California Penal Code Section 667.61 Subdivision (G) - Interpretation

In People v. Jones (2001) 25 Cal.4th 98, the trial court imposed consecutive 25-years-to-life terms under section 667.61, and the Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that that when sexual " 'crimes involve the same victim on "separate occasions" within the meaning of Penal Code section 667.6, subdivision (d), then . . . each such crime also has been committed against a single victim during a different "single occasion" within the meaning of Penal Code section 667.61, subdivision (g).' " ( Id. at p. 103.) The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the terms "separate occasions" in section 667.6, subdivision (d) and "single occasion" in section 667.61, subdivision (g) "are similar but they are not identical." ( People v. Jones, supra, 25 Cal.4th at p. 105.) The court noted that since the Legislature has not consistently used the phrase "separate occasions" to refer either to the perpetrator's intent and objective or the temporal proximity of relevant events, courts have not applied the broad definition of that phrase in section 667.6, subdivision (d) to other statutes containing similar terms. ( Id. at pp. 105-106.) Moreover, the court found no evidence of legislative intent to import the reasonable-opportunity-for-reflection concept from the definition of "separate occasions" into the definition of "single occasion" in section 667.61, subdivision (g). Indeed, the court found the reasonable-opportunity-for-reflection analysis inconsistent with other parts the statute. (Ibid.) Given the harshness of the punishment prescribed by section 667.61--life imprisonment--and the lack of "definitive legislative direction," the court viewed the statute in the light favorable to the defendant and found that "the Legislature intended to impose no more than one such sentence per victim per episode of sexually assaultive behavior." ( People v. Jones, supra, 25 Cal.4th at p. 107.) Thus, the court held that "for the purposes of Penal Code section 667.61, subdivision (g), sex offenses occurred on a 'single occasion' if they were committed in close temporal and spatial proximity." (Ibid.) The court further opined, "In this matter, for example, the rule we adopt should result in a single life sentence, rather than three consecutive life sentences, for a sequence of sexual assaults by defendant against one victim that occurred during an uninterrupted time frame and in a single location." (Ibid.)