California Penal Code Section 1385(a)

In People v. Garcia (1999) 20 Cal.4th 490, the California Supreme Court considered whether a trial court, when applying the Three Strikes law, could exercise its discretion under Penal Code section 1385, subdivision (a), "so as to dismiss a prior conviction allegation with respect to one count but not another." (Garcia, supra, 20 Cal.4th at pp. 492-493.) The Court concluded a trial court could exercise its discretion in that way and that the trial court had not abused its discretion in doing so in that case. (Id. at p. 493.) The trial court found defendant Garcia guilty of burglarizing two homes. It found true an allegation that Garcia had five prior serious felony burglary convictions, all on the same date, that qualified as "strikes" for purposes of the Three Strikes law. The court found those five burglaries, that took place on separate occasions during a short crime spree, also qualified as one prior serious felony conviction for purposes of a five-year enhancement ( 667, subd. (a)(1)) and as a single prior prison term for purposes of a one-year enhancement ( 667.5, subd. (b)). (Id. at pp. 493-494.) At the sentencing hearing, defense counsel asked the court to exercise its discretion under section 1385 and People v. Superior Court (Romero) (1996) 13 Cal.4th 497 to dismiss or strike four of the five prior conviction allegations as to both burglary counts in order to make the case a "second strike" case and reduce Garcia's sentence to a term of twenty-two years and eight months. The trial court found "the interests of justice would not be served by striking four strikes" but continued the case to allow the defense to present further evidence connecting Garcia's crimes to drug addiction. Once it heard the additional evidence, the court agreed Garcia's drug addiction was a mitigating factor. Noting that the prior serious felony convictions arose from a single period of aberrant behavior, that those convictions resulted in a single prison term, that Garcia had cooperated with police in both his past and present cases, and that he had no record of violence (id. at p. 494), the trial court sentenced Garcia to 25 years to life under the Three Strikes law plus a 5-year enhancement as to one of the burglaries. It exercised its discretion under section 1385 and struck the three one-year enhancements for the prior prison terms. As to the second burglary, the trial court exercised its discretion under section 1385, subdivision (a), and struck all the prior conviction allegations, including the strike allegations, "because they 'all refer to one case, defendant has cooperated with police in both cases, is addicted to drugs and has not suffered any violent priors.'" (Id. at p. 495.) In concluding the trial court was authorized to strike the strike allegations as to one count but not as to the other, Garcia noted that the trial court's power to act on its own motion to dismiss a criminal action 'in furtherance of justice' under section 1385, subdivision (a) "includes the ability to strike prior conviction allegations that would otherwise increase a defendant's sentence." (Id. at p. 496, citing People v. Burke (1956) 47 Cal.2d 45, 50-51.) Garcia added that, in Burke, the California Supreme Court had "acknowledged that a court might strike a prior conviction allegation in one context, but use it in another." (Garcia, supra, at p. 496.) Garcia noted that, in Romero, it previously had "concluded that, in a Three Strikes case, the trial court can, on its own motion and over the prosecutor's objection, strike a prior conviction allegation in furtherance of justice. " (Id. at p. 497.) However, the Garcia Court stressed that such discretion is limited, that a trial court must consider the interests of society as well as the constitutional rights of the defendant, that a court may not strike a sentencing allegation simply to accommodate judicial convenience, to alleviate court congestion, or to benefit a defendant who pleads guilty. On the other hand, Garcia stressed that a court may not strike a sentencing allegation simply because it personally disliked the effect the three strikes law would have on a defendant while ignoring such individualized considerations as his background and the nature of his present offenses. (Id. at pp. 497-498.) The Garcia Court noted that its decision in People v. Williams (1998) 17 Cal.4th 148 explained that, when exercising section 1385 discretion in a Three Strikes case, the trial court could give no weight to factors extrinsic to the Three Strikes scheme, but "must accord 'preponderant weight . . . to factors intrinsic to the scheme, such as the nature and circumstances of the defendant's present felonies and prior serious and/or violent felony convictions, and the particulars of his background, character, and prospects' ," that "'ultimately, a court must determine whether 'the defendant may be deemed outside the scheme's spirit, in whole or in part.' Ibid." (Garcia, supra, at pp. 498-499.) Finally, Garcia concluded that the reasoning of Romero combined with the standards enunciated in Williams supported the action of the trial court. After noting that, "in many cases, 'the nature and circumstances' of the various felonies described in different counts will differ considerably," Garcia held that a trial court "might therefore be justified in striking prior conviction allegations with respect to a relatively minor current felony, while considering those prior convictions with respect to a serious or violent current felony." (Garcia, supra, at p. 499.) The Court added that, "even if the current offenses are virtually identical, a defendant's 'prospects' will differ greatly from one count to another because a Three Strikes sentence on one count will itself radically alter those prospects. Here, for example, once the trial court had sentenced defendant to a term of 30 years to life for the Kobel burglary, his 'prospects' for committing future burglaries diminished significantly." (Id. at p. 500.) The Court explained that "a trial judge, applying the factors we enumerated in Romero and Williams, may find adequate justification for striking one or more prior conviction allegations, but may deem appropriate the sentence that results from striking the prior conviction allegations as to only some counts. When a proper basis exists for a court to strike prior conviction allegations as to at least one current conviction, the law does not require the court to treat other current convictions with perfect symmetry if symmetrical treatment would result in an unjust sentence. . . . A requirement that a defendant serve the individual sentences for different current felonies consecutively does not indicate how the trial court should determine the lengths of those individual sentences. Here, for example, the trial court conformed to the consecutive sentencing requirement by ordering that the 16-month sentence for the Gantt burglary be served consecutively to the 30-year-to-life sentence for the Kobel burglary." (Garcia, supra, at p. 500.) In sum, Garcia concluded the Three Strikes Law authorizes trial courts to dismiss prior conviction allegations on a count-by-count basis, and that, therefore, although "a defendant's prior conviction status does not change from one count to another, and though it is appropriate to allege that status only once as to all current counts, the effect under the Three Strikes law of a defendant's prior conviction status may change from one count to another." (Id. at p. 502.)