California Ex Post Facto Laws and Landmark Cases

"Article I, section 10, clause 1 of the federal Constitution and article I, section 9 of the state Constitution prohibit the passage of ex post facto laws. California's ex post facto law is analyzed in the same manner as the federal prohibition. 'The ex post facto clauses of the state and federal Constitutions are "aimed at laws that 'retroactively alter the definition of crimes or increase the punishment for criminal acts.'"'" (People v. Alford (2007) 42 Cal.4th 749, 755 (Alford).) Since the court facilities assessment does not alter the definition of a crime; the question is whether it increases punishment. "In making this determination we consider 'whether the Legislature intended the provision to constitute punishment and, if not, whether the provision is so punitive in nature or effect that it must be found to constitute punishment despite the Legislature's contrary intent.'" (Alford, supra, 42 Cal.4th at p. 755.) "'If the intention of the legislature was to impose punishment, that ends the inquiry. If, however, the intention was to enact a regulatory scheme that is civil and nonpunitive, we must further examine whether the statutory scheme is "'so punitive either in purpose or effect as to negate the State's intention' to deem it 'civil.'" Because we "ordinarily defer to the legislature's stated intent," , "'only the clearest proof' will suffice to override legislative intent and transform what has been denominated a civil remedy into a criminal penalty," .'" (Ibid.) In determining whether such proof exists, the court considers five factors. "'The factors most relevant to our analysis are whether, in its necessary operation, the regulatory scheme: has been regarded in our history and traditions as a punishment; imposes an affirmative disability or restraint; promotes the traditional aims of punishment; has a rational connection to a nonpunitive purpose; or is excessive with respect to this purpose.'" (Id. at p. 757, quoting Smith v. Doe (2003) 538 U.S. 84, 97.) In Alford, the California State Supreme Court held that imposition of a $ 20 court security fee pursuant to Penal Code section 1465.8 to a crime that was committed before the effective date of that code section did not violate state and federal prohibitions against ex post facto laws. (Alford, supra, 42 Cal.4th at p. 752.) In concluding the fee was enacted for a nonpunitive purpose, the court relied on the following factors: (1) the stated purpose of the fee ("'to ensure and maintain adequate funding for court security'") is nonpunitive; (2) the fee is imposed not only on persons convicted of crimes, but also when a traffic violation charge is dismissed because the violator attends traffic school and when bail is posted; (3) Penal Code section 1465.8 "could only go into effect if specified levels of trial court funding were enacted by the Legislature"; (4) "the Legislature also referred to the $ 20 amount due upon conviction by a nonpunitive term, labeling it as a 'fee' and not a 'fine.'" (Id. at pp. 756-757.) After concluding that the fee was enacted for a nonpunitive purpose, the court considered whether the fee was so punitive in nature as to override the Legislature's intent. (Alford, supra, 42 Cal.4th at p. 757.) The court found that imposition of the fee was not properly characterized as punishment because: (1) its purpose was "not to punish but to ensure adequate funding for court security"; (2) it is not imposed only in a criminal context; (3) whether or not it became effective was completely dependent upon the funding of other budget line items. (Id. at p. 758.) The court found that given the relatively small amount of the fee ($ 20), it does not impose an affirmative disability or restraint and does not promote the traditional aims of punishment: retribution or deterrence. (Ibid.) Rather, it "promotes court safety. . . ." (Id. at p. 759.) Finally, the court concluded the fee has a rational connection to a nonpunitive purpose and is not excessive with respect to that purpose, noting that "the amount of the fee is not dependent on the seriousness of the offense," and "it is inconceivable that the defendant would have decided not to commit his crime had he known in advance that this $ 20 fee would be imposed in addition to his 40-year-to-life sentence." (Ibid.)