No dismissal of non-felony motor vehicle charges when defendant is charged in a single action and sentenced to prison

People v. Escareno (Cal. Ct. App., May 24, 2021, No. A160209) 2021 WL 2069434, at *1–4

Summary: Escareno pleaded no contest to two felonies, four misdemeanors and an infraction arising from a single incident of driving under the influence of alcohol and without a valid license. The  trial court refused  to dismiss the misdemeanor and infraction counts pursuant to Vehicle Code section 41500 after sentencing him to prison on the felony counts. Escareno appealed and the Court affirmed.

Escareno was charged with felony driving under the influence of alcohol after two prior felony convictions for the same (Veh. Code,1 §§ 23152, subd. (a), 23550.5) (count 1); felony driving with .08 percent or higher blood alcohol after two prior felony convictions for the same (§§ 23152, subd. (b), 23550.5) (count 2); misdemeanor unlawful operation of a vehicle not equipped with a functioning ignition interlock device (§ 23247, subd. (e)) (count 3); misdemeanor driving when privilege suspended for driving under the influence, with priors (§ 14601.2, subd. (a)) (count 4); misdemeanor driving while license suspended or revoked, with priors (§ 14601.5, subd. (a)) (count 5); misdemeanor driving without a valid license (§ 12500, subd. (a)) (count 6); and possession of an open container of alcoholic beverage while driving, an infraction (§ 23222, subd. (a)) (count 7).

Escareno entered pleas of no contest to all counts and admitted the special allegations and prior convictions.

At sentencing on April 21, 2020, the court imposed the three-year aggravated term on count 1 and the same sentence on count 2, stayed pursuant to Penal Code section 654; the court turned to sentencing on the misdemeanors and infraction and defense counsel interjected that these counts had to be dismissed pursuant to section 41500 because the court was sentencing appellant to prison. The prosecutor disagreed and the court concurred, stating it did not read section 41500 as applying to charges filed concurrently with a pending felony case. Proceeding with the misdemeanor counts, the court imposed a sentence of 104 days in county jail and a fine, both stayed pursuant to Penal Code section 654. The court also stayed the fine on the infraction pursuant to Penal Code section 654.

Section 41500 and dismissal of non felony counts

Section 41500, subdivision (a), provides: “A person shall not be subject to prosecution for a nonfelony offense arising out of the operation of a motor vehicle … that is pending against him or her at the time of his or her commitment to the custody of the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Division of Juvenile Justice in the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, or to a county jail pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code.”

This statute “is an exception to the rule that all criminal offenses are subject to prosecution.” (Joseph v. Superior Court (1992) 9 Cal.App.4th 498, 503, 11 Cal.Rptr.2d 757.) “ ‘[T]here is … strong public policy that allows felons sentenced to state institutions to obtain relief from detainers that might render their release date uncertain and thus adversely affect their eventual rehabilitation.’ ” (People v. Lopez (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th Supp. 6, 11, 160 Cal.Rptr.3d 678 (Lopez), quoting People v. Freeman (1987) 225 Cal.App.3d Supp. 1, 4, 275 Cal.Rptr. 373 (Freeman).) “A prisoner serving time often faces other charges or proceedings when his term of imprisonment is completed. These are sometimes referred to as ‘detainers’ or ‘holds.’ They render the prisoner’s final date of release into the community uncertain, and often adversely affect his security classification thereby preventing his participation in various programs otherwise available to prisoners.” (Freeman, at p. Supp. 4, fn. 2, 275 Cal.Rptr. 373.)

The policy favoring relief from detainers “ ‘was expressly adverted to by the Legislature in the enactment of section 41500. In amending the section in 1972, the Legislature noted that the purpose of section 41500 is to allow prisoners to leave prison with a clean record. The Legislature further noted in 1975, when the section was amended to extend coverage to Youth Authority wards, that the rehabilitative process is aided by eliminating the interruptions due to arrest and prosecution for nonfelony traffic violations …,’ ” which occurred prior to commitment to the Youth Authority. (Lopez, supra, 218 Cal.App.4th at p. Supp. 11, 160 Cal.Rptr.3d 678, quoting Freeman, supra, 225 Cal.App.3d at p. Supp. 4, 275 Cal.Rptr. 373.) Furthermore, it is in the public interest that courts not be burdened with the prosecution of minor cases where the defendant has already been sentenced to serve a long term in prison or in the Youth Authority, and the additional prosecution will not substantially increase that term. (Freeman, at p. Supp. 4, 275 Cal.Rptr. 373.)

Escareno’s issue on this appeal as whether these “pending” misdemeanor charges and infraction were subject to the section 41500, subdivision (a), ban on prosecution, or were exempt from that ban pursuant to the statutory exception stated in section 41500, subdivision (d). Subdivision (d) provides: “The provisions of this section shall not apply to a nonfelony offense if the department is required by this code to immediately revoke or suspend the privilege of a person to drive a motor vehicle upon receipt of a duly certified abstract of the record of a court showing that the person has been convicted of that nonfelony offense.” Escareno argues that none of the nonfelony offenses come within the subdivision (d) exception and, therefore, they should have been dismissed.

The State argues that  section 41500, subdivision (a), is  inapplicable  because the misdemeanors and infraction were charged and prosecuted together with the felonies as part of a single, unitary proceeding. The nonfelony offenses were not “pending” at the time of sentencing because they had been resolved citing Joseph v. Superior Court, supra, 9 Cal.App.4th at page 505, 11 Cal.Rptr.2d 757, that “sentencing occurs at the end of proceedings, not during their pendency.”

The question in the present case is whether the reference in section 41500 to a “nonfelony offense … that is pending” against a person “at the time of his or her commitment” to prison was intended to encompass offenses prosecuted in the same action as the offenses resulting in the prison sentence.

Here, prosecution and sentencing of the nonfelony offenses was at the same time  with that of the felony offenses, and the sentence imposed is what the court deems appropriate for all the offenses together.

Primary goal of statutory interpretation is to effectuate Legislature’s intent

“The main goal of statutory interpretation is to effectuate the Legislature’s intent. (See Riverside County Sheriff’s Dept. v. Stiglitz (2014) 60 Cal.4th 624, 630, 181 Cal.Rptr.3d 1, 339 P.3d 295.) Thus, ‘the “plain meaning” rule does not prohibit a court from determining whether the literal meaning of a statute comports with its purpose or whether such a construction of one provision is consistent with other provisions of the statute…. Literal construction should not prevail if it is contrary to the legislative intent apparent in the statute. The intent prevails over the letter, and the letter will, if possible, be so read as to conform to the spirit of the act.’ (Lungren v. Deukmejian (1988) 45 Cal.3d 727, 735 [248 Cal.Rptr. 115, 755 P.2d 299]; Riverside County Sheriff’s Dept.[, at p.] 630 [181 Cal.Rptr.3d 1, 339 P.3d 295]; People v. Mullendore (2014) 230 Cal.App.4th 848, 854 [179 Cal.Rptr.3d 7].)” (People v. Henderson (2020) 46 Cal.App.5th 533, 545, 260 Cal.Rptr.3d 104.)

Applying section 41500 to a defendant being prosecuted in a single action for felony and nonfelony offenses arising out of a single incident would further none of the Legislature’s purposes in section 41500 and would offer a windfall to a defendant who committed multiple offenses, contrary to the “strong public policy that drinking drivers, particularly repeating drinking drivers, not drive a vehicle for specified periods of time, and not until they have complied with certain corrective conditions.” (Freeman, at p. 4, 275 Cal.Rptr. 373.)3



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