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Trial court may consider more than one preliminary hearing record in ruling on a section 995 motion

People v. Henson (Cal., Aug. 1, 2022, No. S252702) 2022 WL 3023508

Summary:  Henson was charged with unlawfully driving or taking a vehicle after having suffered three prior felony theft convictions involving vehicles, and  was subsequently charged in in a separate case with unlawfully driving or taking a vehicle after having suffered three prior felony theft convictions involving vehicles. The People sought to file unitary information covering both cases. The Superior Court, granted Henson’s motion to set aside the information with respect to counts associated with the  initial incident. The People appealed. The Court of Appeal reversed and remanded.

The Supreme Court  held that: The joinder of charges brought in separate felony complaints was proper, and the trial court was permitted to consider the preliminary hearing records from both of defendant’s felony cases, which had been joined by the People, when ruling on motion to set aside.

Joinder Clause Penal Code 954

Penal Code section 954 provides:

 “[1] 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, and

Consolidation Clause

[2] if two or more accusatory pleadings are filed in such cases in the same court, the court may order them to be consolidated.”

Issue:

Whether and under what circumstances a trial court can consider more than one preliminary hearing record in ruling on a motion under section 995 to set aside the information for lack of probable cause to support the commitment order. (See § 995, subd. (a)(2).)

Holding:Section 954’s joinder clause permits a district attorney to file a single information in the circumstances presented here, provided that the applicable time constraints are satisfied. When related offenses are properly joined by the district attorney, a trial court is permitted to consider more than one preliminary hearing record in ruling on a section 995 motion. The Supreme Court  affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which reversed the trial court’s order of dismissal.

Section  954’s Joinder Clause

California has long adhered to a policy of promoting judicial economy through the joinder of appropriately related offenses, subject to severance as necessary to protect the interests of the defendant.

Superior Court jurisdiction begins with filing of the information

The felony complaint is filed “with the magistrate,” not with the court, and the first pleading in a felony case that is filed with the court is the information. It is only with the filing of that information that the superior court begins to exercise its jurisdiction.

Because of the institutional separation between magistrate proceedings and trial court proceedings, pleadings filed in magistrate proceedings do not limit the district attorney’s joinder power under section 954, a statute that is primarily concerned with trial court proceedings. Since 1951, section 954’s joinder clause has provided: “An accusatory pleading may charge two or more different offenses connected together in their commission … or two or more different offenses of the same class of crimes or offenses ….” (§ 954.) The information that initiates a felony case is  an accusatory pleading (see § 691), and therefore under the express terms of section 954, the district attorney is free to join in that information different offenses connected in their commission or of the same class, and no court order is required to that end. The only limitations section 954 imposes on this joinder power concern the way in which the offenses must be related and the grant of authority to trial courts to sever joined offenses when necessary to protect the interests of the defendant. When a law authorizes an act it does not need to expressly authorize each individual way the act can be carried out. Section 954 need not specify that the joinder power extends to offenses that were the subject of different magistrate proceedings.

When a trial court addresses a section 995 motion, it is free to consider the records of multiple magistrate proceedings and no consolidation of those proceedings, or their records, is necessary. If a trial court were not permitted to do so, then the district attorney’s broad authority under section 954’s joinder clause to join related charges in a single information would be unduly constrained.

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