People v. ENGRAM

Decision Date25 October 2010
Docket NumberNo. S176983.,S176983.
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Terrion Marcus ENGRAM, Defendant and Appellant.

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED.

Susan S. Bauguess, Running Springs, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Gary Windom, Public Defender (Riverside) and William A. Meronek, Deputy Public Defender, for the Law Offices of the Riverside County Public Defender as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

Rod Pacheco, District Attorney, and Alan D. Tate, Deputy District Attorney, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

GEORGE, C.J.

In recent years, the Superior Court of Riverside County (hereafter Riverside Superior Court or Riverside court) has been severely overburdened by the substantial number of criminal cases awaiting trial in that county. The presumptive time period established by state law for bringing a felony case to trial is 60 days from the date a defendant is arraigned on an information or indictment. (Pen.Code, § 1382.) Nonetheless, a task force of experienced trial and appellate judges that was established specifically to assess and assist with the criminal case backlog in Riverside County reported in 2007: “Information from the Riverside County Sheriff's Department showed that nearly 25 percent of jail inmates had been awaiting trial for more than one year. One hundred seventy-seven inmates had been awaiting trial for more than two years, 32 inmates were awaiting trial for more than four years, and in one case the delay was an astonishing eight years.” (Riverside Criminal Backlog Reduction Task Force, Rep. to Jud.

Council (Aug. 1, 2008) p. 5 (Riverside Task Force Report) [as of Oct. 25, 2010].)

To address this problem, numerous retired judges and active judges from outside the county-both as a part of, and in addition to, the task force-have been assigned by the Chief Justice to assist the Riverside SuperiorCourt. (See Cal. Const., art. VI, § 6, subd. (e).) Furthermore, during the time period relevant to the present proceeding, the Riverside Superior Court itself devoted virtually all of its resources-superior court judges and courtrooms-ordinarily intended for the trial of civil cases instead to the trial of criminal cases, an effort that, at the time, seriously compromised that court's ability to conduct civil trials.

Notwithstanding the considerable preference that the Riverside Superior Court generally afforded the trial of criminal cases over civil cases, the District Attorney of Riverside County consistently has taken the position that a California statutory provision required the Riverside court to

extend its efforts even further and make every superior court judge and courtroom-including the specialized superior court departments devoted to hearing and resolving family law, probate, and juvenile matters (as well as the judges from outside the county who had been assigned to that court specifically to assist with the backlog of long-delayed civil trials)-potentially available for the trial of any criminal case that was facing dismissal under the applicable California speedy-trial statutes. Although the district attorney's contention has been directly addressed and rejected in two published decisions of the appellate division of the Riverside court ( People v. Cole (2008) 165 Cal.App.4th Supp. 1, 82 Cal.Rptr.3d 699 ( Cole ); People v. Flores (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th Supp. 9, 92 Cal.Rptr.3d 582 ( Flores )), that official has continued to advance his claim in subsequent criminal proceedings at both the trial and the appellate level, and we therefore granted review to resolve the issue.

For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that the decisions in Cole, supra, 165 Cal.App.4th Supp. 1, 82 Cal.Rptr.3d 699, and Flores, supra, 173 Cal.App.4th Supp. 9, 92 Cal.Rptr.3d 582, correctly rejected the district attorney's contention. As we shall explain, the statute at issue-Penal Code section 1050 1 -has been in place for more than 80 years, and long ago this court expressly held that the provision's directive that criminal cases be given precedence over civil cases “is not of such an absolute and overriding character that the system of having separate departments for civil and criminal matters must be abandoned.” ( People v. Osslo (1958) 50 Cal.2d 75, 106, 323 P.2d 397 ( Osslo ).) Although a number of other decisions demonstrate that a superior court may run afoul of section 1050 if it shortchanges criminal matters and does not devote a reasonable

proportion of its resources to the trial of criminal cases (see, e.g., People v. Echols (1954) 125 Cal.App.2d 810, 271 P.2d 595 ( Echols )), here it is clear that the Riverside Superior Court by no means has shortchanged criminal cases but, to the contrary, properly has provided considerable preference to the trial of those matters consistent with the general legislative policy embodied in section 1050. We conclude that the decisions in Cole and Flores correctly determined that the Riverside court did not violate section 1050 in declining to assign criminal cases to the limited number of trial court departments reserved for specialized civil matters or to the several judges from outside the county who had been assigned specifically to that court to assist in the trial of long-delayed civil matters.

The district attorney additionally contends that in the event we decide his interpretation of section 1050 is incorrect and that the trial court properly determined there was no available judge or courtroom to which the present criminal proceeding reasonably could have been assigned for trial within the presumptive period set forth in section 1382 (the applicable speedy-trial statute), the court nonetheless erred in dismissing the underlying criminal proceeding under that statute. The district attorney asserts that dismissal was improper because the trial court erred in determining that the lack of an available judge or courtroom did not constitute “good cause” under section 1382 to continue the trial to a later date.

We conclude that this contention similarly lacks merit. Past cases establish that when the lack of a judge or courtroom available to timely bring a criminal defendant to trial is fairly and reasonably attributable to the fault or neglect of the state,

that circumstancedoes not constitute good cause to delay the defendant's trial for purposes of section 1382. (See, e.g., People v. Johnson (1980) 26 Cal.3d 557, 570-571, 162 Cal.Rptr. 431, 606 P.2d 738.) Here, the trial court reasonably could find that the lack of a number of judges sufficient to timely try the present case (and the 17 other criminal cases that were dismissed at the same time in the Riverside Superior Court) was fairly attributable to the state's failure, over a considerable period of time, to provide a number of judges sufficient to meet the needs of Riverside County's rapidly growing population and caseload-a circumstance fairly attributable to the fault or neglect of the state. Consequently, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that good cause did not exist under section 1382 to continue the trial to a later date over defendant's objection.

Accordingly, we conclude that the judgment of the Court of Appeal, upholding the trial court's dismissal of this criminal proceeding, should be affirmed.

I
A

The relevant procedural facts leading to the dismissal of the underlying criminal charges are not in dispute.

Defendant Terrion Marcus Engram initially was charged with attempted premeditated murder (§§ 187, subd. (a), 664) and first degree burglary (§ 459). At defendant's first trial, the jury acquitted defendant of the attempted murder charge but found him guilty of burglary. On appeal, the Court of Appeal, concluding that the trial court committed prejudicial instructional error with regard to the burglary charge, reversed the conviction and remanded the matter to the trial court for a new trial on the burglary charge. ( People v. Engram (July 23, 2007, E040549), 2007 WL 2084173 [nonpub. opn.].) Although defendant spent a substantial period of time in custody prior to the Court of Appeal's reversal of his conviction, he was released from custody on his own recognizance pending retrial and remained free from custody throughout the subsequent proceedings.

The initial retrial of the burglary charge began on May 20, 2008. On May 27, 2008, after deliberating, the jury was unable to agree on a verdict and the trial court declared a mistrial. The trial court denied defendant's motion to dismiss the burglary charge, and set a new (third) jury trial on the burglary charges for July 14, 2008.

On that date, the prosecution moved to trail the trial to July 28, 2008, the last day for trial under the then-governing time waiver executed by defendant, extended by the applicable 10-day grace period. In support of the motion, the assigned deputy district attorney stated, among other representations, that (1) “I have a last day case set for today,” (2) “I also have two last day cases on July 21, 2008,” (3) “I need time to prepare one of these cases as a hand-off for another Deputy District Attorney to try,” and (4) “I need time to coordinate witness schedules.” After trailing the matter for one day (because defendant was not present in court when the case was called on July 14), the trial court on July 15, 2008, without a waiver of time by defendant, granted the prosecution's motion to trail the matter to July 28, 2008.

On that date, defendant moved to continue the trial to August 28, 2008, based on his counsel's declaration that he was unable to complete discovery and investigation pending receipt of the trial transcripts from the second trial. The court granted the motion without objection by the prosecution and continued the trial to the date requested. At that time, counsel stipulated

that the last day for trial under defendant's then-applicable time waiver was ...

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