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People v. Superior Court (Samuel Sanchez)

California Court of Appeal, Third District

January 29, 2014

The PEOPLE, Petitioner,
v.
The SUPERIOR COURT of Glenn County, Respondent; Samuel Sanchez, Jr., Real Party in Interest.

ORIGINAL PROCEEDINGS in mandate. Donald C. Byrd, Judge. Petition granted. (Super.Ct. No. 11NCR08689).

Page 568

[167 Cal.Rptr.3d 116] Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Michael P. Farrell, Assistant Attorney General, Catherine Chatman and George M. Hendrickson, Deputy Attorneys General, for Petitioner.

Jarvis, Fay, Doporto & Gibson and Benjamin P. Fay, Oakland, for Respondent.

Elizabeth Campbell, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Real Party in Interest.

OPINION

NICHOLSON, J.

Page 569

In this criminal case, the People and real party in interest Samuel Sanchez, Jr. (hereafter defendant), negotiated a plea that was unauthorized by law because it [167 Cal.Rptr.3d 117] required a penalty not available for the crime to which defendant pleaded no contest. At sentencing, the trial court reformed the plea bargain detrimentally to the People by reducing the penalty to the term of imprisonment authorized by law for the crime. The People filed a petition in this court asking for a writ directing the trial court to vacate the plea bargain. We denied the petition summarily. But the California Supreme Court directed us to issue an order to show cause why relief should not be granted to the People. Having done so, we now decide the petition on the merits.

Page 570

We conclude that the trial court exceeded its jurisdiction by reforming the negotiated plea to conform with the applicable law because the reformation denied the People the benefit of their bargain. Therefore, we grant the People's petition and direct issuance of a writ of mandate.

BACKGROUND

The district attorney filed an information accusing defendant of conspiracy to commit robbery, attempted first degree burglary, two counts of first degree burglary, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, two counts of attempted murder, and two counts of assault with a semiautomatic firearm. The information also alleged personal firearm use and great bodily injury, as well as a prior conviction for possession for sale of a controlled substance and three prior convictions for unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.

Defendant and the district attorney entered into a plea bargain, under which defendant agreed to plead no contest to one count of attempted murder and to be sentenced to an indeterminate term of 25 years to life in exchange for dismissal of the other counts with a waiver pursuant to People v. Harvey (1979) 25 Cal.3d 754, 159 Cal.Rptr. 696, 602 P.2d 396 ( Harvey ). The parties signed a plea form to that effect. Defendant was represented by three defense attorneys.

At a hearing on the plea, the district attorney stated the basis for the plea on the attempted murder count. Defendant shot at another vehicle while driving 80 to 90 miles per hour on a highway, hitting one of the occupants. Eleven bullet holes were found in the vehicle being pursued. The district attorney also stated the basis for the count of shooting at an inhabited dwelling, which was to be used in sentencing under the Harvey waiver. Defendant, on an occasion separate from the shooting on the highway, shot into an occupied trailer. The court accepted the plea bargain, and defendant pleaded no contest to one count of attempted murder.

A probation report recommended that the court impose the 25-years-to-life term. In a statement in aggravation, the district attorney also recommended that the court impose the 25-years-to-life term.

In a supplemental statement in aggravation filed two days before sentencing, the district attorney noted that the statutory punishment for attempted murder is life with the possibility of parole, with a minimum term of seven years. The district attorney, however, urged the trial court either to specifically enforce the plea bargain and impose the 25-years-to-life term or to vacate the plea.

Page 571

At sentencing, the trial court noted that the punishment agreed to in the plea bargain is not authorized for attempted murder. The court said: " The Court is not going to impose an illegal sentence even if there's an agreement by the parties in this matter." The district attorney argued that the plea bargain should be vacated because of the mistaken understanding by both parties and the court concerning the [167 Cal.Rptr.3d 118] authorized punishment for attempted murder. Defense counsel acknowledged that defendant agreed to a 25-years-to-life term, but he urged the court to impose the penalty authorized by law. Counsel argued that the district attorney " should have crafted the [plea bargain] document a little more carefully."

The trial court ruminated that, if the mistake had been in the People's favor, the court would have been required to allow defendant to withdraw the plea. But the court added: " The People do not get the same opportunity under our state of the law." The court then imposed the term allowed by law for attempted murder, which is life with the possibility of parole, thus effectively giving defendant a minimum term of just seven years rather than 25. (Pen.Code, ยงยง 664, subd. (a); 3046, subd. (a)(1).)

The People filed a petition for writ of mandate in this court, which we summarily denied. The California Supreme Court, however, granted the People's petition for review and transferred the matter back to us with directions to vacate our order denying mandate and to issue an order directing the superior court to show cause why the relief sought in the petition should not be ...


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