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People v. Alford

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

June 15, 2017

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
LUIS ALFORD, Defendant and Appellant.

         APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Diego County No. SCN353122, Michael J. Popkins, Judge. Affirmed.

          Michelle C. Rogers, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

          Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Julie L. Garland, Assistant Attorney General, Steve Oetting and Warren J. Williams, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          HALLER, J.

         Luis Alford pled guilty to possessing methamphetamine for sale. (Health & Saf. Code, [1] § 11378.) The court sentenced Alford to eight years in custody, plus three years four months on mandatory supervision. The court also imposed various fines and assessments. Alford's appellate challenge concerns the court's imposition of a monetary penalty (Pen. Code, § 1464; Gov. Code, § 76000, together "penalty statutes") based on two statutory assessments: (1) a criminal laboratory analysis fee (laboratory fee) (§ 11372.5); and (2) a drug program fee (§ 11372.7).

         Alford acknowledges the court properly assessed him for the laboratory and drug program fees (§§ 11372.5, 11372.7), but contends the court erred in concluding the penalty statutes applied to require an additional penalty on top of those fees. There is a split in authority in the Courts of Appeal on this precise issue. (See People v. Watts (2016) 2 Cal.App.5th 223, 229-237 [imposition of the additional penalty not permitted] (Watts); People v. Sierra (1995) 37 Cal.App.4th 1690, 1694-1696 (Sierra) [additional penalty upheld on drug program fee]; People v. Martinez (1998) 65 Cal.App.4th 1511, 1522 [additional penalty required on laboratory fee] (Martinez).) We determine the court's assessment of the additional penalties was proper.[2]

         We affirm the judgment, but remand for the court to correct a clerical error and itemize the fines and penalties in the abstract of judgment.


         As the factual basis for his plea, Alford admitted he possessed methamphetamine for sale and distribution in an amount greater than 10 kilograms. The court imposed various fines and assessments, including a $205 "Lab Fee" under section 11372.5, subdivision (a), and a $615 "Drug Program Fee" under section 11372.7, subdivision (a).

         After the judgment was entered, Alford moved to strike portions of these two assessments, noting the statutes limit the laboratory fees to $50 and drug program fees to $150 (§§ 11372.5, 11372.7), and arguing that the court erred in adding the Penal Code section 1464 and Government Code section 76000 penalties to these fees. Alford relied primarily on Watts, supra, 2 Cal.App.5th 223, a case filed after Alford's sentencing, in which the First District Court of Appeal had disagreed with the prevailing majority view on the issue.

         The trial court denied the motion. On appeal, Alford reasserts his challenge to the penalty assessments. He argues the court erred in adding $155 to the laboratory fee and $465 to the drug program fee.


         A. Relevant Statues

         The penalty statutes (Pen. Code, § 1464; Gov. Code, § 76000) mandate that a court impose a penalty assessment "upon every fine, penalty, or forfeiture imposed and collected... for all criminal offenses" with certain exceptions not applicable here.[3] (See People v. Talibdeen (2002) 27 Cal.4th 1151, 1153-1154 (Talibdeen).) "Although these 'parasitic' assessments punish a defendant in the sense that they increase the total monetary charge imposed, they were created in large part to generate revenue and are deposited into various state and county funds." (Watts, supra, 2 Cal.App.5th at p. 229.)

         Alford contends the court erred in adding these statutory penalties to the amounts assessed under sections 11372.5 and 11372.7 because these latter code sections do not impose a "fine" or "penalty" within the meaning of the penalty statutes, and instead levy only a "fee." The Attorney General counters that the court properly added the penalty assessments "because those two fees are actually fines." In asserting these arguments, the parties focus on the wording of sections 11372.5 and 11372.7. We thus begin by setting forth the relevant language of these statutes.

         Section 11372.5, the laboratory fee statute, consists of three subdivisions. Subdivision (a) states the circumstances under which this fee is to be imposed:

         "Every person who is convicted of a violation of [specified drug offenses, including section 11378], shall pay a criminal laboratory analysis fee in the amount of fifty dollars... for each separate offense. The court shall ...

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