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Trial court dismissal of prior strikes was unreasonable

People v. Beasley (Cal. Ct. App., July 21, 2022, No. G060302) 2022 WL 2866212, at *1–4

Summary: Beasley was on parole from a 25-to-life sentence when he committed first degree robbery, using  a knife in the commission of the offense, which exposed him to a maximum sentence of at least 35 years to life. The trial court dismissed all three of Beasley’s prior strike convictions, his three prior serious felony convictions and the weapon-use enhancement, and sentenced him to the low term of two years in prison. The district attorney  filed this appeal. The Court of Appeal concluded  the trial court’s order dismissing the prior strike convictions plainly “fell outside the bounds of reason under the applicable law and the relevant facts.” (People v. Williams (1998) 17 Cal.4th 148, 164  (Williams.)  the Court reversed the judgment and remanded the matter to allow Beasley an opportunity to withdraw his guilty plea.

Factual and Procedural Background

Beasley committed second degree robbery and personally used a knife in the commission of the crime. Beasley had three prior convictions for offenses constituting “strikes” within the meaning of the Three Strikes law, and serious felonies  within the meaning of Penal Code section 667, subdivision (a)(1). Beasley pled guilty to robbery. He also admitted the weapon-use enhancement and that he had suffered the alleged prior convictions.

The Superior Court judge noted that Beasley was facing a maximum sentence of 35 years to life and indicated to Beasley that he would strike the strike priors and impose a two-year term in state prison. Beasley acknowledged he understood he would receive the indicated disposition if he pled guilty.

 The deputy district attorney opposed the dismissal of the strikes, arguing Beasley’s conduct did not fall outside the spirit of the Three Strikes Law because  Beasley had been committing crimes almost his entire adult life of increasingseriousness.

When Beasley was 25 years old, he was convicted of evading a police officer, causing the death of an occupant of a parked vehicle.Beasley was sentenced to 25 years to life,  released from prison on April 29, 2020, and 10 months later, while still on parole, committed the first degree robbery on February 27, 2021.

Abuse of discretion in dismissing all three  strike convictions

Beasley did not object at sentencing or on appeal and did  not identify any facts of his prior convictions that are inaccurate. The Court of Appeal  consider those facts. (See People v. Mayfield (2020) 50 Cal.App.5th 1096. (Mayfield) [reviewing court may properly consider information in appellate brief pertaining to defendant’s criminal history based on sentencing brief where appellant did not object below and on appeal does not identify any specific inaccuracies].)

Three Strikes law is not discretionary

Penal Code section 1385, subdivision (a), provides that a “judge or magistrate may, either on motion of the court or upon the application of the prosecuting attorney, and in furtherance of justice, order an action to be dismissed. The reasons for the dismissal shall be stated orally on the record.” Pursuant to section 1385, subdivision (a), a trial court may dismiss a prior strike allegation in the furtherance of justice. (People v. Superior Court (Romero) (1996) 13 Cal.4th 497, 530-531.)

A court’s “great power” to dismiss a prior strike conviction “should only be used in ‘extraordinary’ circumstances, when the ends of justice demand it.” (Mayfield, supra, 50 Cal.App.5th at p. 1105, 264 Cal.Rptr.3d 633, citing People v. Carmony (2004) 33 Cal.4th 367, 378, and People v. Strong (2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 328.) In exercising its discretion, the trial court “must consider whether, in light of the nature and circumstances of his present felonies and prior serious and/or violent felony convictions, and the particulars of his background, character, and prospects, the defendant may be deemed outside the scheme’s spirit, in whole or in part, and hence should be treated as though he had not previously been convicted of one or more serious and/or violent felonies.” (Williams, supra, 17 Cal.4th at p. 161.) “And, of course, the court must remember the Three Strikes law is not discretionary in nature. The law must be applied when the defendant has two or more prior strikes, unless the court concludes an exception to the law should be made because, for articulable reasons that can withstand scrutiny for abuse, the defendant lies outside the spirit of the law such that he should be treated as though he had not previously been convicted of one or more strikes.” (Mayfield, supra, 50 Cal.App.5th at p. 1105.)

Trial court’s reasons for striking all three of Beasley’s strike priors do not withstand scrutiny

The first stated reason was that “the degree of monetary loss in the current offense was not substantial,” which is a factor relating to the present offense. Beasley took all he could get; this was not a matter of limiting his damage, it was a matter of the easiest target not having a lot. (See Cal. Rules of Court, rule 4.423, subdivision (a) [listing mitigating factors].)

Another stated reason was “the strike prior convictions alleged are over 23 years old.” The reason Beasley’s priors were old is that he had been in prison for most of the past 23 years for his third strike offense in 1998. He was still on parole when he committed the instant offense. Beasley had not shown that his strike priors led him to reform his life. (Mayfield, supra, 50 Cal.App.5th at p. 1107, 264 Cal.Rptr.3d 633 [“older strike convictions do not deserve judicial forgiveness unless the defendant has used them as a pivot point for reforming his ways”].)

A prior conviction may be stricken if it is remote, but “[a] prior strike conviction is not considered ‘remote’ for the purposes of mitigation where the defendant has not demonstrated a prolonged period of rehabilitation (a crime free life) in the interim.” (People v. Vasquez (2021) 72 Cal.App.5th 374.)

“In analyzing whether a defendant’s prior criminal conduct was ‘remote,’ a trial court should consider whether the defendant ‘was incarcerated a substantial part of the intervening time and thus had little or no opportunity to commit’ additional crimes.” (Ibid.; see also People v. Gaston (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 310.)  The 23 years between the last strike offense and the current offense cannot support dismissal of the strikes.

Tgdv trial court found that the defendant acknowledged wrongdoing at an early stage of the criminal process, which is a recognized mitigating factor. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 4.423(b)(8).) “While this circumstance is relevant to our analysis, … the mere presence of some mitigating circumstances cannot insulate a trial court’s decision to strike a prior strike conviction against a charge of abuse of discretion.” (Mayfield, supra, 50 Cal.App.5th at p. 1109.) Here, this lone mitigating factor stands in contrast to the numerous aggravating factors. In opposition to these “mitigating factors” are egregious aggravating factors. Those include that: the crime involved the use of a weapon (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 4.421(a)(2)); defendant has served multiple prior prison terms (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 4.421(b)(3)); defendant was on parole when the crime was committed (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 4.421(b)(4)); and defendant’s prior performance on probation and parole was unsatisfactory (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 4.421(b)(5)). There wssnothing in the record pertaining to Beasley’s background, character, or prospects that would militate against application of the Three Strikes law.

The Court of Appeal reversed  the judgment and remand the matter to allow the defendant to withdraw his guilty plea. “All charges and enhancements will be reinstated and the case returned to status quo ante the court’s offer.” (Mayfield, supra, 50 Cal.App.5th at p. 1109.)

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