People v. Coronado, S043032

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation906 P.2d 1232,48 Cal.Rptr.2d 77,12 Cal.4th 145
Decision Date21 December 1995
Docket NumberNo. S043032,S043032
Parties, 906 P.2d 1232, 95 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 9788, 95 Daily Journal D.A.R. 16,953 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Antonio CORONADO, Defendant and Appellant.

Matthew Alger, Fresno, under appointment by Supreme Court, for defendant and appellant.

Daniel E. Lungren, Attorney General, George Williamson, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Robert R. Anderson, Assistant Attorney General, Michael J. Weinberger and Robert G. Marshall, Deputy Attorneys General, Sacramento, for plaintiff and respondent.

BAXTER, Justice.

In the companion to this case, People v. Baird (1995) 12 Cal.4th 126, 48 Cal.Rptr.2d 65, 906 P.2d 1220, we conclude that when a prior felony conviction is used to establish the ex-felon element of a charge under section 12021 of the Penal Code 1 (ex-felon in possession of a firearm), the prison term resulting from that prior conviction may be used to enhance the defendant's sentence under section 667.5, subdivision (b) (section 667.5(b)) without contravening the reasoning in People v. Jones (1993) 5 Cal.4th 1142, 22 Cal.Rptr.2d 753, 857 P.2d 1163 (Jones ) and other earlier decisions.

In this case, we confront related issues involving a section 667.5(b) enhancement and the use of a prior conviction to elevate a driving under the influence charge to a felony under section 23175 of the Vehicle Code. We hold here that the use of a prior conviction and resulting prison term for elevation and enhancement purposes is consistent with the legislative intent underlying Vehicle Code section 23175 and section 667.5(b), and that Jones, supra, 5 Cal.4th 1142, 22 Cal.Rptr.2d 753, 857 P.2d 1163, does not support a contrary result. We further conclude that a prior conviction and prior prison term may be utilized in this manner without violating section 654's prohibition against multiple punishment of an act or omission.


The pertinent facts are not in dispute. At a bench trial, defendant was found guilty of having driven a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol in violation of Vehicle Code section 23152, subdivision (a) (Vehicle Code section 23152(a)). Defendant then admitted he had suffered three prior driving under the influence convictions within the meaning of Vehicle Code section 23175. Defendant also admitted he had served three prior prison terms for felony convictions within the meaning of section 667.5(b). 2 One of the prior prison terms--for felony drunk driving in violation of Vehicle Code section 23152(a)--stemmed from the third prior conviction used to elevate the current offense to a felony under Vehicle Code section 23175. The superior court sentenced defendant to a total fixed prison term of six years. This consisted of the upper term of three years for the violation of Vehicle Code sections 23152(a) and 23175 and three one-year enhancements under section 667.5(b) for the prior prison terms.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment, finding that the enhancement is not prohibited under statutory or decisional law. We granted defendant's petition for review.


Defendant contends that one of his enhancements must be stricken because it was based upon a prior prison term that stemmed from one of the convictions used to elevate his current drunk driving charge to a felony under Vehicle Code section 23175. Defendant asserts that imposition of the prior prison term enhancement is contrary to the legislative intent underlying that statute and is improper under Jones, supra, 5 Cal.4th 1142, 22 Cal.Rptr.2d 753, 857 P.2d 1163. Defendant also argues that the enhancement is precluded by section 654's ban against multiple punishment. For the reasons that follow, we conclude otherwise.

A. Legislative Intent

As pertinent here, Vehicle Code section 23152(a) makes it unlawful for any person who is under the influence of alcohol to drive a vehicle. Ordinarily, violation of that provision is a misdemeanor offense. (See generally, 2 Witkin and Epstein, Cal.Criminal Law (2d ed. 1988) Crimes Against Public Peace and Welfare, § 917, p. 1040.)

Vehicle Code section 23175 provides that a conviction of a violation of Vehicle Code section 23152(a) may be punished as either a misdemeanor or a felony if "the offense occurred within seven years of three or more separate violations of [Vehicle Code] Section 23103, as specified in [Vehicle Code] Section 23103.5, or [Vehicle Code] Section 23152 or 23153, or any combination thereof, which resulted in convictions...." Under Vehicle Code section 23175, punishment shall be "by imprisonment in state prison, or in the county jail for not less than 180 days nor more than one year, and by a fine of not less than three hundred ninety dollars ($390) nor more than one thousand [dollars] ($1,000)." (Veh.Code, § 23175, subd. (a).) In addition, the person's privilege to operate a motor vehicle shall be revoked. (Ibid.)

Defendant first argues that punishment based upon prior drunk driving convictions may not exceed a maximum of three years in state prison under Vehicle Code section 23175. 3 In defendant's view, Vehicle Code section 23175 bars the use of a prior prison term for enhancement purposes if the underlying conviction is used to qualify the current offense for felony punishment.

To resolve whether defendant's interpretation of the relevant statutes is correct, we are guided by familiar canons of statutory construction. "[I]n construing a statute, a court [must] ascertain the intent of the Legislature so as to effectuate the purpose of the law." (People v. Jenkins (1995) 10 Cal.4th 234, 246, 40 Cal.Rptr.2d 903, 893 P.2d 1224.) In determining that intent, we first examine the words of the respective statutes: "If there is no ambiguity in the language of the statute, 'then the Legislature is presumed to have meant what it said, and the plain meaning of the language governs.' [Citation.] 'Where the statute is clear, courts will not "interpret away clear language in favor of an ambiguity that does not exist." [Citation.]' " (Lennane v. Franchise Tax Bd. (1994) 9 Cal.4th 263, 268, 36 Cal.Rptr.2d 563, 885 P.2d 976.) If, however, the terms of a statute provide no definitive answer, then courts may resort to extrinsic sources, including the ostensible objects to be achieved and the legislative history. (See Granberry v. Islay Investments (1995) 9 Cal.4th 738, 744, 38 Cal.Rptr.2d 650, 889 P.2d 970.) "We must select the construction that comports most closely with the apparent intent of the Legislature, with a view to promoting rather than defeating the general purpose of the statute, and avoid an interpretation that would lead to absurd consequences." (People v. Jenkins, supra, 10 Cal.4th at p. 246, 40 Cal.Rptr.2d 903, 893 P.2d 1224.)

As a preliminary matter, we observe defendant makes no contention that either Vehicle Code section 23152(a) or section 667.5(b) precludes the use of a prior prison term to enhance the sentence for a drunk driving conviction where Vehicle Code section 23175 is not applicable. Nor could he. Vehicle Code section 23152(a) simply defines the misdemeanor offense of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs; its terms do not in any way purport to prohibit the use of a prior prison term to enhance a sentence thereunder. At the same time, section 667.5 provides in explicit and mandatory terms that "[e]nhancement of prison terms for new offenses because of prior prison terms shall be imposed as follows: [p] ... [p] (b) ... where the new offense is any felony for which a prison sentence is imposed, in addition and consecutive to any other prison terms therefor, the court shall impose a one-year term for each prior separate prison term served for any felony; provided that no additional term shall be imposed under this subdivision for any prison term served prior to a period of five years in which the defendant remained free of both prison custody and the commission of an offense which results in a felony conviction." (Italics added.) Plainly, this language is not susceptible to a construction providing an exception for new offenses elevated to felony status by virtue of a related prior conviction.

We now examine the terms of Vehicle Code section 23175. Prior to 1988, that section provided for a county jail term of 180 days to 1 year and a fine of $390 to $1,000 where the current Vehicle Code section 23152 offense occurred within 7 years of 3 or more statutorily specified convictions. In 1988, Vehicle Code section 23175 was amended to add imprisonment in state prison as an alternative to imprisonment in county jail (Stats.1988, ch. 599, § 1, p. 2160; Stats.1988, ch. 1553, § 2, p. 5580), and was redesignated in 1990 as section 23175, subdivision (a) (Stats.1990, ch. 44, § 6, p. 255). 4 Although Vehicle Code section 23175 provides a form of enhanced punishment for habitual drunk drivers, 5 it does not expressly state one way or the other whether a prior prison term enhancement may additionally apply when the prior conviction that resulted in the prison term is relied upon to elevate the current offense to a felony. Nor does the statute specify whether the imposition of felony punishment precludes the imposition of otherwise applicable punishments or enhancements.

Even though Vehicle Code section 23175 contains no language purporting to prohibit a prior prison term enhancement, defendant claims its history demonstrates a legislative intent to permit no more than three years of confinement in state prison in the event felony punishment is imposed. To buttress his position, defendant relies upon legislative documents that describe the subject legislation: (1) as providing that a person previously convicted of three prior driving-under-the-influence offenses is "guilty of an alternate felony/misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in the county jail or 16 months, two or...

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