Life Without the Possibility of Parole Appeal Case in California

In People v. Britton (1936) 6 Cal.2d 1, 2, the defendants were charged with and convicted of kidnapping for the purpose of robbery in violation of Penal Code section 209. The defendants were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. On appeal, a defendant argued the trial court had no authority to impose sentence without the possibility of parole because the indictment contained no allegation the victim suffered bodily harm. (People v. Britton, supra, 6 Cal.2d. at p. 4.) The California Supreme Court held the sentence was warranted under the indictment and evidence. (Id. at p. 6.) The Court explained: "Section 209 of the Penal Code, for the purpose of this case, defines but one criminal act or offense, viz., kidnapping for purpose of robbery, for which any one of several punishments may be imposed, depending entirely upon the circumstances surrounding its commission. A charge in the language of the statute that the accused had kidnapped his victim for the purpose of robbery in violation of the statute apprises the accused of what he will be expected to meet and of the several punishments prescribed therefor, any one of which, upon conviction, may be imposed upon him. The indictment here involved charged the offense in the language of the statute and referred thereto. It is well settled in this state that an indictment or information need not allege the particular mode or means employed in the commission of an offense, except when of the essence thereof. (14 Cal. Jur. 55, sec. 41, and authorities there cited.) In other words, particulars as to manner, means, place or circumstances need not in general be added to the statutory definition. (People v. Giacamella (1886) 71 Cal. 48, 49; People v. Russell (1889) 81 Cal. 616, 617.) The indictment or information need only charge the essential elements of the statutory offense. It then fairly apprises the defendant of what he is to meet at the trial. So far as the present case is concerned, the essence of the offense denounced in section 209 as a felony is the seizing, confining, kidnapping, etc., of the victim for the purpose of robbery. If upon the trial of such offense, or upon plea of guilty, it develops that the victim suffered bodily harm, the jury or the court, as the case may be, may in its discretion fix the punishment at death or life imprisonment without possibility of parole or, should the victim not have suffered bodily harm, life imprisonment with possibility of parole is prescribed as punishment." (People v. Britton, supra, 6 Cal.2d at pp. 4-5.)