Murgia v. Municipal Court

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtTOBRINER; WRIGHT; RICHARDSON
Citation540 P.2d 44,124 Cal.Rptr. 204,15 Cal.3d 286
Parties, 540 P.2d 44, 90 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2803 Jose Guadalupe MURGUIA et al., Petitioners, v. The MUNICIPAL COURT FOR the BAKERSFIELD JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF KERN COUNTY, Respondent; The PEOPLE, Real Party in Interest. * L.A. 30426. In Bank
Decision Date24 September 1975

Page 204

124 Cal.Rptr. 204
15 Cal.3d 286, 540 P.2d 44, 90 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2803
Jose Guadalupe MURGUIA et al., Petitioners,
v.
The MUNICIPAL COURT FOR the BAKERSFIELD JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF KERN COUNTY, Respondent;
The PEOPLE, Real Party in Interest. *
L.A. 30426.
Supreme Court of California,
In Bank.
Sept. 24, 1975.
Rehearing Denied Oct. 23, 1975.

[15 Cal.3d 289]

Page 206

[540 P.2d 46] Gerald Blank, Los Angeles, Miguel F. Garcia, Peter Haberfeld, Merced, Mike Kogan, Richard Paez, Los Angeles, Barbara Rhine, Merced, W. Kenneth Rice, Los Angeles, and Dennis Roberts, for petitioners.

Harold E. Shabo, Los Angeles, A. Jane Fulton, Woodland Hills, Mark D. Rosenbaum, Daniel C. Lavery, Fred Okrand, John D. O'Loughlin and Jill Jakes, Los Angeles, as amici curiae on behalf of petitioners.

No appearance for respondent.

Evelle J. Younger, Atty. Gen., Jack R. Winkler, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Arnold O. Overoye, Marjory Winston Parker and Susan E. Cohn, Deputy Attys. Gen., for real party in interest.

[15 Cal.3d 290] TOBRINER, Justice.

We face here the narrow question whether the instant criminal defendants 1 may obtain a discovery order directing the prosecutor to produce information relevant to defendants' claim that various penal statutes are being discriminately enforced against them. Defendants, members of the United Farm Workers Union (hereafter UFW), allege that the law enforcement authorities of an entire county have engaged in a deliberate, systematic practice of discriminatory enforcement of the criminal law against UFW members and supporters. Defendants maintain that the equal protection clauses of the federal and state Constitutions safeguard individuals from such 'intentional and purposeful' invidious discrimination and authorize defendants to raise such prosecutorial discrimination as a defense to the misdemeanor charges pending against them. The trial court denied all discovery on this 'discriminatory prosecution' issue, and defendants now seek a writ of mandate challenging that ruling.

We have concluded that the trial court erred in denying the discovery motion on the ground that such alleged discriminatory prosecution, even if established, would not constitute a defense in the pending criminal proceedings. Over a decade ago, the United States Supreme Court recognized that the equal protection clause is violated if a criminal prosecution is 'deliberately based upon an unjustifiable standard such as race, religion, or other arbitrary classification.' (Oyler v. Boles (1962) 368 U.S. 448, 456, 82 S.Ct. 501, 506, 7 L.Ed.2d 446.) Neither the federal nor state Constitution countenances the singling out of an invidiously selected class for special prosecutorial treatment, whether that class consists of black or white, Jew or Catholic, Irishman or Japanese, United Farm Worker, or Teamster. If an individual can show that he would not have been prosecuted except for such invidious discrimination against him, a basic constitutional principle has been violated, and such a prosecution must collapse upon the sands of prejudice.

Although the prosecutor argues that the alleged criminal law violators before us should not be free of prosecution, the issue here is whether the Prosecution is constitutionally free to select Only these defendants and prosecute them Only because they are members of a certain class, i.e., [15 Cal.3d 291] members or supporters of a particular union. No constitutional provision prevents the full prosecution of all criminal law violators,

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[540 P.2d 47] so long as such prosecution is not tainted with invidious discrimination. Defendants are entitled, however, to pursue discovery with respect to their claim that in the instant case such prejudice was in fact the moving force behind the pending criminal proceedings.

1. The facts of the instant case.

These six misdemeanor prosecutions, consolidated for purposes of the present discovery proceeding, emanate from picketing and organizational activities of the UFW in Kern County in the summer of 1973. All six defendants are UFW members and are charged with a variety of minor offenses, including driving without a license in one's possession, willful disobedience of a court order, malicious mischief and reckless driving. 2 According to the defendants' allegations, all of the charged incidents occurred while they were engaged in activities on behalf of their union.

Prior to trial, defendants filed motions seeking the dismissal of the charges on the ground that these prosecutions violated their constitutional right to the equal protection of the laws. Defendants alleged that the charges against them were instituted as part of a deliberate, systematic pattern of discriminatory enforcement of the state's penal laws against UFW members and supporters, executed by the Kern County District Attorney and Sheriff and by county law enforcement agents generally.

In conjunction with this motion to dismiss, defendants filed a discovery motion seeking to obtain documentary and testimonial evidence from law enforcement officials which, according to defendants, related to their discriminatory prosecution claim. In support of this discovery motion, defendants introduced more than 100 affidavits detailing numerous incidents of alleged discriminatory conduct toward UFW members and supporters to the part of Kern County law enforcement agents during the summer months of 1973.

[15 Cal.3d 292] The bulk of these declarations related to allegedly discriminatory behavior by sheriffs' deputies, who had the most direct contact with the UFW's labor activities. The initial set of affidavits describes numerous instances of serious criminal conduct--primarily violent assaults--committed by agents of the growers, members of the Teamsters Union and 'private security groups' against picketing UFW members in the immediate presence of, and under the observation of, the sheriffs' deputies; according to the affidavits, the deputies took no steps either to prevent such assaults or to arrest the assaulting individuals, but rather 'ratified' and encouraged such conduct and, indeed, often arrested the UFW victims of such assaults. Other affidavits attest to the pervasive use of excessive force and brutality by sheriffs' deputies against nonviolent UFW members, to numerous racial slurs directed at UFW workers by law enforcement officials, to numerous instances of unjustified arrests of UFW members followed by the imposition of especially harsh and atypical conditions of confinement, and finally to several incidents of intrusive surveillance and general harassment of UFW supporters.

Defendants also filed additional affidavits relating to the alleged participation of higher-level law enforcement officers in the discriminatory enforcement scheme. One affidavit, filed by a defense counsel, described a series of meetings at which members of the district attorney's office

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[540 P.2d 48] and sheriff's office discussed with growers and their lawyers various legal stratagems for dealing with anticipated UFW labor activities; counsel attached to his affidavit several 'form' injunctions which the district attorney's office had allegedly drafted for the general use of the growers against the UFW. Finally, another affidavit pointed out that on at least four occasions, the district attorney had assumed the novel role as counsel on behalf of the growers in contempt proceedings initiated against UFW members who allegedly violated outstanding civil injunctions.

As noted above, defendants submitted the foregoing affidavits not as complete proof of their discriminatory enforcement charges, but simply as evidentiary support for a discovery motion through which they sought to obtain access to a variety of material in the possession of the prosecuting authorities which, according to defendants' contentions, related to their charges of discrimination. The People filed no counter-affidavits or declarations to challenge the veracity of the numerous defense allegations, but instead took the position that, whatever the merits of defendants' charges, discovery should be denied because discriminatory enforcement could never constitute a basis for dismissing a criminal action.

[15 Cal.3d 293] After the discovery matter had been fully briefed and argued, the trial court explicitly found that the declarations submitted on behalf of the defendants established a prima facie case of discriminatory enforcement of the laws. 3 Nonetheless, the court denied defendants' discovery motion, apparently because it felt that existing California decisions did not clearly establish that a defense of discriminatory prosecution was available to the instant defendants. It is the propriety of this ruling, precluding any discovery on the issue of discriminatory enforcement, which is at issue in the instant writ proceeding.

2. The equal protection clauses of the federal and state Constitutions safeguard individuals from 'intentional and purposeful' invidious discrimination in the enforcement of all laws, including penal statutes, and a defendant may raise such a claim of discrimination as a ground for dismissal of a criminal prosecution.

We begin with the established principle that in a criminal prosecution an accused is generally entitled to discover all relevant and material information in the possession of the prosecution that will assist him in the preparation and presentation of his defense. (See, e.g., Hill v. Superior Court (1974) 10 Cal.3d 812, 817, 112 Cal.Rptr. 257, 518 P.2d 1353; Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531, 536--537, 113 Cal.Rptr. 897, 522 P.2d 305.) The point of controversy in the instant case, of course, is whether the prosecution's alleged 'discriminatory enforcement of the laws' is a legally recognized 'defense' 4 to the

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[540 P.2d 49] crimes with which the present defendants are charged.

[15 Cal.3d 294] Defendants contend that the equal protection clauses of our...

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218 practice notes
  • Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs & Fair Competition v. Norris, No. 12–55726.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • April 3, 2015
    ...that is, the conditions precedent to the exercise of his right to vote.”), disapproved on other grounds by Murgia v. Mun. Court, 15 Cal.3d 286, 124 Cal.Rptr. 204, 540 P.2d 44, 54 n. 11 (1975).These provisions mean what they say: only natural persons (also known as human beings) who have the......
  • M.S., In re, Nos. A055072
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 17, 1993
    ...defendants accused of hate crimes, selective enforcement is subject to constitutional challenge. E.g., Murgia v. Municipal Court, supra, 15 Cal.3d 286, 124 Cal.Rptr. 204, 540 P.2d 44. The danger of selective enforcement, however, does not establish that the Act is facially 20 Responding to ......
  • People v. Smith
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 17, 1984
    ...the in camera proceedings (103 Cal.App.3d at pp. 777-780, 163 Cal.Rptr. 233 ). In our case, the trial court, pursuant to Murgia, supra, 15 Cal.3d 286, 124 Cal.Rptr. 204 , 540 P.2d 44 , as interpreted by Bortin, supra, 64 Cal.App.3d 873 , 135 Cal.Rptr. 30 (then the most recent governin......
  • People v. Pinholster, No. S004616
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • February 20, 1992
    ...720, 807 P.2d 949; People v. Keenan, supra, 46 Cal.3d 478, 506-507, 250 Cal.Rptr. 550, 758 P.2d 1081; Murgia v. Municipal Court (1975) 15 Cal.3d 286, 297, 124 Cal.Rptr. 204, 540 P.2d 44; People v. Vatelli (1971) 15 Cal.App.3d 54, 58-59, 92 Cal.Rptr. 763); none is claimed here. Defendant cla......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
217 cases
  • Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs & Fair Competition v. Norris, No. 12–55726.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • April 3, 2015
    ...that is, the conditions precedent to the exercise of his right to vote.”), disapproved on other grounds by Murgia v. Mun. Court, 15 Cal.3d 286, 124 Cal.Rptr. 204, 540 P.2d 44, 54 n. 11 (1975).These provisions mean what they say: only natural persons (also known as human beings) who have the......
  • M.S., In re, Nos. A055072
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 17, 1993
    ...defendants accused of hate crimes, selective enforcement is subject to constitutional challenge. E.g., Murgia v. Municipal Court, supra, 15 Cal.3d 286, 124 Cal.Rptr. 204, 540 P.2d 44. The danger of selective enforcement, however, does not establish that the Act is facially 20 Responding to ......
  • People v. Smith
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 17, 1984
    ...the in camera proceedings (103 Cal.App.3d at pp. 777-780, 163 Cal.Rptr. 233 ). In our case, the trial court, pursuant to Murgia, supra, 15 Cal.3d 286, 124 Cal.Rptr. 204 , 540 P.2d 44 , as interpreted by Bortin, supra, 64 Cal.App.3d 873 , 135 Cal.Rptr. 30 (then the most recent governin......
  • People v. Pinholster, No. S004616
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • February 20, 1992
    ...720, 807 P.2d 949; People v. Keenan, supra, 46 Cal.3d 478, 506-507, 250 Cal.Rptr. 550, 758 P.2d 1081; Murgia v. Municipal Court (1975) 15 Cal.3d 286, 297, 124 Cal.Rptr. 204, 540 P.2d 44; People v. Vatelli (1971) 15 Cal.App.3d 54, 58-59, 92 Cal.Rptr. 763); none is claimed here. Defendant cla......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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