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People v. Palmer

Supreme Court of California

December 5, 2013

The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
David Edward PALMER, Defendant and Appellant.

Page 111

[164 Cal.Rptr.3d 843] Jean M. Marinovich, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Assistant Attorney General, Laurence K. Sullivan, Stan Helfman, Jeffrey M. Laurence and Alisha M. Carlile, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

WERDEGAR, J.

Page 112

[313 P.3d 514] When a trial court takes a conditional plea of guilty or nolo contendere (hereafter no contest) to an accusatory pleading charging a felony, under Penal Code section 1192.5[1] it must " cause an inquiry to be made of the defendant to satisfy itself that the plea is freely and voluntarily made, and that there is a factual basis for the plea." " ‘ The purpose of the requirement,’ " we have said, " ‘ is to protect against the situation where the defendant, although he realizes what he has done, is not sufficiently skilled in law to recognize that his acts do not constitute the offense with which he is charged.’ " ( People v. French (2008) 43 Cal.4th 36, 50, 73 Cal.Rptr.3d 605, 178 P.3d 1100.) In People v. Holmes (2004) 32 Cal.4th 432, 9 Cal.Rptr.3d 678, 84 P.3d 366( Holmes ), we held the trial court can satisfy this requirement by inquiring of defense counsel regarding the factual basis of the plea, in which case, we said, " it should request that defense counsel stipulate to a particular document that provides an adequate factual basis, such as a complaint, police report, preliminary hearing transcript, probation report,

Page 113

grand jury transcript, or written plea agreement." ( Id. at p. 436, 9 Cal.Rptr.3d 678, 84 P.3d 366, citing People v. Wilkerson (1992) 6 Cal.App.4th 1571, 1576-1579, 8 Cal.Rptr.2d 392.) We did not need to address in Holmes, and expressly left open, the question whether section 1192.5 is satisfied when counsel stipulates to a factual basis for the plea without referring to a particular document that provides an adequate factual basis. ( Holmes, supra, at p. 441, fn. 8, 9 Cal.Rptr.3d 678, 84 P.3d 366.)

In the present case, a felony complaint charged defendant David Edward Palmer with violating Health and Safety Code section 11378 by possessing 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) for sale (count 1) and Health and Safety Code section 11359 by possessing marijuana for sale (count 2). Pursuant to a negotiated disposition, defendant entered a plea of no contest to count 1 in exchange for a grant [164 Cal.Rptr.3d 844] of probation and the dismissal of count 2. As part of the plea proceeding, defendant waived both a preliminary hearing and a probation report. The prosecutor conducted a voir dire of defendant, eliciting that in entering his plea he was not under the influence of any drug, medication or alcohol that was affecting his decisionmaking, that apart from the negotiated disposition of the case no promises or threats had been made to him, that he had discussed the elements of the crime and any defenses with his counsel and was satisfied with her advice, and that he was entering his plea knowingly and voluntarily. Defense counsel then stipulated to the existence of a factual basis for defendant's plea without referring to any document to support the stipulation. The trial court suspended imposition of sentence and granted defendant three years' probation on the condition he serve 270 days in county jail.

After obtaining a certificate of probable cause (see ยง 1237.5, subd. (b)), defendant appealed on the ground that his counsel's stipulation failed to satisfy the requirements of section 1192.5. The Court of Appeal affirmed, reasoning that, because the trial court had found defendant's stipulations and responses to the prosecutor's voir dire to be knowing and voluntary, counsel's stipulation to a factual basis for the plea " ‘ must be regarded as an admission by defendant,’ " as it was made in open court " ‘ in defendant's presence with defendant's apparent assent.’ " (Quoting People v. Voit (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 1353, 1371, fn. 14, 133 Cal.Rptr.3d 431( Voit ).) Therefore, the Court of Appeal reasoned, " defendant's contention that the factual basis inquiry was not sufficient is ‘ essentially a challenge not to the trial court's process but to its ultimate conclusion that there was a factual basis for the plea.’ " [313 P.3d 515] (Quoting Voit, at p. 1370, 133 Cal.Rptr.3d 431.) The court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court's acceptance of the plea, citing People v. Marlin (2004) 124 Cal.App.4th 559, 572, 21 Cal.Rptr.3d 470 [abuse of discretion standard applies to a challenge to a guilty plea].

We granted defendant's petition for review to determine whether a claim the trial court failed to establish a factual basis for the plea under

Page 114

section 1192.5 is cognizable on appeal when defense counsel stipulated to a factual basis and, if so, to answer the question left open in Holmes, supra, 32 Cal.4th 432, 9 Cal.Rptr.3d 678, 84 P.3d 366: whether counsel's bare stipulation, without reference to any document describing the underlying facts, sufficiently establishes a factual basis for the plea. We conclude such claims are cognizable on appeal, and a bare stipulation without reference to any document describing the facts may, in an appropriate case, satisfy the requirements of section 1192.5. Here, where defendant acknowledged in the plea colloquy that he had discussed the elements of the crime and any defenses with his counsel and was satisfied with her advice, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding a factual basis for defendant's no contest plea based on counsel's stipulation. We therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal.

ANALYSIS

Under section 1237.5, a defendant may appeal from a conviction on a plea of guilty or no contest only on grounds going to the legality of the proceedings; such a plea precludes appellate consideration of issues related to guilt or innocence, including the sufficiency of the evidence to support the conviction. ( People v. DeVaughn (1977) 18 Cal.3d 889, 895-896, 135 Cal.Rptr. 786, 558 P.2d 872; People v. Ward (1967) 66 Cal.2d 571, 575, 58 Cal.Rptr. 313, 426 P.2d 881; People v. Gonzalez (1993) 13 Cal.App.4th 707, 713-714, 16 Cal.Rptr.2d 635.) Defendant contends [164 Cal.Rptr.3d 845] his challenge to the trial court's finding of a factual basis for his no contest plea is one going to the legality of the proceedings and hence cognizable on appeal.

Defendant relies on People v. Marlin, supra, 124 Cal.App.4th 559, 571, 21 Cal.Rptr.3d 470( Marlin ), where the court reasoned: " Even though a defendant may in fact be guilty of the offense to which he pleads guilty, given the policy considerations underlying the intent behind section 1192.5, an adequate inquiry into the factual basis for the plea addresses broader issues such as the voluntariness of the plea and a knowing decision to plead guilty. A sufficient factual inquiry must be considered a necessary component of the legality of the proceedings. To decide otherwise would preclude review of the factual basis for a plea of guilty or no contest thereby frustrating the policies the statute is intended to advance."

The Court of Appeal in Voit, supra, 200 Cal.App.4th 1353, 133 Cal.Rptr.3d 431, on which the People rely, disagreed with Marlin, reasoning that when a trial court makes an on-the-record inquiry regarding the factual basis for a plea, an appellate claim that the inquiry was insufficient " is often, as it was in Marlin, essentially a challenge not to the trial court's process but to its ultimate conclusion that there was a factual ...


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