Tuesday, June 30, 2015

People v. Awad (Cal. Ct. App. - June 29, 2015)

This is an awesome opinion.  It shows a manifest concern for justice.  Three cheers for the Court of Appeal.

I'll let the 4/3 explain the thing in its own words:

"Appellant has appealed his felony conviction for multiple counts of forgery and grand theft and is currently serving a sentence for his conviction. Following his sentencing, in November 2014, the California voters enacted Proposition 47, entitled “the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.” (See Note, Deering’s Ann. Pen. Code, foll. § 1170.18 (2015 supp.) p. 79.)

Proposition 47 reclassifies as misdemeanors certain non-serious, nonviolent crimes that previously were felonies, and authorizes trial courts to consider resentencing anyone who is currently serving a sentence for any of the listed offenses.

Appellant tried to take advantage of Proposition 47’s postconviction procedure by petitioning the trial court to reduce the felony sentence for one of his forgery counts to a misdemeanor. The trial court declined to do so, on the ground it lacked jurisdiction to recall the sentence while appellant’s case was pending on appeal.

Thus, appellant and many other similarly situated defendants face a Hobson’s choice. On the one hand, they can wait to seek Proposition 47 relief until they complete their appeals from the underlying judgment of conviction. But by then, it may be too late to gain any benefit from a sentencing reduction because they already will have served the time in question. On the other hand, they can give up any pending appeal in order to obtain speedy Proposition 47 relief from the trial court.

There is a way out of this jurisdictional conundrum: a discretionary remand by the Court of Appeal to the trial court for the sole and express purpose of determining, within a specified time frame, a Proposition 47 petition to recall a sentence. We have authority to do so pursuant to Penal Code section 12601 to effectuate the resentencing provisions in Proposition 47 in a timely manner.

We grant appellant’s motion for a limited remand, and stay the pending appeal for a short period of time to allow the trial court to conduct a Proposition 47 postconviction hearing."

The remaining nine pages of the opinion explain why the Court of Appeal is permitted to do what it has equitably decided to do.  And it's right.

These are often short sentences.  They may well be over by the time the case gets fully briefed and eventually heard in the Court of Appeal, and then booted back down for a Proposition 47 hearing.  It makes sense to put the horse before the cart and do a limited remand on the Prop. 47 issue -- which only the trial court can do -- and thereafter adjudicate the full-fledged appeal.  Well done.

This is an especially great move by the Court of Appeal because the 4/3 appears to have come up with the idea on its own.  Appellant's counsel simply moved to expedite the appeal.  It looks like the Court of Appeal was the one who came up with the "limited remand" concept.  Great demonstration of initiative.

I also liked how the Court of Appeal ended its opinion:  by remanding the case and ordering the completion of the Prop. 47 hearing within 45 days.  With a report to the Court of Appeal five days after the hearing has been completed.  In short:  telling the trial court to get on the stick.  Given that there are two departments in the trial court that apparently do nothing other than hear Prop. 47 motions, that seems a fair timetable.  As well as efficient for everyone involved.

The only thing that made this whole process less than perfect -- albeit still very much commendable -- was giving the appellant multiple extensions of time to complete his brief (a total of over two months) and then granting respondent an extension of time for an additional month.  Given the need for speed, perhaps counsel should be held to the fire as well.  Not just the trial court.

Nonetheless:  Great job, 4/3.