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People v. Bechtol

California Court of Appeals, First District, Fifth Division

April 12, 2017

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
DAVID BECHTOL, JR., Defendant and Appellant.

         Superior Court of Sonoma County, No. SCR-663130, Hon. Gary A. Medvigy, Judge.

          Paul F. DeMeester, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

          Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Jeffrey M. Laurence, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Eric D. Share and Leif M. Dautch, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          SIMONS, J.

         In Garcia v. Superior Court (1997) 14 Cal.4th 953 (Garcia), the California Supreme Court determined that a criminal defendant could not move to strike a prior conviction, alleged as an enhancement in a pending proceeding, on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel in the earlier case. Appellant David Bechtol, Jr., charged with two alcohol-related driving offenses within 10 years of a prior felony driving under the influence (DUI) conviction, argues Vehicle Code section 41403[1] permits him to move to strike his earlier felony conviction despite Garcia. We disagree and conclude that section 41403 does not independently authorize such challenges, but simply sets forth the procedural rules to be used for those challenges that are otherwise authorized.

         BACKGROUND

         In July 2015, appellant was charged with a DUI committed within 10 years of a prior felony DUI conviction (§§ 23152, subd. (a), 23550.5, subd. (a)), and driving with a blood alcohol content of more than.08 percent within 10 years of a prior felony DUI conviction (§§ 23152, subd. (b), 23550.5, subd. (a)).[2] The information alleged appellant had been convicted of a felony DUI in 2006.

         In August, appellant filed a section 41403 motion to strike his 2006 conviction as constitutionally invalid on the ground that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court denied the motion as unauthorized under section 41403 without making a finding on the merits of appellant's ineffective assistance claim. Appellant subsequently pled guilty. The trial court granted appellant's request for a certificate of probable cause on the denial of the section 41403 motion.

         DISCUSSION

         Section 41403 sets forth detailed procedural rules for “any proceedings to have a judgment of conviction of a violation of Section 14601, 14601.1, 14601.2, 23152, or 23153, or Section 23103 as specified in Section 23103.5, [3] which was entered in a separate proceeding, declared invalid on constitutional grounds....” (§ 41403, subd. (a).) First, “the defendant shall state in writing and with specificity wherein the defendant was deprived of the defendant's constitutional rights, which statement shall be filed with the clerk of the court and a copy served on the court that rendered that judgment and on the prosecuting attorney in the present proceedings at least five court days prior to the hearing thereon.” (Ibid.) A hearing shall be held “outside of the presence of the jury.” (§ 41403, subd. (b).) The statute then sets forth in detail the burdens of production and proof: “The prosecution shall initially have the burden of producing evidence of the separate conviction sufficient to justify a finding that the defendant has suffered that separate conviction”; “the defendant then has the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant's constitutional rights were infringed in the separate proceeding at issue”; “[i]f the defendant bears this burden successfully, the prosecution shall have the right to produce evidence in rebuttal”; and the court “shall strike from the accusatory pleading any separate conviction found to be constitutionally invalid.” (§ 41403, subd. (b)(1)-(4).)[4]

         “ ‘As in any case involving statutory interpretation, our fundamental task here is to determine the Legislature's intent so as to effectuate the law's purpose.' [Citation.] ‘We begin with the plain language of the statute, affording the words of the provision their ordinary and usual meaning and viewing them in their statutory context, because the language employed in the Legislature's enactment generally is the most reliable indicator of legislative intent.' [Citations.] The plain meaning controls if there is no ambiguity in the statutory language. [Citation.] If, however, ‘the statutory language may reasonably be given more than one interpretation, “ ‘ “courts may consider various extrinsic aids, including the purpose of the statute, the evils to be remedied, the legislative history, public policy, and the statutory scheme encompassing the statute.” ' ” ' ” (People v. Cornett (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1261, 1265.)

         As appellant argues, the language of the statute itself does not limit the nature of the constitutional challenges which can be adjudicated by its procedures. However, section 41403's opening phrase-“In any proceedings to have a judgment of conviction of [certain violations], which was entered in a separate proceeding, declared invalid on constitutional grounds” (italics added)-suggests the authority to bring such challenges derives from elsewhere. (Cf. Pen. Code, § 1473, subd. (a) [“A person unlawfully imprisoned or restrained of his or her liberty, under any pretense, may prosecute a writ of habeas corpus to inquire into the cause of his or her imprisonment or restraint.”].) We find the statutory language ambiguous regarding whether it independently authorizes these challenges, or merely sets forth the procedural framework to be used if they are otherwise authorized.[5]

         The authority to challenge prior convictions in a subsequent prosecution began prior to the enactment of section 41403.[6] In People v. Coffey (1967) 67 Cal.2d 204 (Coffey), the defendant moved to strike an allegation that he suffered a prior felony conviction, arguing the prior conviction was constitutionally invalid because he had not been represented by counsel and had not waived his right to counsel. (Id. at p. 210.) The trial court denied the motion as unauthorized under California law. (Id. at p. 211.) The California Supreme Court reversed, noting “to the extent that statutory machinery relating to penal status or severity of sanction is activated by the presence of prior convictions, it is imperative that the constitutional basis of such convictions be examined if challenged by proper allegations.” (Id. at pp. 214-215.) The court continued: “Though these principles were first given application in a series of cases involving collateral attacks on final judgments [citations], it is clearly in the interest of efficient judicial administration that attacks upon the constitutional basis of prior convictions be disposed of at the earliest possible opportunity, and we are therefore of the view that, if the issue is properly raised at or prior to trial, it must be determined by the trial court.” (Id. at p. 215.) As explained in a subsequent California Supreme Court opinion, “Coffey authorized defendants to institute in their current trial a collateral attack on a prior felony conviction, which previously had been permissible only by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus.... In today's parlance, we would characterize the rule as a judicially established rule of criminal procedure.” (People v. Allen (1999) 21 Cal.4th 424, 430 (Allen).)

         After establishing this judicial rule of procedure authorizing challenges to a prior conviction in a subsequent prosecution, Coffey proceeded to “delineate the nature of the contemplated hearing... for the guidance of courts and counsel who will be called upon to deal with similar matters in the future.” (Coffey, supra, 67 Cal.2d at p. 217.) The court set forth in detail the mechanics of the hearings: “First, when a defendant, whether by motion to strike the prior conviction or convictions on constitutional grounds, or by denial of such prior conviction or convictions on constitutional grounds at the time of entering his plea to the same, raises the issue for determination, the court shall, prior to trial, hold a hearing outside the presence of the jury in order to determine the constitutional validity of the charged prior or priors in issue. Second, in the course of such hearing the prosecutor shall first have the burden of producing evidence of the prior conviction sufficient to justify a finding that defendant ‘has suffered such previous conviction.' (Pen. Code, § 1025.) Third, when this prima facie showing has been made, the defendant shall thereupon have the burden of producing evidence that his constitutional right to counsel was infringed in the prior proceeding at issue. Fourth, if defendant bears this burden, the prosecution shall have the right to produce evidence in rebuttal. Fifth, the court shall make a finding on the basis of the evidence thus ...


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