People v. Snook

Citation16 Cal.4th 1210,69 Cal.Rptr.2d 615,947 P.2d 808
Decision Date18 December 1997
Docket NumberNo. S056760,S056760
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Parties, 947 P.2d 808, 97 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 9449, 97 Daily Journal D.A.R. 15,202 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Guy Edward SNOOK, Defendant and Appellant.

Jeff Brown, Public Defender, Paul F. DeMeester, Deputy Public Defender, and Susan Bookout, Alpine, under appointments by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Daniel E. Lungren, Attorney General, George Williamson, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gary W. Schons, Assistant Attorney General, Janelle Marie Boustany, Laura W. Halgren, Esteban Hernandez and Demetra P. Lewis, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Dennis L. Stout, District Attorney (San Bernardino), Grover D. Merritt and Mary L. Andonov, Deputy District Attorneys, as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Respondent.

BROWN, Justice.

Driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a misdemeanor. (Veh.Code, § 23152; see id., §§ 23160, 23165, 23170; all further statutory references are to the Vehicle Code unless otherwise noted.) Driving under the influence (DUI) may be charged as a felony rather than a misdemeanor when the offense occurs within seven years of three or more separate DUI violations which resulted in convictions. (§ 23175, subd. (a); hereafter section 23175(a).)

In this case we decide what happens when DUI convictions do not follow the chronological sequence in which the offenses were committed. Does the enhanced penalty still apply when the conviction for the first offense comes last? And if the increased penalty is imposed, would it violate the ex post facto clauses of the state and federal Constitutions?

We conclude the Legislature intended to subject repeat DUI offenders to enhanced penalties regardless of the order in which the offenses were committed and the convictions obtained, and the imposition of such a penalty does not violate any constitutional prohibition against ex post facto laws. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeal is reversed.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On April 6, 1992, defendant was arrested for DUI. He was released from custody with a promise to appear in municipal court on May 6, 1992. On April 24, 1992, a three-count misdemeanor complaint was filed, charging defendant with DUI (§ 23152, subd. (a)); driving a vehicle while having 0.08 percent alcohol in the bloodstream (§ 23152 subd. (b)); and driving with a suspended driver's license (§ 14601.1, subd. (a)). Defendant appeared in court on May 6 as promised, was informed the court had no record of his matter and was not detained, but a bench warrant was later issued.

For the next 22 months, no further proceedings were held in connection with the April 6, 1992, offense. In the meantime, defendant was arrested for DUI on June 11, 1992, two months after defendant had committed his first DUI offense, and twice the following year, on September 23, 1993, and October 25, 1993. Defendant was convicted of all charges arising from the three arrests on October 2, 1992, January 25, 1994, and February 25, 1994, respectively.

When action resumed on the April 6, 1992, violations, the original misdemeanor complaint was amended to charge count Nos. 1 and 2 as felonies under section 23175(a), and an information was filed on April 27, 1994. Defendant admitted the truth of the allegations of three separate DUI violations occurring within seven years of the charged offenses. On July 26, 1994, after court trial, defendant was found guilty of the April 6, 1992, offenses. Imposition of sentence was suspended and defendant was placed on three years' probation on condition he spend three hundred sixty-five days in local custody.

Defendant appealed his conviction on various grounds, arguing primarily the 22 months between his offenses and trial constituted a denial of the constitutional right to speedy trial. The Court of Appeal requested supplemental briefing from the parties on whether the section 23175(a) allegations constituted an ex post facto or other impermissible application of law because the separate violations resulting in convictions occurred after the April 6, 1992 offenses. Defendant made the same argument unsuccessfully in the trial court in a motion to dismiss, but did not raise the issue on appeal.

In the unpublished part of the Court of Appeal's opinion, the court rejected defendant's speedy trial claim. In the portion of its opinion certified for publication, the Court of Appeal held section 23175(a) could not be applied to increase defendant's present offense from a misdemeanor to a felony, and struck the enhanced penalty. Characterizing section 23175(a) as a general recidivist statute, the court determined the provision could not be used to increase the penalty for a first offense as a result of subsequent offenses. In the Court of Appeal's view, an interpretation of section 23175(a) permitting a penalty enhancement for a first offense on the basis of later-committed acts cannot further the purpose of a recidivist statute because the enhanced penalty could not deter earlier conduct. Consequently, the court construed section 23175(a) to permit the enhanced penalty only for subsequent offenses. The Court of Appeal also concluded that applying section 23175(a) to enhance the penalty of defendant's first offense based on later-committed acts would violate the constitutional prohibition against ex post facto laws.

We granted the People's petition for review.

II. DISCUSSION
A. Construction of Section 23175(a)

Under the Court of Appeal's construction, in order to charge DUI as a felony, the offense must have occurred after the commission of the three or more separate violations triggering the enhanced penalty. In reviewing the decision of the Court of Appeal, we consider anew the proper interpretation of section 23175(a).

The court's role in construing a statute is to "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; see also Alexander v. Superior Court (1993) 5 Cal.4th 1218, 1226, 23 Cal.Rptr.2d 397, 859 P.2d 96.) In determining the Legislature's intent, a court looks first to the words of the statute. (People v. Pieters (1991) 52 Cal.3d 894, 898, 276 Cal.Rptr. 918, 802 P.2d 420.) "[I]t is the language of the statute itself that has successfully braved the legislative gauntlet." (Halbert's Lumber, Inc. v. Lucky Stores, Inc. (1992) 6 Cal.App.4th 1233, 1238, 8 Cal.Rptr.2d 298.)

When looking to the words of the statute, a court gives the language its usual ordinary meaning. (Alexander v. Superior Court, supra, 5 Cal.4th at p. 1225, 23 Cal.Rptr.2d 397, 859 P.2d 96; Moyer v. Workmen's Comp. Appeals Bd. (1973) 10 Cal.3d 222, 230, 110 Cal.Rptr. 144, 514 P.2d 1224.) If there is no ambiguity in the language, we presume the Legislature meant what it said and the plain meaning of the statute governs. (People v. Coronado (1995) 12 Cal.4th 145, 151, 48 Cal.Rptr.2d 77, 906 P.2d 1232; Kizer v. Hanna (1989) 48 Cal.3d 1, 8, 255 Cal.Rptr. 412, 767 P.2d 679.)

In relevant part, section 23175(a) provides: "If any person is convicted of a violation of Section 23152 and the offense occurred within seven years of three or more separate violations of [any of three enumerated DUI offenses], or any combination thereof, which resulted in convictions, that person shall be punished by imprisonment in the 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)."

Section 23175(a) does not require the three or more triggering offenses to precede commission of the DUI offense underlying the present charge. By its terms, the statute requires only that the three or more "separate violations" which resulted in convictions occurred within seven years of the charged offense. A "separate" violation is a violation that is "unconnected; not united or associated; distinct." (Webster's New Internat. Dict. (2d ed.1959) p. 2281.)

Moreover, when read in the context of the entire DUI penalty enhancement scheme to which section 23175 belongs, it is clear the term "separate violations" means that the three or more DUI offenses which resulted in convictions must simply be different from the offense at issue in the present proceeding, and not merely different from one another. The Legislature has employed the term "separate violation" or "separate violations" in all of the statutes increasing the penalties for repeat DUI offenders. (See §§ 23165 [penalty for conviction of DUI enhanced when offense occurred within seven years of a "separate violation" of DUI], 23170 [same, but for two "separate violations"], 23185 [enhanced penalty for person convicted of DUI and causing bodily injury when offense occurred within seven years of a "separate violation" of DUI]; and 23190 [same, but for two "separate violations"].) A "separate violation" as it appears in the penalty enhancement provisions triggered by only one DUI conviction (§§ 23165, 23185) clearly describes the relationship between the present offense and the offense triggering an enhanced penalty. There is nothing to indicate the Legislature intended this term to have any different meaning in section 23175(a). (Cf. People v. Wells (1996) 12 Cal.4th 979, 985, 50 Cal.Rptr.2d 699, 911 P.2d 1374 [recognizing principle that, absent contrary indications, Legislature's use of similar term in related statute reflects legislative intent that same meaning apply].)

Finally, we observe that the statute, by its terms, permits a DUI offense to be charged as a felony if the violation occurred within seven years "of" three or more other separate DUI violations that resulted in convictions, thus allowing convictions for offenses that occurred before or after the offense underlying...

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