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People v. Cross

Supreme Court of California

May 18, 2015

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
JOSHUA CROSS, Defendant and Appellant.

Superior Court Sacramento County Nos. 09F06395, 11F03888 Greta Fall Judge

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COUNSEL

John Hargreaves, under appointment by the Supreme Court, and William W. Lee, 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, Carlos A. Martinez, David Andrew Eldridge and Catherine Tennant Nieto, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

OPINION

LIU, J.

Penal Code section 273.5 defines various domestic violence crimes. Defendant Joshua Cross was charged with felony infliction of corporal injury in violation of section 273.5, subdivision (a) (hereafter section 273.5(a)). The information further alleged that Cross had suffered a prior conviction under section 273.5. At trial, Cross stipulated to the prior conviction, and the trial court accepted the stipulation without advising Cross of any trial rights or eliciting his waiver of those rights. The jury found Cross guilty of the charged offense under section 273.5(a) and also found true the prior conviction allegation. As provided in section 273.5, former subdivision (e) (now § 273.5, subd. (f)), Cross’s prior conviction exposed him to a prison term of two, four, or five years instead of two, three, or four years. The trial court sentenced Cross to the maximum term of five years.

On appeal, Cross argues that, because his unwarned stipulation to the prior conviction had the direct consequence of subjecting him to a longer prison term, the stipulation was invalid under In re Yurko (1974) 10 Cal.3d 857 [112 Cal.Rptr. 513, 519 P.2d 561] (Yurko). We agree and therefore conclude that Cross’s sentence must be set aside.

I.

On May 20, 2011, Cross went to see the mother of his children at her apartment. In the course of a dispute, Cross slapped, punched, and choked

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her, resulting in a charge of felony infliction of corporal injury in violation of Penal Code section 273.5(a). (All undesignated statutory references are to the Penal Code.) A violation of section 273.5(a) is punishable by two, three, or four years in prison or up to one year in the county jail.

The information further alleged that Cross had previously been “convicted of the crime of spousal abuse in violation of Section 273.5 of the Penal Code, within the meaning of the [sic] Section 273.5(e)(1) of the Penal Code.” Section 273.5 provides that “[a]ny person convicted of violating this section for acts occurring within seven years of a previous conviction under subdivision (a)... shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by imprisonment in the state prison for two, four, or five years, or by both imprisonment and a fine....” (§ 273.5, former subd. (e)(1), as amended by Stats. 2007, ch. 582, § 1, p. 4894; see Stats. 2013, ch. 763, § 1 [redesignating former subd. (e)(1) as subd. (f)(1)]; hereafter section 273.5(f)(1).)

At trial, defense counsel stipulated that “[o]n January 15, 2010, [Cross] was convicted of a felony violation of Penal Code Section 273.5... in relation to [a] domestic violence incident on August 14th of 2009.” The trial court accepted this stipulation without advising Cross of any trial rights or the penal consequences of admitting a prior conviction.

A jury convicted Cross of violating section 273.5(a) and found true the allegation that he suffered the prior conviction. In light of the prior conviction, the trial court sentenced him to the maximum term of five years for his current section 273.5(a) offense.

On appeal, Cross challenged the true finding on the prior conviction allegation on the ground that he did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his trial rights before stipulating to the prior conviction. The Court of Appeal rejected Cross’s argument and affirmed the sentence. Relying on People v. Witcher (1995) 41 Cal.App.4th 223 [48 Cal.Rptr.2d 421] (Witcher) and declining to follow People v. Shippey (1985) 168 Cal.App.3d 879 [214 Cal.Rptr. 553] (Shippey), the court concluded that “the stipulation to the existence of a prior conviction was not tantamount to admitting all the elements of an enhancement; rather, the existence of the prior conviction was instead a sentencing factor authorizing the trial court to impose a more severe alternative sentencing ...


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