People v. Clancey

Decision Date18 April 2013
Docket NumberNo. S200158.,S200158.
Citation56 Cal.4th 562,155 Cal.Rptr.3d 485,299 P.3d 131
Parties The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Wesley Cian CLANCEY, Defendant and Respondent.
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court

Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Assistant Attorney General, Eric D. Share, Laurence K. Sullivan and Amy Haddix, Deputy Attorneys General; and Jeffrey Francis Rosen, District Attorney, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Dallas Sacher, Santa Clara, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Respondent.

BAXTER, J.

Over the prosecution's objection, defendant Wesley Cian Clancey pleaded no contest to all charges (an assortment of felony and misdemeanor charges, mostly theft related) and was sentenced to five years in prison. To arrive at the five-year sentence, the trial court exercised its discretion under Penal Code section 13851 to dismiss both the on-bail enhancement ( § 12022.1 ) and the allegation that defendant had suffered a prior strike conviction within the meaning of the "Three Strikes" law ( §§ 667, subds.(b)(i), 1170.12, subds. (a)(d)).

A divided panel of the Court of Appeal held that the five-year sentence was the product of an unlawful judicial plea bargain and vacated defendant's pleas and admissions. Defendant petitioned for review, contending that he entered his plea after the trial court lawfully indicated its sentence and not as part of an unlawful judicial plea bargain. We conclude that the record is ambiguous as to whether the sentence proposed by the trial court reflected what it believed was the appropriate punishment for this defendant and these offenses, regardless of whether defendant was convicted by plea or following trial, or instead reflected what it believed was necessary to induce defendant to enter a plea. We therefore affirm in part the judgment of the Court of Appeal and remand the matter to the trial court to clarify the ambiguity (see People v. Superior Court (Felmann ) (1976) 59 Cal.App.3d 270, 277–278, 130 Cal.Rptr. 548 ) and, if it reinstates the judgment, to recalculate defendant's presentence conduct credits.

BACKGROUND

On August 19, 2010, defendant pleaded no contest to all the charges in the first amended complaint in case No. C1072166 (two counts of forgery (§ 470, subd. (d)); two counts of grand theft (§§ 484/487, subd. (a)); one count of false personation (§ 529); and an allegation that he had suffered a prior strike conviction), as well as all the charges in the first amended complaint in case No. C1073855 (three counts of attempted grand theft (§§ 664/487); a felony and a misdemeanor count of using a stolen access card (§§ 484g/487, 484g/488); one count each of second degree burglary (§§ 459/460, subd. (b)), concealing stolen property (§ 496), resisting an officer (§ 148, subd. (a)(1)), and falsely identifying himself to an officer (§ 148.9); and allegations that these crimes were committed while on bail and that he had suffered a prior strike conviction). In accordance with the sentence indicated at the time defendant entered his plea, the superior court sentenced defendant to five years in prison, calculated as follows: the midterm of two years for forgery; consecutive eight-month terms for the remaining forgery conviction as well as the convictions for second degree burglary and using a stolen access card; and consecutive four-month terms for each of the three convictions of attempted grand theft. The court exercised its authority under section 1385 to dismiss the on-bail enhancement and the strike allegations.

A divided panel of the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment and vacated defendant's pleas and admissions. The majority's decision rested on two legal principles: (1) that "an ‘offer’ by the court that is contingent on a defendant pleading guilty or no contest cannot be a proper indicated sentence because it induces a defendant to plead guilty or no contest," and (2) that "an ‘offer’ by the court that provides the defendant with the option to withdraw the guilty or no contest pleas and any admissions if the court decides to impose a sentence other than the one offered is not a proper indicated sentence." The trial court violated the first principle, according to the majority, because "[t]he court informed defendant through the plea colloquy that it would impose a five-year term and strike the strike if he admitted all of the charges and allegations "; hence, "[t]his was an improper inducement for defendant to enter pleas and admissions." The trial court "confirmed the existence of a bargain" (and thereby violated the second principle) by "making a commitment that defendant could withdraw his pleas and admissions if the court did not follow through on its offer."

In dissent, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Katherine Lucero, sitting by assignment, acknowledged that an indicated sentence bore "some similarities" to a plea bargain, but emphasized that "a true indicated sentence does not include any inducement to a criminal defendant to plead to the sheet apart from the indicated sentence. " The dissenting opinion also cautioned that the majority's proposal to make the plea "unconditionally binding on the defendant, though not the court," would undermine the indicated-sentence procedure and leave "very few defendants ... willing to take this risk": "If a criminal defendant cannot reserve the right to withdraw his or her admissions to all charges if the judge's sentence indication is rescinded, pleading to the sheet in response to an indicated sentence creates a much greater risk that the defendant may receive the maximum possible sentence."

We granted review to clarify certain aspects of the indicated-sentence procedure.

DISCUSSION

This case asks us to map the line between the power of the executive and the judiciary in the context of plea bargaining and sentencing.

"The process of plea bargaining which has received statutory and judicial authorization as an appropriate method of disposing of criminal prosecutions contemplates an agreement negotiated by the People and the defendant and approved by the court. [Citations.] Pursuant to this procedure the defendant agrees to plead guilty in order to obtain a reciprocal benefit, generally consisting of a less severe punishment than that which could result if he were convicted of all offenses charged.... Judicial approval is an essential condition precedent to the effectiveness of the ‘bargain’ worked out by the defense and the prosecution." ( People v. Orin (1975) 13 Cal.3d 937, 942–943, 120 Cal.Rptr. 65, 533 P.2d 193 (Orin ).) Because the charging function is entrusted to the executive, "the court has no authority to substitute itself as the representative of the People in the negotiation process and under the guise of ‘plea bargaining’ to ‘agree’ to a disposition of the case over prosecutorial objection." ( Orin, supra, 13 Cal.3d at p. 943, 120 Cal.Rptr. 65, 533 P.2d 193.)

On the other hand, "[w]here the defendant pleads ‘guilty to all charges ... so all that remains is the pronouncement of judgment and sentencing’ ( [ People v. ] Smith [ (1978) ] 82 Cal.App.3d [909,] 915 ), ‘there is no requirement that the People consent to a guilty plea’ ( People v. Vessell (1995) 36 Cal.App.4th 285, 296 ). In that circumstance, the court may indicate ‘what sentence [it] will impose if a given set of facts is confirmed, irrespective of whether guilt is adjudicated at trial or admitted by plea.’ ( Smith, at pp. 915–916 .)" ( People v. Turner (2004) 34 Cal.4th 406, 418–419, 20 Cal.Rptr.3d 182, 99 P.3d 505.)

In this case, defendant contends that the five-year sentence proffered by the trial court was an exercise of the court's lawful sentencing discretion and that he entered a plea in response to the indicated five-year sentence. The People, like the Court of Appeal below, argue that the trial court offered to dismiss the strike as an inducement to an unlawful judicial plea bargain. Our resolution of this dispute must begin with a review of the proceedings in the trial court.

A. Defendant's Change of Plea and Sentencing

Following off-the-record discussions among the parties, defense counsel, at the request of the trial court, placed on the record the details of defendant's plea: "Mr. Clanc[e]y, on two separate dockets, in each case, he will be pleading as charged, and in each matter will be admitting a serious strike prior allegation. It's anticipated at the time of sentencing the Court will grant an oral Romero [2 ] motion, thereafter sentence Mr. Clanc[e]y to five years in state prison."

The People objected to the proposed disposition. The People's objection was based on their view that "a reasonable resolution would be eight or nine years in state prison" if defendant were to plead prior to the preliminary hearing, that the court's proposed disposition required dismissal of the prior strike allegation (which was "contrary to" the Three Strikes law), and that there "would be a substantial difference between the Court's offer and the People's position" because of the more lenient award of postsentence credits under the court's proposal.

Despite the objection, the trial court and the prosecutor proceeded to obtain the appropriate waivers from defendant. The prosecutor additionally elicited defendant's understanding that the maximum term for the charged crimes was 16 years and eight months; that the minimum term was 11 years and four months; and that he was not eligible for probation. After stipulating to a factual basis for the plea, defendant pleaded no contest to all charges and admitted the prior strike allegation and the on-bail enhancement.

At the hearing on defendant's Romero motion, the People renewed their objection to the "plea bargain" and urged that defendant's prior strike not be dismissed. The prosecutor's "main" objection was "that a plea bargain was made in this case in that the defendant agreed to plead guilty to the current charges in exchange...

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