminate term of 25 years to life. (Pen. Code, § 667, subd. (e).)
There is no dispute in this case that defendant’s 1988 DUI manslaughter conviction (Pen. Code, § 191.5, subd. (a)) and 2007 assault with a deadly weapon conviction (Pen. Code, § 245) were for serious or violent felonies under the Three Strikes law. Defendant admitted the district attorney’s allegation that they were strikes under the Three Strikes law.
In 1997, the Legislature enacted a statute making it a felony or misdemeanor (a “wobbler”) if a person committed a DUI with a prior DUI manslaughter. (Stats. 1997, ch. 901, § 6, p. 6488.) That statute became Vehicle Code section 23550.5 in 1999. (Stats. 1998, ch. 118, § 84, p. 784.) Subdivision (b) of Vehicle Code section 23550.5 states: “Each person who, having previously been convicted of a violation of subdivision (a) of Section 191.5 of the Penal Code [DUI manslaughter], ... is subsequently convicted of a violation of [Vehicle Code] Section 23152 [DUI]... is guilty of a public offense punishable by imprisonment in the state prison [a felony] or confinement in a county jail for not more than one year [a misdemeanor]....”
In this case, the district attorney prosecuted the current DUI offense as a felony under Vehicle Code section 23550.5, subdivision (b), and defendant pleaded guilty to that charge. Therefore, he was convicted of a felony.
At sentencing, the trial court applied the Three Strikes law to defendant’s felony sentencing, which is required under Penal Code section 667, subdivision (e). The introductory language of that subdivision states that the Three Strikes sentencing scheme applies “in addition to any other enhancement or punishment provisions which may apply....” (Pen. Code, § 667, subd. (e).) Because defendant was convicted of a felony and had two prior serious or violent felony convictions, the trial court sentenced him to an indeterminate term of 25 years to life.
This was a faithful application of the ordinary and usual meaning of the applicable statutes. Nothing in the language of the statutes evinces a legislative intent to impose the Three Strikes law differently. To the contrary, the Three Strikes law is meant “to ensure longer prison sentences and greater punishment for those who commit a felony and have been previously convicted of serious and/or violent felony offenses.” (Pen Code, § 667, subd. (b).) Accordingly, we must uphold the sentence imposed unless defendant’s arguments on appeal establish that the sentence was illegal.
Before turning to defendant’s arguments, however, we discuss the case most similar to the circumstances of this case. That case is People v. White Eagle (1996) 48 Cal.App.4th 1511 (White Eagle). In White Eagle, the defendant pleaded guilty to petty theft with a prior robbery and admitted the prior robbery conviction, which is a serious or violent felony under the Three Strikes law. (Id. at p. 1515.) Normally, petty theft is a misdemeanor, but the prior robbery conviction made the petty theft conviction a wobbler. (Pen. Code, § 666, subd. (a).) Applying the Three Strikes law because of the defendant’s prior robbery conviction, the trial court treated the petty theft as a felony and sentenced the defendant to six years in state prison, which is double the aggravated term. (White Eagle, supra, at p. 1515; see Pen. Code, §§ 666, subd. (a), 667, subd. (e)(1), 1170, subd. (h).)
On appeal, the White Eagle court considered “whether the same 1981 robbery conviction can be used: (1) to convert the current offense to a felony under [Penal Code] section 666 [and] (2) to invoke the punishment provisions of [Penal Code] section 667, subdivision (e)(1)....” (White Eagle, supra, 48 Cal.App.4th at p. 1516.) The ...