Thursday, February 25, 2016

People v. Garcia (Cal. Supreme Ct. - Feb. 25, 2016)

I was critical of the Court of Appeal's opinion when it came out a couple of years ago.  Today, the California Supreme Court reveals that it wasn't too fond of it either.  Reversed.

But there's an interesting debate between Justice Cuellar, who writes the majority opinion, and Justice Kruger (joined by Justice Lui), who concurs.

Everyone agrees that the guy here should have only be convicted of one burglary, rather than two.  I said that back in 2014.  Justice Cuellar says that.  So does Justice Kruger.  When someone enters one building intending to commit a felony -- Burglary One -- its not another felony, at least in this case, to then enter a particular room in that same building (alleged Burglary Two) to commit another felony.

One building, one felony.  Simple rule.

Justice Kruger would have that largely be the rule.  But remember:  She's concurring.

The majority says that's normally the rule.  Since a different rule would make little rational sense.  "Under the People‘s approach, a defendant who entered every room in a single-family home and stole items within, as well as an intruder who repeatedly entered and exited the same room within a store with the intent to commit a felony inside, could be charged with and convicted of multiple burglaries."

Yet the majority says that sometimes you could indeed be charged with multiple burglaries.  Whether that's okay would depend heavily on the facts:

"What we conclude is this: the simple fact that a defendant has committed two entries with felonious intent into a structure and a room within that structure does not permit multiple burglary convictions. Where a burglar enters a structure enumerated under section 459 with the requisite felonious intent, and then subsequently enters a room within that structure with such intent, the burglar may be charged with multiple burglaries only if the subsequently entered room provides a separate and objectively reasonable expectation of protection from intrusion relative to the larger structure. Such a separate expectation of privacy and safety may exist where there is proof that the internal space is owned, leased, occupied, or otherwise possessed by a distinct entity; or that the room or space is secured against the rest of the space within the structure, making the room similar in nature to the stand-alone structures enumerated in section 459."

I thought when I first read this rule that it was an incredibly messy one.  And it totally is.

But after reading the majority opinion, I at least understand a part of the impetus for the mess.  If, for example, you break into an apartment building, and enter three different apartments, I get that maybe that should be multiple burglaries.  Or if you break into one apartment, rented by two people, and the door to each occupant's bedroom is locked with a padlock, since it's not really "shared" space, I can see why some people would want that to be two (rather than one) burglaries.  The "expectation of privacy" caveat is similarly motivated, I think, albeit even messier.

That said, I am sympathetic with Justices Kruger and Liu, who say that the mess these caveats make may not be worth the effort.  Maybe a more bright-line rule would make more sense.

Regardless of whether Justice Cuellar or Kruger has the better of the argument, however, both of their positions are better than the Court of Appeal's holding.  Way.

So great result.

Burglary in California is still a total, complete mess.  But at least it's one percent less irrational and counterintuitive today than it was yesterday.