Defendant's Faced With a Prior Conviction Allegation Right to a Jury Trial

In People v. Epps (2001) 25 Cal.4th 19, the California Supreme Court held that a defendant faced with a prior conviction allegation has a statutory right to a jury trial. However, a 1997 amendment to section 1025 limited the jury's role to determining as a matter of historical fact whether the alleged conviction actually occurred. Other questions, such as the defendant's identity as the person who suffered the conviction, exactly what the offense was, whether the offense is a serious or violent felony for purposes of the Three Strikes law and whether the defendant served a prison term for the prior offense, are reserved to the trial court. (Epps, supra, at pp. 23-28.) The Epps court went on to hold that where the trial court has deprived the defendant of his right to have the jury determine whether the prior conviction or convictions actually occurred, the error involves a violation solely of state statutory law and is therefore reviewed under the standard of People v. Watson (1956) 46 Cal.2d 818, 836, i.e., whether it is reasonably probable that a result more favorable to the defendant would have been reached if the jury rather than the court had determined whether the defendant had suffered the prior convictions. (Epps, supra, 25 Cal.4th at p. 29.) Epps is the controlling authority in California. (Auto Equity Sales, Inc. v. Superior Court (1962) 57 Cal.2d 450, 455-456.)