People v. Stamps

Citation467 P.3d 168,9 Cal.5th 685,264 Cal.Rptr.3d 769
Decision Date25 June 2020
Docket NumberS255843
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Parties The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. William STAMPS, Defendant and Appellant.

James S. Donnelly-Saalfield, Sausalito, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Lance E. Winters and Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorneys General, Jeffrey M. Laurence, Assistant Attorney General, Seth K. Schalit, Eric D. Share, Elizabeth W. Hereford and René A. Chacón, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Opinion of the Court by Corrigan, J.

Defendant entered into a plea agreement for a specified term that included a prior serious felony enhancement ( Pen. Code, § 667, subd. (a) ). While his appeal was pending, a new law went into effect permitting the trial court to strike a serious felony enhancement in furtherance of justice ( Pen. Code, § 1385, subd. (a) ), which it was not previously authorized to do. We hold defendant was not required to obtain a certificate of probable cause ( Pen. Code, § 1237.5 ) to claim on appeal that the new law applied to him retroactively, and that the new law applies because his case is not yet final on appeal. Although we agree with defendant that the matter must be remanded to the trial court, we reject his contention that the court is authorized to exercise its discretion to strike the enhancement but otherwise maintain the plea bargain. Defendant on remand may seek the court's exercise of discretion, but if the court chooses to strike the enhancement, its decision will have consequences to the plea agreement. (See discussion post , at 264 Cal.Rptr.3d at pp. 783-787, 467 P.3d at pp. 180-183.)


Defendant William Stamps was charged with three counts of first degree burglary ( Pen. Code, §§ 459, 460, subd. (a) ). The complaint also alleged two prior first degree burglary convictions as serious felonies under the "Three Strikes" law and the serious felony enhancement provision.1 Three state prison prior convictions were also alleged. ( Pen. Code, § 667.5, subd. (b).) Had defendant been convicted of all counts and enhancements, he would have been subject to the 25-years-to-life provisions of the Three Strikes law ( Pen. Code, § 1170.12, subd. (c)(2) ) along with any applicable fixed-term enhancements.

In November 2017, pursuant to negotiation, defendant pled to one first degree burglary and admitted one serious felony conviction in exchange for a nine-year prison sentence, based on the low term for burglary (two years), doubled under the Three Strikes law ( Pen. Code, § 1170.12, subd. (c)(1) ), plus five years for the serious felony enhancement. All remaining counts and allegations were dismissed on motion of the district attorney as part of the plea agreement. Defendant was sentenced in January 2018, subsequently filed a notice of appeal, and sought a certificate of probable cause ( Pen. Code, § 1237.5 ; Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.304(b) ), which the trial court denied.

On September 30, 2018, the governor approved Senate Bill No. 1393 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.) (Senate Bill 1393) allowing a trial court to dismiss a serious felony enhancement in furtherance of justice.2 After the law was signed but before it became effective on January 1, 2019, defendant filed an opening brief in the Court of Appeal. He raised a single claim that, in light of Senate Bill 1393, his case should be remanded to the trial court to exercise its discretion whether to strike the serious felony enhancement. The Attorney General countered that defendant's appeal was not cognizable because he failed to obtain a certificate of probable cause. The Court of Appeal concluded a certificate was not required and Senate Bill 1393 applied retroactively to defendant. It then remanded, permitting the trial court to exercise its discretion whether to strike the enhancement.3 ( People v. Stamps , supra , 34 Cal.App.5th at pp. 120-124, 245 Cal.Rptr.3d 821 ; see discussion post .) We agree on the certificate question but modify the remand order.

A. A Certificate of Probable Cause Was Not Required

Generally, a defendant may appeal "from a final judgment of conviction." ( Pen. Code, § 1237, subd. (a).) However, if the judgment resulted from a guilty or no contest plea, Penal Code 4 section 1237.5, subdivisions (a) and (b), provide that no appeal may be taken unless "[t]he defendant has filed with the trial court a written statement, executed under oath or penalty of perjury showing reasonable constitutional, jurisdictional, or other grounds going to the legality of the proceedings," and the court "has executed and filed a certificate of probable cause for such appeal with the clerk of the court." "[S]ection 1237.5 admits of this exception: The defendant may take an appeal without a statement of certificate grounds or a certificate of probable cause if he does so solely on noncertificate grounds, which go to postplea matters not challenging his plea's validity and/or matters involving a search or seizure whose lawfulness was contested pursuant to section 1538.5." ( People v. Mendez (1999) 19 Cal.4th 1084, 1096, 81 Cal.Rptr.2d 301, 969 P.2d 146 ; People v. Panizzon (1996) 13 Cal.4th 68, 74, 51 Cal.Rptr.2d 851, 913 P.2d 1061 ( Panizzon ); see Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.304(b)(4).) A certificate of probable cause functions to discourage frivolous appeals following a guilty or no contest plea. It promotes judicial economy by screening out baseless postplea appeals before time and money are spent on record preparation, briefing and appellate review. (See Panizzon , at pp. 75-76, 51 Cal.Rptr.2d 851, 913 P.2d 1061.)

"It has long been established that issues going to the validity of a plea require" a certificate of probable cause. ( Panizzon , supra , 13 Cal.4th at p. 76, 51 Cal.Rptr.2d 851, 913 P.2d 1061.) "Even when a defendant purports to challenge only the sentence imposed, a certificate ... is required if the challenge goes to an aspect of the sentence to which the defendant agreed as an integral part of a plea agreement." ( People v. Johnson (2009) 47 Cal.4th 668, 678, 101 Cal.Rptr.3d 332, 218 P.3d 972 ( Johnson ).) "[T]he critical inquiry is whether a challenge to the sentence is in substance a challenge to the validity of the plea, thus rendering the appeal subject to the [certificate] requirements of section 1237.5." ( Panizzon , at p. 76, 51 Cal.Rptr.2d 851, 913 P.2d 1061.)

We have stated in a different context that "a challenge to a negotiated sentence imposed as part of a plea bargain is properly viewed as a challenge to the validity of the plea itself." ( Panizzon , supra , 13 Cal.4th at p. 79, 51 Cal.Rptr.2d 851, 913 P.2d 1061.) This characterization was correct in its context, but it is not universally applicable. Panizzon's claim that his sentence was cruel and unusual attacked the validity of his plea because "the sentence defendant received was part and parcel of the plea agreement he negotiated with the People." ( Id . at p. 78, 51 Cal.Rptr.2d 851, 913 P.2d 1061.) In so concluding, we rejected the defendant's argument that "his claim of error, i.e., that the bargained sentence is unconstitutional when compared to the sentences of his codefendants, is based on events that occurred after the no contest plea was entered." ( Ibid . ) The circumstance that Panizzon's codefendants were later sentenced to lesser terms merely bolstered his essential claim that the sentence agreed to in the plea bargain was constitutionally defective at the time the agreement was made. As Panizzon reasoned, "the essence of defendant's claim is that his sentence is disproportionate to his level of culpability [citation], a factor that also was known at the time of the plea and waiver. Thus, the real thrust of defendant's claim concerns events predating entry of the plea and waiver." ( Id . at p. 86, 51 Cal.Rptr.2d 851, 913 P.2d 1061.) Such an argument attacks the plea itself.

Similarly, we held that a claim the trial court violated the multiple punishment ban of section 654 constituted an attack on the plea where the court imposed the maximum term agreed upon by the parties: "[T]he specification of a maximum sentence or lid in a plea agreement normally implies a mutual understanding of the defendant and the prosecutor that the specified maximum term is one that the trial court may lawfully impose and also a mutual understanding that, absent the agreement for the lid, the trial court might lawfully impose an even longer term." ( People v. Shelton (2006) 37 Cal.4th 759, 768, 37 Cal.Rptr.3d 354, 125 P.3d 290 ; see also People v. Cuevas (2008) 44 Cal.4th 374, 379-384, 79 Cal.Rptr.3d 303, 187 P.3d 30 ( Cuevas ).) Again, Shelton sought to attack the plea bargain as defective when it was made because it permitted a sentence prohibited by statute.

These cases teach that when the parties reach an agreement in the context of existing law, a claim that seeks to avoid a term of the agreement, as made, is an attack on the plea itself. They do not, however, address the nature of a challenge based, not upon existing law, but on a subsequent change in the law. Defendant's appellate claim here relies on the principle that "the general rule in California is that plea agreements are deemed to incorporate the reserve power of the state to amend the law or enact additional laws for the public good and in pursuance of public policy." ( Doe v. Harris (2013) 57 Cal.4th 64, 71, 158 Cal.Rptr.3d 290, 302 P.3d 598.) "That the parties enter into a plea agreement thus does not have the effect of insulating them from changes in the law that the Legislature has intended to apply to them" ( id . at p. 66, 158 Cal.Rptr.3d 290, 302 P.3d 598 ), and "[i]t follows ... that requiring the parties’ compliance with changes in the law made retroactive to them does not violate the terms of the plea agreement" ( id . at p. 73, 158 Cal.Rptr.3d 290, 302 P.3d 598 ). (See Harris v. Superior Court (2016) 1...

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