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People v. Fuentes

Supreme Court of California

July 21, 2016

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
ALEXIS ALEJANDRO FUENTES, Defendant and Respondent.

         Orange County Super. Ct. No. 13NF0928 Ct.App. 4/3 G048563 Nicholas S. Thompson Judge

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         COUNSEL

         Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Julie L. Garland, Assistant Attorney General, Holly D. Wilkens, Steven T. Oetting, Lise Jacobson and Kristen Kinnaird Chenelia, Deputy Attorneys General; Tony Rackauckas, District Attorney, and David R. Gallivan, Deputy District Attorney, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

         Frank Ospino, Public Defender, Jean Wilkinson, Chief Deputy Public Defender, Mark S. Brown, Assistant Public Defender, and Miles David Jessup, Deputy Public Defender, for Defendant and Respondent.

         OPINION

         CHIN, J.

         The issue presented here is whether a trial court has the discretion under Penal Code[1] section 1385, subdivision (a) (section 1385(a)) to

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dismiss a sentencing enhancement allegation for a gang-related offense (§186.22, subd. (b)(1) (section 186.22(b)(1))), or if the court is limited to its authority under section 186.22, subdivision (g) (section 186.22(g)), which provides that “[n]otwithstanding any other law, the court may strike the additional punishment for the enhancements provided in this section.” In other words, by enacting section 186.22(g), did the Legislature eliminate a trial court’s section 1385(a) discretion to dismiss or strike entirely a section 186.22(b)(1) gang enhancement?

         For reasons that follow, we conclude that a trial court has the discretion to strike the gang enhancement altogether under section 1385(a).

         Factual and Procedural Background

         In March 2013, the Orange County District Attorney (District Attorney) charged defendant Alexis Alejandro Fuentes with the unlawful taking of a vehicle (Veh. Code, § 10851, subd. (a)), and receiving stolen property (Pen. Code, § 496d, subd. (a)). The two-count felony complaint also alleged as an enhancement that defendant committed the charged offenses “for the benefit of, at the direction of, and in association with... a criminal street gang, with the specific intent to promote, further, and assist in criminal conduct by members of that gang.” (See § 186.22, subd. (b).) This gang enhancement allegation exposed defendant to up to an additional four years in prison. (Ibid.)

         On May 2, 2013, after an off-the-record conference in chambers, the trial court indicated the following: if defendant pleaded guilty to counts 1 and 2, the court would dismiss the gang enhancement allegation (§ 186.22(b)(1)), pursuant to its discretion under section 1385(a). The prosecutor, however, objected to the indicated sentence, arguing that the court lacked discretion to dismiss the enhancement and that its authority was limited to striking the additional punishment under section 186.22(g). Defendant moved to dismiss the gang enhancement allegation under section 1385(a).

         As part of the agreement in which defendant pleaded guilty to the charges, he offered the following statements as a basis for his plea: “[O]n 3-14-13, I willfully took a car with the intent to deprive the owner of it and without consent of the owner. I was also in possession of such vehicle.” Over the District Attorney’s objection, the trial court accepted the defense invitation to dismiss the gang enhancement allegation under section 1385(a). The court orally stated its reasons for dismissing the enhancement allegation; however, those reasons are not reflected in the court minutes. The trial court pronounced judgment and placed defendant on three years’ probation with additional terms and conditions.

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         The District Attorney appealed. He argued that the phrase “[n]otwithstanding any other law” in section 186.22(g) shows the Legislature intended that section to replace or supplant the court’s general authority under section 1385(a) to strike or dismiss gang allegations. For that reason, the trial court had the authority to strike the additional punishment for the enhancement, but not the enhancement itself. Disagreeing with a decision from a different division within its district (People v. Campos (2011) 196 Cal.App.4th 438 [126 Cal.Rptr.3d 274]), the Court of Appeal here stated that the “[n]otwithstanding any other law” phrase supports the District Attorney’s interpretation only if section 186.22(g) is “contrary to, in conflict with, or inconsistent” with section 1385(a). It concluded section 186.22(g) was not. Therefore, under section 1385(a), the trial court had the discretion to dismiss the gang enhancement allegation altogether, and it was not limited to striking the additional punishment for the enhancement under section 186.22(g).

         Because the trial court failed to state its “reasons for the dismissal... in an order entered upon the minutes, ” as section 1385(a) mandated at the time (see Stats. 2000, ch. 689, § 3, p. 4558), the Court of Appeal remanded the case to the trial court to allow it to do so. (See People v. Bonnetta (2009) 46 Cal.4th 143, 151 [92 Cal.Rptr.3d 370, 205 P.3d 279] [§ 1385’s “mandatory ...


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