People v. Chadd

Citation28 Cal.3d 739,621 P.2d 837,170 Cal.Rptr. 798
Decision Date19 January 1981
Docket NumberCr. 21024
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Parties, 621 P.2d 837 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Billy Lee CHADD, Defendant and Appellant.
[621 P.2d 839] Quin Denvir, State Public Defender, under appointment by the Supreme Court, Charles M. Sevilla, Chief Deputy State Public Defender, Elaine A. Alexander, Chief Asst. State Public Defender, Donald L. A. Kerson, Deputy State Public Defender, Harold F. Tyvoll and Charles R. Khoury, San Diego, for defendant and appellant

George Deukmejian, Atty. Gen., Robert H. Philibosian, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Daniel J. Kremer, Asst. Atty. Gen., Harley D. Mayfield, Richard D. Garske and Patricia D. Benke, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

MOSK, Justice.

Defendant Billy Lee Chadd appeals from a judgment imposing a sentence of death following his plea of guilty to a charge of first degree murder. As will appear, we hold that the trial court committed prejudicial error in accepting that plea without the consent of defendant's counsel as required by Penal Code section 1018. Because of the limited nature of the issue, we need not recite the facts of the case in detail.

Defendant was arraigned on a complaint charging him, inter alia, with the first degree murder of Linda Hewitt (count 6), and alleging special circumstances making the crime a capital offense under the statutes then in effect. (Former Pen.Code, § 190 et seq., added by Stats.1977, ch. 316, §§ 5-14, pp. 1256-1262.) Defendant entered a plea of not guilty through his appointed counsel, David R. Pitkin; the court denied bail, but set the case for bail review one week later. On that day, however, Mr. Pitkin appeared without his client and informed the court that defendant was in a hospital after attempting to commit suicide. Because it appeared to the court that defendant might be mentally disordered, the court directed that he undergo a 72-hour period of treatment and evaluation in a psychiatric facility. (Pen.Code, § 4011.6.)

Defendant thereafter waived the preliminary examination, and was arraigned on an information presenting essentially the same charges. 1 The prosecutor announced he would seek the death penalty on count 6.

Mr. Pitkin informed the court that defendant wished to plead guilty against his advice, and that he would not consent to his client entering such a plea. As counsel observed, "This particular defendant's basic desire is to commit suicide, and he's asking for the cooperation of the State in that endeavor." The following colloquy then took place:

"THE COURT: Mr. Chadd, your counsel has indicated that you want to commit this suicide. You want to plead guilty and have the Court help you in doing that. What about that?

"THE DEFENDANT: Your Honor, it's true, I did attempt suicide. I have given serious consideration to the consequences of the trial, the outcome, what it might be. I feel the death penalty would be, for all intents better for me.

"If the State of California can't, and I don't receive the death penalty, then I have got another shot in Nevada. They're going to try for the death penalty, too. ( 2 ) If that doesn't work out, then I will just have to do it myself."

In view of this attitude, the court declared a doubt as to defendant's sanity, suspended the criminal proceedings, and ordered defendant to undergo a further psychiatric examination. (Pen.Code, § 1368.)

The proceedings resumed after defendant was found mentally competent. Mr. Pitkin began by reiterating his firm objection to any plea of guilty by his client. He explained that according to his reading of Penal Code section 1018, "a guilty plea to a capital offense requires consent of counsel." And although he acknowledged that defendant was attempting to enter such a plea, he stated that "I want the record to reflect that it's without my consent."

The prosecutor apparently agreed with defense counsel's understanding of the law, and recommended on behalf of the People that the court "not accept a guilty plea from the defendant under these circumstances" but rather set the case for trial.

The court declined to follow this recommendation. It ruled, rather, that if it could find defendant sufficiently competent to act as his own attorney under the standards of Faretta v. California (1975) 422 U.S. 806, 95 S.Ct. 2525, 45 L.Ed.2d 562, it would accept his guilty plea despite the refusal of his counsel of record to consent thereto. The court reasoned simply that such a finding would be "tantamount to" relieving Mr. Pitkin as counsel and permitting defendant to actually represent himself. The court thereupon questioned defendant, found him competent within the meaning of Faretta, and allowed him to plead guilty to all counts of the information and to admit all the charged enhancements and the special circumstances allegations. At no time, however, was Mr. Pitkin in fact relieved of his duties, and throughout the proceedings he continued to act as defendant's counsel of record. 3

A jury was subsequently empanelled for the penalty phase of the trial, and fixed the punishment at death. This appeal is automatic. (Pen.Code, § 1239, subd. (b).)

Defendant first contends that the trial court had no authority to accept his guilty plea to a capital offense in the face of his counsel's express refusal to consent to the entry of such a plea. The point is well taken. Penal Code section 1018 provides in relevant part that no guilty plea to a felony punishable by death or life imprisonment without possibility of parole "shall be received from a defendant who does not appear with counsel, nor shall any such plea In an effort to avoid this result, the Attorney General urges first that section 1018 can be "construed" to permit a capital defendant to discharge his attorney, represent himself, and enter a guilty plea. There are three answers to this contention. First, in the case at bar it is entirely hypothetical: although he well knew of his right to do so, defendant never made an unequivocal request to discharge Mr. Pitkin and represent himself, and hence was never granted that status; on the contrary, with defendant's agreement Mr. Pitkin continued to act as his counsel throughout the proceedings. (See fn. 3, ante.) We will not, of course, adjudicate hypothetical claims or render purely advisory opinions. (Younger v. Superior Court (1978) 21 Cal.3d 102, 119-120, 145 Cal.Rptr. 674, 577 P.2d 1014; and cases cited.)

be received without the consent of the defendant's counsel." The record amply demonstrates that Mr. Pitkin did not give that consent. Under the terms of section 1018, therefore, the court erred in allowing defendant to plead guilty to count 6 of the information.

Second, it is difficult to conceive of a plainer statement of law than the rule of section 1018 that no guilty plea to a capital offense shall be received "without the consent of the defendant's counsel." It is settled that "when statutory language is thus clear and unambiguous there is no need for construction, and courts should not indulge in it." (Solberg v. Superior Court (1977) 19 Cal.3d 182, 198, 137 Cal.Rptr. 460, 561 P.2d 1148.)

Third, even if section 1018 were subject to construction, the Attorney General's proposal would make a major portion of the statute redundant. He urges in effect that it be read to permit a capital defendant to discharge his attorney and plead guilty if he knowingly, voluntarily, and openly waives his right to counsel. But that is precisely what the third sentence of section 1018 expressly authorizes noncapital defendants to do. 4 The proposal would thus obliterate the Legislature's careful distinction between capital and noncapital cases, and render largely superfluous its special provision for the former. Such a construction would be manifestly improper. (J. R. Norton Co. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Bd. (1979) 26 Cal.3d 1, 36-37, 160 Cal.Rptr. 710, 603 P.2d 1306 and cases cited.)

In the alternative, the Attorney General contends that if section 1018 cannot be so construed it is unconstitutional because it allows counsel to "veto" a capital defendant's decision to plead guilty. The argument, however, is both diffuse and obscure. The Attorney General appears to concede that in capital cases a state could constitutionally prohibit guilty pleas altogether and insist that the prosecution prove each such charge to the satisfaction of the trier of fact. But the state's power to prohibit guilty pleas, asserts the Attorney General, does not include the lesser power to condition such pleas on the consent of defense counsel. To do so, he claims, disturbs the "uniquely personal" nature of the defendant's decision to plead guilty, denies him his "fundamental right" to control the ultimate course of the prosecution, and destroys the constitutionally established relationship of counsel as the defendant's "assistant" rather than his master.

The contention fails to recognize the larger public interest at stake in pleas of guilty to capital offenses. It is true that in our system of justice the decision as to how to plead to a criminal charge is personal to the defendant: because the life, liberty or property at stake is his, so also is the choice of plea. (In re Williams (1969) 1 Cal.3d 168, 177, fn. 8, 81 Cal.Rptr. 784, 460 P.2d 984.)

But it is no less true that the Legislature has the power to regulate, in the public interest, the manner [28 Cal.3d 748] in which that choice is exercised. Thus it is the legislative prerogative to specify which pleas the defendant may elect to enter (Pen.Code, § 1016), 5 [621 P.2d 842] when he may do so (id., § 1003), where and how he must plead (id., § 1017), and what the effects are of making or not making certain pleas. 6

A plea of guilty, of course, is the most serious step a defendant can take in a criminal prosecution. It operates first as a waiver of formal defects in the accusatory...

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