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California Racial Justice Act of 2020 Applies to Defendants who are resentenced

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. MARIO GARCIA, Defendant and Appellant. (Cal. Ct. App., Nov. 10, 2022, No. A163046) 2022 WL 16848390, at *1–5

Summary:  Garcia was sentenced to 24 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of assault on a peace officer with a semiautomatic firearm (Pen. Code, § 245, subd. (d)(2))1 and other counts. In this  appeal, Garcia contends he is entitled to resentencing under section 1170, subdivision (b), as amended by Senate Bill No. 567 (Senate Bill 567). He also argues that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his request for a continuance of the sentencing hearing so that he could develop facts to support a motion for discovery under the California Racial Justice Act of 2020 (CRJA).

The Court of Appeal held that Garcia was entitled to a reasonable continuance to prepare his motion for discovery under the CRJA and entitled to resentencing under section 1170, subdivision (b). The Court  reversed the judgment and remand for further proceedings.

Procedural Background

In March 2021, Garcia filed a motion in pro per under section 1385 to strike the ten-year firearm use enhancement. The trial court  appointed counsel and May 14, 2021, Garcia  filed his sentencing brief as well as a motion to continue the sentencing hearing. Garcia argued that he had recourse under section 745 “to show that a longer or more severe sentence was imposed on the defendant than was imposed on other similarly situated individuals convicted of the same offense, and longer or more severe sentences were more frequently imposed for that offense on people that share the defendant’s race, ethnicity, or national origin than on defendants of other races, ethnicities, or national origins in the county where the sentence was imposed.”

At the sentencing hearing, the trial court heard arguments from counsel, that“there’s a new law that just passed in January of 2021 that shows that usually Latinos or the Latino population that are being sentenced are being sentenced harsher than their counterparts. And that also is in front of the Court.”

Taking “into consideration the new racial animus act,” the trial court acknowledged that Garcia’s counsel did not have “time to really flesh out the statistics” bearing out that “people of color are treated more harshly in the criminal justice system.” The court also indicated it considered the evidence of Garcia”s good character while in prison, but found nevertheless that his lack of remorse, his unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions, his prior criminal record, and the violent nature of the offense warranted the enhancement. The court denied the section 1385 motion.Garcia appealed.

Resentencing Under Section 1170
Garcia argues, and the People agreed, that he should be resentenced under section 1170, subdivision (b), as amended by Senate Bill 567.

Under the law in effect at the time defendant was initially sentenced in 2018, section 1170, subdivision (b), provided that when a judgment of imprisonment is to be imposed and the statute specifies three possible terms, the trial court has discretion to choose the appropriate term. Senate Bill 567, effective January 1, 2022, amended section 1170 to provide: “The court may impose a sentence exceeding the middle term only when there are circumstances in aggravation of the crime that justify the imposition of a term of imprisonment exceeding the middle term, and the facts underlying those circumstances have been stipulated to by the defendant, or have been found true beyond a reasonable doubt at trial by the jury or by the judge in a court trial.” (§ 1170, subd. (b)(2).)

Here, the sentencing court chose the upper term of nine years on count one based on the aggravating circumstance that the offense involved a threat of great bodily injury to multiple individuals. Garcia  argued that he never stipulated to this finding, and the People concede there was no trial in which the circumstance in aggravation was found to be true beyond a reasonable doubt. The parties further agree that because Senate Bill 567 is ameliorative, and because there is no indication the Legislature intended it to apply prospectively only, the new law applies retroactively to defendant. (People v. Flores (2022) 73 Cal.App.5th 1032, 1039.)

The Court concluded that Garcia was entitled to resentencing under section 1170, subdivision (b).

Denial of Continuance

Garcia argued that  the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion for a continuance to enable him to develop facts in support of a motion for discovery under the CRJA. The Court of  Appeal agreed.

Overview of CRJA

Effective January 1, 2021, the CRJA prohibits state criminal convictions or sentences “on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin.” (§ 745, subd. (a).) To prove a violation of the CRJA, a defendant must show by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) any of the various individuals involved in the case—including a judge, attorney, law enforcement officer, expert witness, or juror—“exhibited bias or animus towards the defendant because of the defendant’s race, ethnicity, or national origin”; (2) during the trial and court proceedings, any of the various individuals “used racially discriminatory language about the defendant’s race, ethnicity, or national origin, or otherwise exhibited bias or animus towards the defendant because of the defendant’s race, ethnicity, or national origin, whether or not purposeful”; (3) the defendant was charged or convicted “of a more serious offense than defendants of other races, ethnicities, or national origins who commit similar offenses and are similarly situated, and the evidence establishes that the prosecution more frequently sought or obtained convictions for more serious offenses against people who share the defendant’s race, ethnicity, or national origin in the county where the convictions were sought or obtained”; or (4) “[a] longer or more severe sentence was imposed on the defendant than was imposed on other similarly situated individuals convicted of the same offense, and longer or more severe sentences were more frequently imposed for that offense on people that share the defendant’s race, ethnicity, or national origin” or “on defendants in cases with victims of one race, ethnicity, or national origin[s],” in the county where the sentence was imposed. (§ 745, subd. (a)(1)–(4).)

“A defendant may file a motion in the trial court or, if judgment has been imposed, may file a petition for writ of habeas corpus or a motion under Section 1473.7 in a court of competent jurisdiction, alleging a violation of subdivision (a).” (§ 745, subd. (b).) If a defendant makes a prima facie showing of a CRJA violation, the trial court shall hold an evidentiary hearing, and the defendant has the burden of proving a violation by a preponderance of the evidence. (Id., subd. (c)(1)–(2).) The CRJA sets forth various available remedies for successful prejudgment (id., subd. (e)(1)) and postjudgment claims (id., subd. (e)(2)), including vacating the conviction and sentence and imposing a new sentence not greater than that previously imposed (ibid.).

The CRJA also contains the following discovery provision: “A defendant may file a motion requesting disclosure to the defense of all evidence relevant to a potential violation of subdivision (a) in the possession or control of the state. A motion filed under this section shall describe the type of records or information the defendant seeks. Upon a showing of good cause, the court shall order the records to be released. Upon a showing of good cause, and if the records are not privileged, the court may permit the prosecution to redact information prior to disclosure.” (§ 745, subd. (d).)

Discovery under California Racial Justice Act of 2020

In Young v. Superior Court (2022) 79 Cal.App.5th 138 (Young), Division Four of the First Appellate District held that the good cause requirement for discovery under the CRJA, like the showing required for the disclosure of law enforcement records under Pitchess, requires a defendant “only to advance a plausible factual foundation, based on specific facts, that a violation of the [CJRA] ‘could or might have occurred’ in his case.” (Young, at p. 159.) As Young explained, this “plausible justification” standard is “minimal” and even more relaxed than the “ ‘relatively relaxed’ ” good cause standard for Pitchess discovery, which requires a logical link between the charge and a proposed defense.

Although trial courts enjoy broad discretion to determine whether good cause exists to grant a continuance of trial, such discretion “ ‘ “may not be exercised so as to deprive the defendant or his attorney of a reasonable opportunity to prepare.” ’ ” (People v. Alexander (2010) 49 Cal.4th 846, 934–935.) Here, defendant’s counsel had less than a week after she was appointed to familiarize herself with the case, prepare the sentencing brief, and marshal facts for and prepare a motion for discovery under the CRJA. The plausible justification standard is “minimal,” but must still be “based on specific facts.” (Young, supra, 79 Cal.App.5th at p. 159.) Thus, preparing a discovery motion under the CRJA necessarily entails a fairly thorough review of the trial record for any remarks or conduct by the trial judge, attorneys, experts, jurors, and law enforcement officers that may plausibly support the conclusion that a CRJA violation “ ‘could or might have occurred’ in [the] case.”

Garcia should have been given a reasonable opportunity to review the trial record and gather relevant information to prepare a motion for discovery under the CRJA. The error was not harmless under any standard because, as indicated, nothing in the record indicates either way whether defendant’s counsel could have discovered facts plausibly supporting a motion for CRJA discovery had she been given a reasonable opportunity to do so.

 “[I]t is well settled that when a case is remanded for resentencing after an appeal, the defendant is entitled to ‘all the normal rights and procedures available at his original sentencing’ [citations], including consideration of any pertinent circumstances which have arisen since the prior sentence was imposed.” (Dix v. Superior Court (1991) 53 Cal.3d 442, 460.) Here, the CRJA’s January 1, 2021, effective date was a pertinent circumstance that arose after the remittitur and before the resentencing hearing. The trial court was not barred from considering it.

In criminal cases, “judgment is synonymous with the imposition of sentence.” (People v. Perez (1979) 23 Cal.3d 545, 549, fn. 2.) Here, in July 2020, the judgment was partially reversed and remanded, and Garcia was not resentenced until May 17, 2021. Moreover, the People concede in this appeal that Garcia is entitled to resentencing yet again under Senate Bill 567, and thus, a judgment has yet to be entered. Because judgment was not entered at the time the CRJA became effective on January 1, 2021, Garcia is not barred from seeking relief under the new law.

Disposition

The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s denial of Garcia’s  request for a continuance and remanded  with directions to grant a reasonable continuance for defendant to prepare a motion for discovery under the CRJA.

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