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Multiple convictions for assault and evading police officers barred when arising from same objective

In re L.J. (Cal. Ct. App., Nov. 30, 2021, No. A161118) 2021 WL 5578276

Summary: Juvenile defendant came within Juvenile Court’s jurisdiction for reckless evasion of a peace officer, assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer, and assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury. The juvenile was committed to county institution until earliest of age of 21 or maximum custody time of six years and eight months and ordered to participate in treatment program, and Juvenile defendant appealed.

The Court of Appeal  agreed  that the punishment on the reckless evasion of police count must be stayed under section 654 because it is based on the same indivisible course of conduct with the same intent and objective as the assault counts. But the statute concerning offenses punishable in different ways by different provisions of law did not prohibit juvenile defendant from being punished for both assault convictions.

Penal Code Section 654 and bar on multiple punishment- Separate intents and objectiv

Section 654, subdivision (a) provides, “An act or omission that is punishable in different ways by different provisions of law shall be punished under the provision that provides for the longest potential term of imprisonment, but in no case shall the act or omission be punished under more than one provision.” “Th[is] section applies to juvenile court proceedings.” (In re Jesse F. (1982) 137 Cal.App.3d 164)

The statutory reference to an ‘act or omission’ may include not only a discrete physical act but also a course of conduct encompassing several acts pursued with a single objective. If the different crimes were completed by a ‘single physical act’ the the defendant may not be punished more than once for that act. If more than a single act—i.e., a course of conduct—was involved then courts consider whether that course of conduct reflects a single ‘intent and objective’ or multiple intents and objectives.” (People v. Corpening (2016) 2 Cal.5th 307, 311)

“When a trial court sentences a defendant to separate terms without making an express finding the defendant entertained separate objectives, the trial court is deemed to have made an implied finding each offense had a separate objective.” (People v. Islas (2012) 210 Cal.App.4th 116, 129)  Appellate review  is for substantial evidence of a trial court’s implied finding that a defendant had separate intents and objectives for different offenses. (Dowdell, at p. 1414)

Multiple Victims and Section 654

Section 654 does not apply to crimes of violence against multiple victims. A “defendant who commits an act of violence with the intent to harm more than one person or by a means likely to cause harm to several persons is more culpable than a defendant who harms only one person.” (People v. Correa (2012) 54 Cal.4th 331, 341)  The juvenile argues that the multiple victim exception does not apply here because the same three officers were the victims of both assault charges, citing  People v. Cardenas (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 220, 230, which stated, “To preclude application of section 654, however, each of the crimes must have involved at least one different victim.”

“The multiple victim exception, simply stated, permits one unstayed sentence per victim of all the violent crimes the defendant commits incidental to a single criminal intent.” (People v. Garcia (1995) 32 Cal.App.4th 1756, 1784, 39 Cal.Rptr.2d 73.) The juvenile committed assault against three different police officers and could therefore have been punished separately for each victim of his assaults without violating section 654. This rationale of the multiple-victim exception is to recognize the greater culpability of a defendant whose actions harm or threaten to harm multiple people. (People v. Correa, supra, 54 Cal.4th at p. 341)

Section 954 and multiple convictions based on the same conduct

“Section 954 provides: ‘An accusatory pleading may charge two or more different offenses connected together in their commission, or different statements of the same offense or two or more different offenses of the same class of crimes or offenses, under separate counts …. The prosecution is not required to elect between the different offenses or counts set forth in the accusatory pleading, but the defendant may be convicted of any number of the offenses charged ….’ Under section 954, as [the Supreme Court has] interpreted it, ‘a defendant properly may be convicted of two offenses if neither offense is necessarily included in the other, even though under section 654 he or she could not be punished for more than one offense arising from the single act or indivisible course of conduct.’ ” (People v. Vidana (2016) 1 Cal.5th 632, 636–637, 206 Cal.Rptr.3d 556, 377 P.3d 805, fn. omitted (Vidana).)

Section 954 authorizes multiple convictions for different or distinct offenses, but does not permit multiple convictions for a different statement of the same offense when it is based on the same act or course of conduct.’ ” (Id. at p. 650, 206 Cal.Rptr.3d 556)  Section 954 permits multiple convictions based on the same conduct except when the convictions rest on different statements of the same offense or when a statement of one offense is necessarily included within another. The juvenile argued on appeal that the exceptions to section 954 prohibit the court from convicting him of both force-likely assault under section 245, subdivision (a)(4) and deadly weapon assault on a peace officer under subdivision (c).

However, force-likely and deadly weapon assault have different elements, so that force-likely assault is not a lesser included offense of deadly weapon assault.

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