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People v. Superior Court (Allen Gooden)

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

November 19, 2019

THE PEOPLE, Petitioner,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Respondent ALLEN GOODEN, Real Party in Interest. THE PEOPLE, Petitioner,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Respondent; MARTY DOMINGUEZ, Real Party in Interest.

          Original consolidated proceedings in mandate challenging order of the Superior Court of San Diego County Nos. CR61365, CR105918 Louis R. Hanoian, Judge. Petitions denied.

          Summer Stephan, District Attorney, Mark A. Amador, Linh Lam and Christine Bannon, Deputy District Attorneys, for Petitioner.

          No appearance for Respondent.

          McCONNELL, P.J.

         Angela Bartosik, Randy Mize, Chief Deputy Public Defenders, Robert Ford and Troy A. Britt, Deputy Public Defenders, for Real Parties in Interest.

         Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Thomas S. Patterson, Assistant Attorney General, Tamar Pachter and Nelson R. Richards, Deputy Attorneys General, as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Real Parties in Interest, upon the request of the Court of Appeal.

         I

         INTRODUCTION

         In 2018, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed into law Senate Bill No. 1437 (Senate Bill 1437), legislation that prospectively amended the mens rea requirements for the offense of murder and restricted the circumstances under which a person can be liable for murder under the felony-murder rule or the natural and probable consequences doctrine. (Stats. 2018, ch. 1015.) Senate Bill 1437 also established a procedure permitting certain qualifying persons who were previously convicted of felony murder or murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine to petition the courts that sentenced them to vacate their murder convictions and obtain resentencing on any remaining counts. (Id., § 3.)

         Real parties in interest were convicted of murder and petitioned for vacatur of their convictions and resentencing under the procedures established by Senate Bill 1437. The People moved to dismiss the petitions on grounds that Senate Bill 1437, which the voters did not approve, invalidly amended Proposition 7 (Prop. 7, as approved by voters, Gen. Elec. (Nov. 7, 1978); Proposition 7) and Proposition 115 (Prop. 115, as approved by voters, Primary Elec. (June 5, 1990); Proposition 115), voter initiatives that increased the punishments for murder and augmented the list of predicate offenses for first degree felony-murder liability, respectively. The trial court rejected the People's argument and denied the motions to dismiss. The People filed petitions for writs of mandate and/or prohibition in our court, asking us to direct the trial court to vacate its order denying the motions to dismiss and enter a new order granting the motions.

         Like the trial court, we conclude Senate Bill 1437 was not an invalid amendment to Proposition 7 or Proposition 115 because it neither added to, nor took away from, the initiatives. Therefore, we deny the People's petitions for writ relief.

         II

         BACKGROUND

         A

         In 2018, the Legislature enacted and the Governor signed Senate Bill 1437, effective January 1, 2019. (Stats. 2018, ch. 1015.) An uncodified section of the law expressing the Legislature's findings and declarations states the law was "necessary to amend the felony murder rule and the natural and probable consequences doctrine, as it relates to murder, to ensure that murder liability is not imposed on a person who is not the actual killer, did not act with the intent to kill, or was not a major participant in the underlying felony who acted with reckless indifference to human life." (Id., § 1, subd. (f).) It further provides that the legislation was needed "to limit convictions and subsequent sentencing so that the law of California fairly addresses the culpability of the individual and assists in the reduction of prison overcrowding, which partially results from lengthy sentences that are not commensurate with the culpability of the individual." (Id., § 1, subd. (e).)

         Under the felony-murder rule as it existed prior to Senate Bill 1437, a defendant who intended to commit a specified felony could be convicted of murder for a killing during the felony, or attempted felony, without further examination of his or her mental state. (People v. Chun (2009) 45 Cal.4th 1172, 1182 (Chun).)" 'The felony-murder rule impute[d] the requisite malice for a murder conviction to those who commit[ted] a homicide during the perpetration of a felony inherently dangerous to human life.' "[1] (Id. at p. 1184.) "The purpose of the felony-murder rule [was] to deter those who commit[ted] the enumerated felonies from killing by holding them strictly responsible for any killing committed by a cofelon, whether intentional, negligent, or accidental, during the perpetration or attempted perpetration of the felony." (People v. Cavitt (2004) 33 Cal.4th 187, 197.)

         Independent of the felony-murder rule, the natural and probable consequences doctrine rendered a defendant liable for murder if he or she aided and abetted the commission of a criminal act (a target offense), and a principal in the target offense committed murder (a nontarget offense) that, even if unintended, was a natural and probable consequence of the target offense. (People v. Chiu (2014) 59 Cal.4th 155, 161-162.)" 'Because the nontarget offense [was] unintended, the mens rea of the aider and abettor with respect to that offense [was] irrelevant and culpability [was] imposed simply because a reasonable person could have foreseen the commission of the nontarget crime.'" (People v. Flores (2016) 2 Cal.App.5th 855, 867.)

         Senate Bill 1437 restricted the application of the felony murder rule and the natural and probable consequences doctrine, as applied to murder, by amending Penal Code section 189, [2] which defines the degrees of murder. (Stats. 2018, ch. 1015, § 3.) Section 189, subdivision (e), as amended, provides that a participant in a specified felony is liable for murder for a death during the commission of the offense only if one of the following is proven: "(1) The person was the actual killer. [¶] (2) The person was not the actual killer, but, with the intent to kill, aided, abetted, counseled, commanded, induced, solicited, requested, or assisted the actual killer in the commission of murder in the first degree. [¶] (3) The person was a major participant in the underlying felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life …."[3]

         Senate Bill 1437 also "added a crucial limitation" to section 188, the statutory provision that defines malice for purposes of murder. (People v. Lopez (2019) 38 Cal.App.5th 1087, 1099, review granted Nov. 13, 2019, S258175.) As amended, section 188 provides in pertinent part as follows: "Except as stated in subdivision (e) of [s]ection 189, in order to be convicted of murder, a principal in a crime shall act with malice aforethought. Malice shall not be imputed to a person based solely on his or her participation in a crime." (Id., subd. (a)(3).)

         Finally, Senate Bill 1437 added section 1170.95 to the Penal Code. Section 1170.95 permits a person convicted of felony murder or murder under a natural and probable consequences theory to petition the sentencing court to vacate the murder conviction and resentence the person on any remaining counts if the following conditions are met: "(1) A complaint, information, or indictment was filed against the petitioner that allowed the prosecution to proceed under a theory of felony murder or murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine. [¶] (2) The petitioner was convicted of first degree or second degree murder following a trial or accepted a plea offer in lieu of a trial at which the petitioner could be convicted for first degree or second degree murder. [¶] (3) The petitioner could not be convicted of first or second degree murder because of [the] changes to [s]ection 188 or 189 made effective January 1, 2019." (Id., subd. (a).)

         If the petitioner makes a prima facie showing of entitlement to relief, the court must issue an order to show cause and, absent a waiver and stipulation by the parties, hold a hearing to determine whether to vacate the murder conviction, recall the sentence, and resentence the petitioner. (§ 1170.95, subds. (c) & (d)(1).) At the resentencing hearing, the parties may rely on the record of conviction or offer new or additional evidence, and the prosecution bears the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt the petitioner is ineligible for resentencing. (Id., subd. (d)(3).)

         If the petitioner is found eligible for relief, the murder conviction must be vacated and the petitioner resentenced "on any remaining counts in the same manner as if the petitioner had not been [sic] previously been sentenced, provided that the new sentence, if any, is not greater than the initial sentence." (§ 1170.95, subd. (d)(1).) If the petitioner is found eligible for relief, but "murder was charged generically[] and the target offense was not charged," the petitioner's murder conviction must be "redesignated as the target offense or underlying felony for resentencing purposes." (Id., subd. (e).)

         The Legislature passed Senate Bill 1437 by a two-thirds vote in the Senate and a less-than-two-thirds majority in the Assembly.

         B

         Real parties in interest Allen Gooden and Marty Dominguez were convicted of murder in unrelated proceedings. Gooden was convicted of first degree felony murder in 1982 for the death of a neighbor during a burglary. He was sentenced to 25 years to life for the murder conviction. Dominguez was found guilty of second degree murder in 1990 after a companion killed a pedestrian under facts suggesting the jury may have relied on the natural and probable consequence doctrine. He was sentenced to 15 years to life for the murder conviction. Real parties in interest filed petitions under section 1170.95 requesting vacatur of their murder convictions and resentencing.

         The People moved to dismiss the petitions on grounds that Senate Bill 1437, which voters did not approve, impermissibly amended two voter-approved initiatives, Proposition 7 and Proposition 115. According to the People, these alleged amendments violated article II, section 10, subdivision (c) of the California Constitution, which states in pertinent part as follows: "The Legislature may amend or repeal an initiative statute by another statute that becomes effective only when ...


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