People v. Bullard, S239488

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtOpinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
Citation260 Cal.Rptr.3d 153,460 P.3d 262,9 Cal.5th 94
Decision Date23 March 2020
Docket NumberS239488
Parties The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Julian Micah BULLARD, Defendant and Appellant.

9 Cal.5th 94
460 P.3d 262
260 Cal.Rptr.3d 153

The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
Julian Micah BULLARD, Defendant and Appellant.

S239488

Supreme Court of California.

March 23, 2020


Richard L. Fitzer, Long Beach, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Julie L. Garland and Lance Winters, Assistant Attorneys General, Michael R. Johnsen and Samuel P. Siegel, Deputy Solicitors General, Barry Carlton and Meagan J. Beale, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.

9 Cal.5th 99

In this case we again consider the application of the criminal sentencing reforms of Proposition 47, "the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act," to the offense of unlawfully taking or driving a vehicle under Vehicle Code section 10851 ( section 10851 ).

One provision of Proposition 47, codified as section 490.2 of the Penal Code, reduced felony offenses consisting of theft of property worth $950 or less to misdemeanors. We have held that this theft-reduction provision, by its terms, applies to the subset of section 10851 convictions that are based on obtaining a vehicle worth $950 or less by theft. ( People v. Page (2017) 3 Cal.5th 1175, 1187, 225 Cal.Rptr.3d 786, 406 P.3d 319 ( Page ).) But we have also acknowledged that section 10851 ’s prohibition on the unlawful taking of a vehicle sweeps somewhat more broadly than the term "theft" is ordinarily understood. (See Page , at p. 1182, 225 Cal.Rptr.3d 786, 406 P.3d 319.) In particular, while liability for theft generally requires that the defendant have an intent to permanently deprive the owner of possession, section 10851 draws no distinction between temporary takings and permanent ones; it imposes liability on any person who takes a vehicle "with intent either to permanently or temporarily deprive" the

9 Cal.5th 100

owner of possession, "whether with or without intent to steal the vehicle." ( § 10851, subd. (a), italics added.)

The question before us is whether Proposition 47 now requires courts to draw a distinction under section 10851 between permanent and temporary vehicle takings—granting

260 Cal.Rptr.3d 156

sentencing relief to those who take vehicles permanently but denying relief to those who take vehicles temporarily. We conclude the answer to this question is no: A person who has unlawfully taken a vehicle in violation of section 10851 is not disqualified from Proposition 47 relief because the person cannot prove he or she intended to keep the vehicle away from the owner indefinitely.

I.

In 2012, defendant Julian Micah Bullard entered a negotiated plea of guilty to a felony charge of violating section 10851, subdivision (a). According to police reports, which the parties stipulated provided a factual basis for the plea, the facts of the offense were these:

After staying overnight at his girlfriend’s home, defendant took her car keys from her purse and drove away in her car without her permission. The car was reported stolen. That night, defendant talked to his girlfriend and agreed to return the car. He drove it to his girlfriend’s workplace, where he was arrested. Defendant admitted to police he took the car without permission, saying he had no reason for doing so other than that he did not want to walk and his " ‘[h]ead was messed up.’ " He explained that, having nowhere to go, he drove the car around until it ran out of gas, then borrowed money for fuel, and eventually drove the car to his girlfriend’s workplace. The vehicle, a 1993 Lincoln Town Car, was valued at approximately $500.

On his guilty plea to one felony count of violating section 10851, defendant was sentenced under Penal Code section 1170, subdivision (h), to 16 months in county jail.1

460 P.3d 265

In 2014, voters passed Proposition 47. As relevant here, Proposition 47 added section 490.2 to the Penal Code, which provides (with exceptions inapplicable here): "Notwithstanding [Penal Code] Section 487 or any other provision of law defining grand theft, obtaining any property by theft where the value of the money, labor, real or personal property taken does not exceed

9 Cal.5th 101

nine hundred fifty dollars ($950) shall be considered petty theft and shall be punished as a misdemeanor ...." ( Pen. Code, § 490.2, subd. (a).) A separate provision added by Proposition 47 established a procedure for redesignating a past felony offense as a misdemeanor if the offender has already completed his or her sentence and if he or she "would have been guilty of a misdemeanor under [Proposition 47] had this act been in effect at the time of the offense ...." ( Pen. Code, § 1170.18, subd. (f).)

After Proposition 47 took effect, defendant petitioned to have his unlawful driving or taking conviction—for which he had by then completed the jail term—redesignated as a misdemeanor. ( Pen. Code, § 1170.18, subd. (f).) The trial court denied the petition on the ground that a conviction for unlawful driving or taking under section 10851 " ‘is not [a]ffected by Prop. 47.’ " The Court of Appeal affirmed. (People v. Bullard ) (Feb. 12, 2016, E065918 [nonpub. opn.].) The majority concluded that section 10851 convictions are categorically ineligible for Proposition 47 resentencing because the statute can be violated by driving a stolen car after the theft was complete (posttheft driving) or by taking a

260 Cal.Rptr.3d 157

vehicle without the intent to permanently deprive the owner of possession, "as occurred in this case," neither of which constitutes theft of the vehicle. Justice Miller filed a concurring and dissenting opinion. He took the view that section 10851 convictions based on theft of the vehicle are eligible for resentencing, but he concurred in the result because defendant failed to show either that he intended to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle or that the vehicle was valued at less than $950.

We granted defendant’s petition for review but deferred briefing pending the decision in Page . In Page , we held that the theft-reduction provision does apply to those section 10851 convictions based on taking a vehicle with intent to permanently deprive the owner of possession (again, provided the vehicle is worth $950 or less), though not to the nontheft offense of driving a stolen car after the theft is complete. ( Page , supra , 3 Cal.5th at p. 1187, 225 Cal.Rptr.3d 786, 406 P.3d 319.) We reserved the question whether "equal protection or the avoidance of absurd consequences" requires extending misdemeanor treatment to a person "convicted for taking a vehicle without the intent to permanently deprive the owner of possession." ( Id. at p. 1188, fn. 5, 225 Cal.Rptr.3d 786, 406 P.3d 319.)2

9 Cal.5th 102

After Page became final, we ordered briefing in this case to consider whether the retroactive theft-reduction provision of Proposition 47 applies to section 10851 convictions based on taking a vehicle, in the absence of proof that the defendant intended to permanently deprive the owner of possession.

II.

As we explained in Page , the question arises because of the unusual configuration of the section 10851 offense. That provision

460 P.3d 266

punishes any person "who drives or takes a vehicle not his or her own, without the consent of the owner thereof, and with intent either to permanently or temporarily deprive the owner thereof of his or her title to or possession of the vehicle, whether with or without intent to steal the vehicle ...." ( § 10851, subd. (a).) As we have noted, this provision "proscribes a wide range of conduct," including, but not limited to, vehicle theft. ( People v. Jaramillo (1976) 16 Cal.3d 752, 757, 129 Cal.Rptr. 306, 548 P.2d 706 ( Jaramillo ).)

For much of the 20th century, section 10851 (previously numbered as Vehicle Code section 503) served as one of three overlapping statutes criminalizing the taking or use of an automobile without the owner’s consent. The primary difference between the statutes, we explained, concerned the degree of wrongfulness of the defendant’s intent. ( People v. Kehoe (1949) 33 Cal.2d 711, 714, 204 P.2d 321.) The least

260 Cal.Rptr.3d 158

serious of these statutory offenses was defined in Penal Code former section 499b, "commonly referred to as the ‘misdemeanor joy-riding statute,’ " which provided that a person who took an automobile or other vehicle " ‘for the purpose of temporarily using or operating the same, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor.’ " ( Jaramillo , supra , 16 Cal.3d at p. 755, 129 Cal.Rptr. 306, 548 P.2d 706.)3 The most serious of these offenses was defined in Penal Code former section 487, subdivision 3, "commonly referred to as ‘grand theft—auto,’ " which provided that any person "who feloniously...

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47 practice notes
  • People v. Taylor, H047540
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 22, 2021
    ...interpretation that avoids absurd consequences that could not possibly have been intended. [Citations.]" ( People v. Bullard (2020) 9 Cal.5th 94, 106, 260 Cal.Rptr.3d 153, 460 P.3d 262.) Based on the entire statutory scheme, we conclude that the phrase "any controlled substance, the possess......
  • People v. Hernandez, B302815
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 22, 2021
    ...to absurd consequences." ( People v. Jenkins (1995) 10 Cal.4th 234, 246, 40 Cal.Rptr.2d 903, 893 P.2d 1224 ; see People v. Bullard (2020) 9 Cal.5th 94, 107, 260 Cal.Rptr.3d 153, 460 P.3d 262 [courts must interpret statutes to avoid absurd results]; People v. Cook (2015) 60 Cal.4th 922, 938,......
  • People v. McClure, H048280
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 17, 2021
    ...of murder because it creates absurd results the Legislature could not have intended. Relying primarily on People v. Bullard (2020) 9 Cal.5th 94, 260 Cal.Rptr.3d 153, 460 P.3d 262 ( Bullard ), defendant argues that it makes "no logical sense for the Legislature to include a greater convictio......
  • Powers v. Covello, 20-cv-04244-HSG
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • April 22, 2022
    ...plea: People v. Page, 3 Cal. 5th 1175, 1187-88 (Cal. Nov. 30, 2017) (vehicle theft under Cal. Veh. Code § 10851); People v. Bullard, 9 Cal. 5th 94 (Cal. 2020) (vehicle theft under Cal. Veh. Code § 10851); People v. Orozco, 9 Cal. 5th 111 (Cal. 2020) (obtaining property by theft under Cal. P......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
47 cases
  • People v. Taylor, H047540
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 22, 2021
    ...interpretation that avoids absurd consequences that could not possibly have been intended. [Citations.]" ( People v. Bullard (2020) 9 Cal.5th 94, 106, 260 Cal.Rptr.3d 153, 460 P.3d 262.) Based on the entire statutory scheme, we conclude that the phrase "any controlled substance, the possess......
  • People v. Hernandez, B302815
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 22, 2021
    ...to absurd consequences." ( People v. Jenkins (1995) 10 Cal.4th 234, 246, 40 Cal.Rptr.2d 903, 893 P.2d 1224 ; see People v. Bullard (2020) 9 Cal.5th 94, 107, 260 Cal.Rptr.3d 153, 460 P.3d 262 [courts must interpret statutes to avoid absurd results]; People v. Cook (2015) 60 Cal.4th 922, 938,......
  • People v. McClure, H048280
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 17, 2021
    ...of murder because it creates absurd results the Legislature could not have intended. Relying primarily on People v. Bullard (2020) 9 Cal.5th 94, 260 Cal.Rptr.3d 153, 460 P.3d 262 ( Bullard ), defendant argues that it makes "no logical sense for the Legislature to include a greater convictio......
  • Powers v. Covello, 20-cv-04244-HSG
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • April 22, 2022
    ...plea: People v. Page, 3 Cal. 5th 1175, 1187-88 (Cal. Nov. 30, 2017) (vehicle theft under Cal. Veh. Code § 10851); People v. Bullard, 9 Cal. 5th 94 (Cal. 2020) (vehicle theft under Cal. Veh. Code § 10851); People v. Orozco, 9 Cal. 5th 111 (Cal. 2020) (obtaining property by theft under Cal. P......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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