Case Law on California Penal Code Section 654

Penal Code Section 654 states, in relevant part: "An act or omission that is punishable in different ways by different provisions of law shall be punished under the provision that provides for the longest potential term of imprisonment, but in no case shall the act or omission be punished under more than one provision." In People v. Herrera (1999) 70 Cal.App.4th 1456, the Court set out the applicable general principles: "Since Neal v. State of California (1960) 55 Cal.2d 11, the test under section 654 has been: 'Whether a course of criminal conduct is divisible and therefore gives rise to more than one act within the meaning of section 654 depends on the intent and objective of the actor. If all of the offenses were incident to one objective, the defendant may be punished for any one of such offenses but not for more than one.' In People v. Latimer (1993) 5 Cal.4th 1203 , our Supreme Court reaffirmed the Neal approach and noted several cases in which the 'intent and objective' test had been applied to sustain multiple sentences. The Latimer court also clarified that section 654 applies to sentencing both for crimes flowing from a single act and for crimes resulting from an indivisible course of conduct which violates more than one statute. The question of whether the defendant held multiple criminal objectives is one of fact for the trial court, and, if supported by any substantial evidence, its finding will be upheld on appeal. " (Herrera, supra, 70 Cal.App.4th at p. 1466.) The court then found that "Herrera's conviction for street terrorism is likewise divisible from the attempted murders. Looking to Herrera's intent and objective with respect to each crime , we conclude that the sentence should stand. 'Multiple punishment . . . may be imposed where the defendant commits two crimes in pursuit of two independent, even if simultaneous, objectives. ' " (Herrera, supra, 70 Cal.App.4th at p. 1466.) It concluded that "section 186.22, subdivision (a) requires a separate intent and objective from the underlying felony committed on behalf of the gang. The perpetrator of the underlying crime may thus possess 'two independent, even if simultaneous, objectives,' thereby precluding application of section 654. " (Herrera, supra, 70 Cal.App.4th at p. 1468.) Finally, the court noted that "if section 654 were held applicable here, it would render section 186.22, subdivision (a) a nullity whenever a gang member was convicted of the substantive crime committed in furtherance of the gang. 'The purpose of section 654 "is to insure that a defendant's punishment will be commensurate with his culpability." ' We do not believe the Legislature intended to exempt the most culpable parties from the punishment under the street terrorism statutes." (Herrera, supra, 70 Cal.App.4th at p. 1468.) The court therefore found that the defendant had two independent objectives, and section 654 was inapplicable.