Friday, May 30, 2014

People v. Dunckhurst (Cal. Ct. App. - May 30, 2014)

Defendant is a "three-striker" who gets sentenced in 2005 to 33 to life for a "nonviolent" offense.  In 2012, the voters passed Proposition 36, which changed the three strikes law and permitted a ton of currently sentenced three-strikers to file a motion to recall their sentence.  The purpose of Prop. 36 was to provide relief for many people given life sentences for nonviolent offenses.

But there were exceptions.  If your third strike was a violent offense, or if one of your prior offenses was for a really big crime (e.g., murder), you couldn't recall your sentence.  You remained in jail for life.

Under this regime, everyone agrees that if, say, your first strike was for burglary, your second strike was for murder, and your third strike was for grand theft, you don't get relief.  The statute says that your "prior" conviction for murder precludes relief.

But what about here?  Defendant doesn't have any prior strikes that are from "superserious" offenses, and he was nonetheless sentenced to life in 2005 for a nonviolent offense.  But five years later, in 2010, he assaults another inmate with a deadly weapon.  Which counts as a "superserious" offense.

But is it a "prior" offense?  After all, we're talking about whether his 2005 nonviolent conviction gets reduced from life.  Does a 2010 offense count as a "prior" offense?

The California Court of Appeal holds that it does.  Because while it may not be a "prior" offense to his actual conviction, it's an offense "prior" to the filing of his petition to recall his sentence.

Even though that's not at all what we usually mean by "priors" in the criminal context.

No one ever said the English language was determinate.  Especially when everyone's got a lawyer.

POSTSCRIPT - Then, several hours later, the Court of Appeal comes out with this opinion.  Different panel, different district, different issue (albeit another three-strikes recall case), and strikingly different type of legal analysis (and result).