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People v. Hampton

California Court of Appeals, Third District, Sutter

November 1, 2019

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
GARY GRANT HAMPTON, JR., Defendant and Appellant.

          APPEAL from judgments of the Superior Court of Sutter County, Nos. CRF121961, CRF122695, CRF140755 Perry Parker, Judge in CRF121961 and CRF140755, and Susan E. Green, Judge in CRF122695. Reversed.

          Elizabeth Campbell and Michael Allen, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

          Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Michael P. Farrell, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Eric L. Christoffersen and Catherine Chatman, Supervising Deputy Attorneys General, Jesse Witt and Michael Dolida, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          HULL, J.

         This opinion addresses a trial court's authority to vacate dismissal of a criminal action as part of a plea bargain. Pursuant to a stipulation by the parties made at its suggestion, the trial court vacated its earlier dismissal of an information against defendant Gary Grant Hampton, Jr., in order to approve a plea agreement in this and other pending actions. The court placed defendant on probation, but later, it found he had violated probation and it sentenced him to prison. On appeal, defendant contends the trial court lacked jurisdiction to vacate its earlier dismissal and thus could not accept his plea, place him on probation, or sentence him to prison for violating probation.

         We reverse. No California authority vests a trial court with jurisdiction to vacate the dismissal of a criminal case upon the stipulation of the parties seeking to adopt a plea agreement. Under California jurisdiction law, a court loses subject matter jurisdiction upon dismissing a criminal case in its entirety, and these rules prevent a court from later vacating such a dismissal, even when the vacation was sought by stipulation of the parties.

         Facts and Legal Proceedings

         The People by information, charged defendant with battery, criminal threats, assault, spousal battery, false imprisonment, car theft, obstructing use of a cell phone to summon assistance, and five felony priors. Later, the People amended the information to allege defendant had been convicted of a serious felony for purposes of the Three Strikes law. Also, in two separate actions, the People claimed that defendant's crimes violated his probation.

         The People later moved to dismiss the main case and file new charges, and to proceed to trial on the probation violations the following day. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the main case. The court itself gave no reason for the dismissal. The minute order notes the case was dismissed in the interest of justice. Upon dismissing the action, the court ordered defendant to be discharged from custody for purposes of the main case only.

         The following day, during the afternoon of trial on the probation violations, the court announced that counsel had met with it in chambers and advised it of a possible resolution in the probation cases. The resolution involved “reactivating” the main case. After reconfirming with counsel, the court stated: “To the extent that I dismissed this matter... I am setting aside that dismissal and that file will become operative for all purposes and do counsel agree to that?” After counsel agreed, the court ruled, “The dismissal of that case is vacated.”

         Immediately after vacating the dismissal, the court stated that the prosecutor “has filed a Second Amended Information which absent any objection I am going to have the clerk file.” Defense counsel had no objection. She also waived formal arraignment and advisement of rights. The second amended information, filed with the same case number as the previously dismissed main case, omitted the serious felony strike allegation which the first amended information contained. The court entered not-guilty pleas on behalf of defendant to all the charges in the second amended information and denials of the priors.

         The court next considered the plea bargain, which addressed all the pending cases. Defendant pleaded no contest to spousal abuse and car theft, and the prosecution dismissed all other charges, including the two violation of probation actions. Defendant was to receive credit for time served. The court released him on his own recognizance and continued the matter for sentencing.

         Approximately six months later, defendant moved to withdraw his plea and dismiss the main case. He contended the court did not have jurisdiction to enter his plea because it had no power at the time to reinstate a dismissed count. He claimed that once the court dismissed the main case, it had no jurisdiction, even by stipulation, or inherent authority to vacate the dismissal and allow the information to be amended.

         In opposition, the prosecutor submitted a declaration describing what happened when the court vacated the dismissal of the main action. After he, defense counsel, and the court met in chambers over an issue in the violation of probation trial, he, defense counsel, and defendant negotiated a settlement in the courtroom. The prosecutor offered formal probation plus time served on two felonies, ...

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