Penal Code Section 654 California
Interpretation of Penal Code Section 654 California:
Penal Code Section 654 provides:
"(a) 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. An acquittal or conviction and sentence under any one bars a prosecution for the same act or omission under any other.
"(b) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), a defendant sentenced pursuant to subdivision (a) shall not be granted probation if any of the provisions that would otherwise apply to the defendant prohibits the granting of probation."
Section 654 states an act punishable in different ways by different provisions of the Penal Code may be punished under only one such provision. The section applies not only to a single act violating multiple provisions of the code but also to an indivisible course of conduct violating several statutes. Whether a course of conduct is indivisible for purposes of section 654 depends on the intent and objective of the defendant. If all the criminal acts were incident to one objective, then punishment may be imposed only as to one of the offenses committed. (People v. Beamon (1973) 8 Cal.3d 625, 636-637; People v. Saffle (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 434, 438.)
"If, on the other hand, defendant harbored 'multiple criminal objectives,' which were independent of and not merely incidental to each other, he may be punished for each statutory violation committed in pursuit of each objective, 'even though the violations shared common acts or were parts of an otherwise indivisible course of conduct.'" ( People v. Harrison (1989) 48 Cal.3d 321, 335, citing Beamon, supra, 8 Cal.3d at p. 639.) In Harrison, the court allowed separate and consecutive punishment, based on defendant's intent, in a multiple count sexual assault. The court said: "It is defendant's intent and objective, not the temporal proximity of his offenses, which determine whether the transaction is indivisible." (Ibid.)
Importantly, the purpose of section 654 is to insure punishment is commensurate with culpability. Where, for example, only one minute separated two gun shots at a pursuing police officer, the court found consecutive punishment to be commensurate with defendant's conduct, which "became more egregious with each successive shot. Each shot posed a separate and distinct risk." ( People v. Trotter (1992) 7 Cal.App.4th 363, 368.)
Additionally, the court said: "Furthermore, this was not a case where only one volitional act gave rise to multiple offenses. Each shot required a separate trigger pull. All three assaults were volitional and calculated, and were separated by periods of time during which reflection was possible. None was spontaneous or uncontrollable." (Ibid.; see also People v. Surdi (1995) 35 Cal.App.4th 685, 688-689.)
The Supreme Court reasoned that the Legislature had the power to treat, as separate strikes, convictions for which separate punishment would be barred under Penal Code section 654 California and that the language of the Three Strikes law manifested the intent to do so.
Does The Legislature Have The Power To Treat As Separate Strikes Conviction For Which Separate Punishment Is Barred And Does The Three Strikes Law Manifest this Intention ?
In People v. Benson (1998) 18 Cal. 4th 24 74 Cal. Rptr. 2d 294, 954 P.2d 557, the defendant was sentenced under the Three Strikes law on the basis of having had two prior convictions, one for residential burglary and the other for assault with intent to commit murder.
Both priors had arisen from a single incident, a knife attack upon the victim in her apartment.
Sentence on the assault conviction had been stayed in the earlier case under section 654, prohibiting multiple punishment for offenses committed against a single victim on the same occasion.
Benson held the trial court properly denied the defendant's request to strike one of the priors.
The Supreme Court also recognized that pursuant to its decision in Romero, "the trial court retains discretion in such cases to strike one or more prior felony convictions under section 1385 if the trial court properly concludes that the interests of justice support such an action." (Benson, at p. 36.)
In a footnote, the Benson majority observed:
"Because the proper exercise of a trial court's discretion under section 1385 necessarily relates to the circumstances of a particular defendant's current and past criminal conduct, we need not and do not determine whether there are some circumstances in which two prior felony convictions are so closely connected--for example, when multiple convictions arise out of a single act by the defendant as distinguished from multiple acts committed in an indivisible course of conduct--that a trial court would abuse its discretion under section 1385 if it failed to strike one of the priors." ( Benson, supra, 18 Cal. 4th at p. 36, fn. 8.)
"The purpose of section 654 is to prevent multiple punishment for a single act or omission or indivisible course of conduct, even though that act or omission or indivisible course of conduct violates more than one statute and thus constitutes more than one crime. . . ." (People v. Liu (1996) 46 Cal.App.4th 1119, 1135 (Liu); see People v. Harrison (1989) 48 Cal.3d 321, 335.)
"The divisibility of a course of conduct depends upon the intent and objective of the defendant. If all the offenses are incidental to one objective, the defendant may be punished for any one of them, but not for more than one. On the other hand, if the evidence discloses that a defendant entertained multiple criminal objectives which were independent of and not merely incidental to each other, the trial court may impose punishment for independent violations committed in pursuit of each objective even though the violations shared common acts or were parts of an otherwise indivisible course of conduct. The principal inquiry in each case is whether the defendant's criminal intent and objective were single or multiple. Each case must be determined on its own facts. The question whether the defendant entertained multiple criminal objectives is one of fact for the trial court, and its findings on this question will be upheld on appeal if there is any substantial evidence to support them. " (Liu, at pp. 1135-1136.)
Section 654 "precludes multiple punishment for a single act or omission, or an indivisible course of conduct." (People v. Deloza (1998) 18 Cal.4th 585, 591.) If a defendant suffers two convictions and punishment for one is barred by section 654, "that section requires the sentence for one conviction be imposed, and the other imposed and then stayed." (Deloza, supra, 18 Cal.4th at pp. 591-592.)
Whether a course of conduct is indivisible for purposes of section 654 depends on the intent and objective of the defendant, not the temporal proximity of the offenses. (People v. Hicks (1993) 6 Cal.4th 784, 789; People v. Harrison (1989) 48 Cal.3d 321, 335.)
If all the criminal acts were incident to one objective, then punishment may be imposed only as to one of the offenses committed. (People v. Beamon (1973) 8 Cal.3d 625, 636-639 (Beamon).) If there were multiple objectives, punishment may be imposed for each crime even if the objectives were furthered by "'common acts or were parts of an otherwise indivisible course of conduct.'" (People v. Vidaurri (1980) 103 Cal.App.3d 450, 465.)
Whether section 654 applies in a given case is a question of fact for the court, which is vested with broad latitude in its determination. (People v. Hutchins (2001) 90 Cal.App.4th 1308, 1312.) We review the court's findings in the light most favorable to the judgment and will not reverse them on appeal if there is any substantial evidence to support them. (Ibid.)
Evidence is substantial where it is reasonable, credible and of solid value from which a reasonable trier of fact could make the finding in question. (People v. Snow (2003) 30 Cal.4th 43, 66.) We presume the existence of every fact in support of the court's conclusion that the trier of fact could reasonably deduce from the evidence. (People v. Cleveland (2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 263, 271.)
"There can be no universal construction which directs the proper application of section 654 in every instance." (Beamon, supra, 8 Cal.3d at p. 636.)
"Notwithstanding the apparent simplicity of its language, the applicability of section 654 in a particular case often involves a difficult analytical problem. Each case must be determined on the basis of its own facts, and general principles applicable to one type of case may not apply to another." (In re Adams (1975) 14 Cal.3d 629, 633; see also 3 Witkin & Epstein, Cal. Criminal Law (4th ed. 2012) Punishment, 248, pp. 397-399.)
Under section 237, an element of felony false imprisonment is the defendant's "use of violence, menace, fraud, or deceit." The court instructed the jury regarding the elements of that offense:
"To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that: 1. The defendant intentionally restrained, confined, or detained someone or caused that person to be restrained, confined, or detained by violence or menace; AND 2. The defendant made the other person stay or go somewhere against that person's will. Violence means using physical force that is greater than the force reasonably necessary to restrain someone. Menace means a verbal or physical threat of harm. The threat of harm may be express or implied."
Whether section 654 applies under the facts of any specific case "is a question of fact for the trial court, which is vested with broad latitude in making its determination. Its findings will not be reversed on appeal if there is substantial evidence to support them. We review the trial court's determination in the light most favorable to the respondent and presume the existence of every fact the trial court could reasonably deduce from the evidence." (People v. Jones (2002) 103 Cal.App.4th 1139, 1143.)
In People v. Harrison (1989) 48 Cal.3d 321, 335, The California Supreme Court discussed section 654 as follows:
"The statute itself literally applies only where such punishment arises out of multiple statutory violations produced by the 'same act or omission.'
However, because the statute is intended to ensure that defendant is punished 'commensurate with his culpability' citation, its protection has been extended to cases in which there are several offenses committed during 'a course of conduct deemed to be indivisible in time.'
"It is defendant's intent and objective, not the temporal proximity of his offenses, which determine whether the transaction is indivisible. We have traditionally observed that if all of the offenses were merely incidental to, or were the means of accomplishing or facilitating one objective, defendant may be found to have harbored a single intent and therefore may be punished only once.
"If, on the other hand, defendant harbored 'multiple criminal objectives,' which were independent of and not merely incidental to each other, he may be punished for each statutory violation committed in pursuit of each objective, 'even though the violations shared common acts or were parts of an otherwise indivisible course of conduct.'"In People v. Norrell (1996) 13 Cal.4th 1, 913 P.2d 458, the Supreme Court interpreted section 654 to grant the trial court discretion to choose a lesser count that provides for a shorter term of imprisonment over a greater count. ( Id. at p. 8.)
In a dissenting opinion, Retired Justice Arabian, sitting by assignment, faulted the majority for its reading of section 654 and invited the Legislature to amend section 654 so that a sentencing court may not "impose a lower overall sentence than the minimum the Legislature has decreed for any of those crimes." ( People v. Norrell, supra, 13 Cal.4th at pp. 23-24 (conc. & dis. opn. of Arabian, J.).)
The Legislature responded the following year and amended the statute. (Stats. 1997, ch. 410, 1; see also People v. Hall (2000) 83 Cal.App.4th 1084, 1088, fn. 4.)
As amended, section 654 expressly removes from the sentencing court the discretion recognized by the majority in People v. Norrell; the court "shall" impose sentence under "the provision" resulting in the longest possible term of imprisonment. ( 654, subd. (a).)
Moreover, section 654 specifically states "in no case shall the act or omission be punished under more than one provision." ( 654, subd. (a.))
As such, the "provision that provides for the longest potential term of imprisonment" must refer to one of two or more statutes, either substantive counts or enhancements when multiple enhancements are proven, under which a defendant may be punished for a single act, not to a combination of a substantive crime with an enhancement. (See People v. Coronado (1995) 12 Cal.4th 145, 156, 906 P.2d 1232 "By its own terms, section 654 applies only to an 'act or omission' made punishable in different ways by different statutes".) In People v. Bauer (1969) 1 Cal.3d 368, the defendant and his accomplice gained entry to a residence posing as gas company maintenance workers.
Once inside, they drew weapons, tied the residents, stole various items, including a car. ( Id. at p. 372.)
On these facts, the court held that section 654 barred multiple punishment for robbery and car theft. ( Id. at pp. 375-378.)
Bauer did not involve the dismissal of strikes in furtherance of justice under section 1385. Moreover, the facts there involve a single entry and theft of numerous items, including a car. In People v. Bauer, the California Supreme Court held that, where the defendants ransacked a house in the presence of women who lived there and immediately thereafter put the stolen items in the car of one of the women and drove the car away, the theft of the car could not be separately punished as it was part of a continuous transaction in which several things were taken. ( Id., at pp. 376-377.)
The court implied that, whenever items are taken as part of one continuous transaction, the takings are automatically considered to be incident to one criminal objective. (Ibid.)