Tuesday, September 24, 2019

People v. Hicks (Cal. Ct. App. - Sept. 24, 2019)

Justice Hoffstadt begins today's opinion by saying the following:

"Earlier this year, one of our sister courts in People v. Dueñas (2019) 30 Cal.App.5th 1157 (Dueñas) held that due process precludes a court from “impos[ing]” certain assessments and fines when sentencing a criminal defendant absent a finding that the defendant has a “present ability to pay” them. (Id. at pp. 1164, 1167.) As explained below, we disagree with Dueñas’s analysis, consequently conclude that Dueñas was wrongly decided, and accordingly reject the Dueñas-based challenge presented in this appeal."

Given the routine nature of these assessments in criminal cases, Justice Hoffstadt might as well have said:  "We want the Supreme Court to grant review in this case, so we're going to essentially make 'em do it now."

This one is going up.  Or at least should.

POSTSCRIPT - Or maybe not!  A (super) informed reader wrote to tell me that a couple weeks ago, the Legislature passed AB 927, which is currently sitting on the Governor's desk.  Here's what that bill says: 

"LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST/AB 927, Jones-Sawyer. Crimes: fines and fees: defendant’s ability to pay. 

Existing law requires or authorizes a court to impose various fines, fees, and assessments on criminal defendants, including fines assessed as a penalty for a crime, restitution fines, and fees and assessments for the support and maintenance of the courts, as specified.

This bill would require a court imposing a fine, fee, or assessment related to a criminal or juvenile proceeding involving a misdemeanor or a felony to make a finding, as specified, that the defendant or minor has the ability to pay, as defined. The bill would require that a defendant or minor be presumed to not have the ability to pay if the defendant or minor is homeless, lives in a shelter, or lives in a transitional living facility, receives need-based public assistance, is very low income, or is sentenced to state prison for an indeterminate term or a term of life without the possibility of parole. The bill would also specify factors establishing inability to pay, as specified."

If the Governor signs AB 927, that seems like it'll largely moot the underlying judicial dispute, albeit probably not retrospectively (i.e., for fines and assessments imposed prior to the statute).  Which in turn would substantially decrease the need for the California Supreme Court to grant review.

So maybe this is a super important dispute.  Or maybe it'll soon become a largely academic one.  We'll soon see.  Keep those comments coming.  Always good to learn something new!