Admitting Prior Convictions - California case law

A criminal defendant who pleads guilty, waives three constitutional rights: (1) the privilege against self-incrimination, (2) the right to a jury trial, and (3) the right to confront one's accusers. A waiver of these fundamental constitutional rights must be made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. Such a waiver may not be presumed from a silent record. The record must affirmatively disclose that the waiver was made knowingly and voluntarily. (Boykin v. Alabama (1969) 395 U.S. 238, 243.) In California, the same rule applies to admitting a prior conviction or prior prison term allegation. (In re Yurko (1974) 10 Cal.3d 857, 863.) In In re Tahl (1969) 1 Cal.3d 122, the California Supreme Court held that the trial court must advise a defendant, on the record, of his or her rights against self-incrimination, to a jury trial, and to confrontation, and the defendant must waive these rights, on the record, before the trial court accepts a guilty plea. (Ibid.) After Tahl was decided, the California Supreme court clarified in People v. Howard (1992) 1 Cal.4th 1132 (Howard), that the requirement of such advisals is a matter of the court's own supervisory powers and not a matter of federal constitutional law. (Id. at p. 1175.) Therefore, even when a trial court fails to advise a defendant of his or her constitutional rights, a guilty plea "is valid if the record affirmatively shows that it is voluntary and intelligent under the totality of the circumstances. " (Ibid.) The Supreme Court explained in People v. Mosby (2004) 33 Cal.4th 353, 361, that, "After our Howard decision, an appellate court must go beyond the courtroom colloquy to assess a claim of Yurko error. Now, if the transcript does not reveal complete advisements and waivers, the reviewing court must examine the record of 'the entire proceeding' to assess whether the defendant's admission of the prior conviction was intelligent and voluntary in light of the totality of circumstances." (Ibid.) Thus, a defendant who admits a prior conviction without expressly waiving his or her rights to remain silent and confront adverse witnesses may nevertheless be found to have made a voluntary and intelligent waiver of those rights so long as "the totality of circumstances surrounding the admission supports such a conclusion." (Id. at p. 356; see also Howard, supra, 1 Cal.4th at p. 1178.) The court in Mosby distinguished between two types of cases in which defendants admitted prior convictions after a jury trial on the substantive charges: (1) truly silent record cases, those in which the record showed "no express advisement or waiver of the Boykin-Tahl rights before a defendant's admission of a prior conviction" (Mosby, supra, 33 Cal.4th at p. 361); and (2) incomplete Boykin-Tahl advisement cases, those in which defendants had been advised of their right to a jury trial, but not of the other two constitutional rights. (Mosby, at pp. 362-364.) With regard to the truly silent record cases (e.g., People v. Stills (1994) 29 Cal.App.4th 1766; People v. Campbell (1999) 76 Cal.App.4th 305; People v. Moore (1992) 8 Cal.App.4th 411; People v. Johnson (1993) 15 Cal.App.4th 169 nearly silent), Mosby concluded the defendants' admissions were not voluntary and knowing: "In all of the silent record cases . . . a jury trial on a substantive offense preceded the defendants' admissions of prior convictions. These defendants were not told on the record of their right to trial to determine the truth of a prior conviction allegation. Nor did they expressly waive their right to trial. In such cases, in which the defendant was not advised of the right to have a trial on an alleged prior conviction, it cannot be inferred that in admitting the prior the defendant has knowingly and intelligently waived that right as well as the associated rights to silence and confrontation of witnesses." (Mosby, supra, 33 Cal.4th at p. 362.) In the incomplete advisement cases (People v. Carroll (1996) 47 Cal.App.4th 892; People v. Howard (1994) 25 Cal.App.4th 1660; People v. Torres (1996) 43 Cal.App.4th 1073; People v. Garcia (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 1242), the defendants had participated in jury trials and thereafter admitted priors. Their admissions were made after they were advised of the right to a jury trial, but not of the rights to confront witnesses or against self-incrimination. The Courts of Appeal held that the totality of circumstances in those cases did not show the admissions were voluntary and intelligent, and the incomplete advisements required reversal. Mosby disapproved these incomplete advisement cases, as well as People v. Van Buren (2001) 93 Cal.App.4th 875. (Mosby, supra, 33 Cal.4th at p. 365, fn. 3.) In Mosby, "immediately after the jury found defendant guilty of selling cocaine, defendant was told he had a right to a jury trial on the prior conviction allegation." (Mosby, supra, 33 Cal.4th at p. 364.) The defendant thereafter admitted the prior convictions. (Id. at pp. 357-359.) Mosby reasoned that "unlike a trial on a criminal charge, trial on a prior conviction is 'simple and straightforward,' often involving only a presentation by the prosecution 'of a certified copy of the prior conviction along with the defendant's photograph or fingerprints' and no defense evidence at all. In Mosby, the defendant, who was represented by counsel, had just undergone a jury trial at which he did not testify, although his codefendant did. Thus, he not only would have known of, but had just exercised, his right to remain silent at trial, forcing the prosecution to prove he had sold cocaine. And, because he had, through counsel, confronted witnesses at that immediately concluded trial, he would have understood that at a trial he had the right of confrontation." (Id. at p. 364.) In addition, the Mosby court pointed out that "'a defendant's prior experience with the criminal justice system' is . . . 'relevant to the question of whether he knowingly waived constitutional rights.'" (Id. at p. 365, quoting Parke v. Raley (1992) 506 U.S. 20, 37; see also United States v. Dawson (9th Cir. 1999) 193 F.3d 1107, 1110-1111.) Under the totality of circumstances, Mosby concluded that the "defendant voluntarily and intelligently admitted his prior conviction despite being advised of and having waived only his right to jury trial." (Mosby, supra, 33 Cal.4th at p. 365.) "'He knew he did not have to admit the prior conviction but could have had a jury or court trial, had just participated in a jury trial where he had confronted witnesses and remained silent, and had experience in pleading guilty in the past, namely, the very conviction that he was now admitting.'" (Ibid.)