People v. Barajas, 073018 SUPAD, BR 053647

Docket Nº:BR 053647
Opinion Judge:KUMAR, J.
Party Name:THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. ELISEO BARAJAS, Defendant and Respondent.
Attorney:Jackie Lacey, District Attorney of Los Angeles County, and John Harlan II and Matthew Brown, Deputy District Attorneys, for Plaintiff and Appellant. Nicole Davis Tinkham, Interim Public Defender of Los Angeles County, Albert J. Menaster, Head Deputy Public Defender, Aubrey Cunningham and Nick Ste...
Judge Panel:We concur: P. McKay, P. J., Richardson, J.
Case Date:July 30, 2018
Court:Superior Court of California

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Appellant,


ELISEO BARAJAS, Defendant and Respondent.

No. BR 053647

Superior Court of California, Appellate Division, Los Angeles

July 30, 2018

Appeal from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. 7DN07158 Downey Trial Court, Gregorio Roman, Judge.

Jackie Lacey, District Attorney of Los Angeles County, and John Harlan II and Matthew Brown, Deputy District Attorneys, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Nicole Davis Tinkham, Interim Public Defender of Los Angeles County, Albert J. Menaster, Head Deputy Public Defender, Aubrey Cunningham and Nick Stewart-Oaten, Deputy Public Defenders, for Defendant and Respondent.



Penal Code section 991 is the legislative safeguard that allows an in-custody misdemeanant to require the arraigning magistrate to determine whether there is probable cause to believe the defendant has committed a public offense. (Pen. Code, § 991, subd. (a).) If the magistrate finds no such probable cause, the defendant is entitled to a dismissal of the charge. (Pen. Code, § 991, subd. (d).)[1]

We are presented with the following issue: Does section 991 vest the trial court with the discretion to consider, as part of its determination of probable cause, whether the defendant's detention prior to arrest complied with the Fourth Amendment's requirement that it be based on reasonable suspicion? It is defendant's position that, upon request by the defense, a section 991 motion has two phases. The first phase tasks the trial court with determining whether evidence was seized in violation of the federal Constitution. In the second phase, the trial court is to consider only the evidence that was constitutionally seized in assessing whether there is probable cause to believe the accused committed a public offense.

The trial court permitted defendant to litigate the Fourth Amendment issue at his section 991 hearing. After reviewing documents submitted with the People's opposition, it found defendant was detained by a police officer and that his detention was not supported by reasonable suspicion. Thereafter, upon defense motion, the trial court dismissed the complaint. The People have appealed.

As we will explain, litigation concerning the constitutionality of a defendant's detention is not supported by either the plain meaning of section 991 or its purpose. We are mindful that, over 30 years ago, this appellate division resolved the issue differently in People v. Ward (1986) 188 Cal.App.3d Supp. 11 (Ward). The time has come to overrule Ward because section 991 was not properly interpreted therein.2 We reverse the trial court's order dismissing the complaint.


A misdemeanor complaint charged defendant and respondent Eliseo Barajas with carrying a dirk or dagger (§ 21310). At his arraignment, defendant pled not guilty and made a motion to dismiss the charge pursuant to section 991. In so doing, defendant argued he was entitled to a dismissal of the complaint because he was illegally detained by the police. The People took the position that a motion under section 991 does not consider whether there was reasonable suspicion to detain a defendant, but rather is limited to “whether there is probable cause to believe that a public offense has been committed and that the defendant is guilty thereof.” The trial court disagreed with the People, but found good cause for a continuance to allow the People to file a supplemental police report regarding the detention. The People then filed an opposition to the section 991 motion. Attached to the opposition was a copy of the police report, a supplemental report from the arresting officer (Downey Police Officer A. Honrath), and a transcript of the officer's encounter with defendant as recorded on a police body camera.

The material facts (to the extent they were developed in the trial court) are not in dispute. They are lifted from Honrath's supplemental police report as well as the transcript of the conversation taken from his body camera. Honrath was on patrol around 2:25 a.m. on September 20, 2017, when he saw defendant standing near a closed business. He stopped his vehicle and shined his “white light” on defendant. Honrath illuminated defendant with the light for reasons that relate to officer safety-Honrath was alone, and the darkness of early morning prevented him from clearly seeing what defendant was doing. The police vehicle was approximately 15 to 20 feet away and did not impede defendant's “movements.” Honrath exited his vehicle and, while standing next to it, asked defendant where he was “from.” Defendant said he lived in Bell Gardens. In response to the officer's inquiry about defendant's reason for being in Downey, defendant said his uncle lived in Downey. Defendant then began to drink from a large soda. Honrath “slowly and casually” approached to within six to eight feet of defendant. Defendant did not move or turn away. Rather, he was relaxed and cooperative.

Honrath asked defendant if he was on probation or parole. Defendant said he was on probation and began to reach inside his sweatshirt pocket. The officer told defendant to keep his hands out of the pocket. Defendant first said, “I just have my blade, ” and then explained, “I have my blade open.” Honrath replied, “Your blade?” Defendant responded, “Yes.” The officer directed defendant to sit down, kick his legs out in front of him, cross his ankles, and keep his hands where Honrath could see them. As the two continued to converse, defendant disclosed that his knife was black and four inches long, and that he carried it for protection. After an additional officer arrived, Honrath asked defendant to remove the knife from his pocket and place it on a step several feet away. Defendant complied with the request. Honrath retrieved the knife, arrested defendant for violating section 21310, and transported him to jail. The knife was booked into evidence.

The trial court ruled Honrath's initial encounter with defendant was not consensual, 3 and that defendant was unconstitutionally detained prior to admitting he possessed a knife. The trial court then granted the defense motion to dismiss, but did not provide any reason for doing so. Presumably, the trial court concluded all evidence seized following the detention could not be considered in determining whether there was probable cause to believe defendant committed an offense.


The Plain Meaning of Section 991

On appeal, questions of law and statutory interpretation are reviewed de novo. (People v. Kurtenbach (2012) 204 Cal.App.4th 1264, 1276.) “‘Under settled canons of statutory construction, in construing a statute we ascertain the Legislature's intent in order to effectuate the law's purpose. [Citation.] We must look to the statute's words and give them their usual and ordinary meaning. [Citation.] The statute's plain meaning controls the court's interpretation unless its words are ambiguous.' [Citation.]” (People v. Gonzalez (2008) 43 Cal.4th 1118, 1125-1126.) “‘“If the words of the statute are clear, the court should not add to or alter them to accomplish a purpose that does not appear on the face of the statute or from its legislative history.” [Citations.]' [Citation.] Put another way, the ascertainment of legislative intent must ‘begin with the language of the statute itself. [Citation.] That is, we look first to the words the Legislature used, giving them their usual and ordinary meaning. [Citation.] “If there is no ambiguity in the language of the statute, ‘then the Legislature is...

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