People v. Kraus – Case Brief Summary (California)

In People v. Kraus (1975) 47 Cal.App.3d 568, the trial court sentenced the defendant to state prison after he pled guilty to two counts of Penal Code section 288a. No appeal was taken from that judgment.

Approximately one month after sentencing, "a new attorney of record filed in the trial court on behalf of defendant a written motion 'to vacate and set aside the judgment of conviction upon a plea of guilty' and 'for a writ of error coram nobis.' The notice specified 15 'grounds' of the motion, the general tenor of which was that (a) defendant was in a 'disturbed mental state' and unable to understand the nature and consequences of his plea, (b) counsel had not represented defendant properly, (c) the probation report and one of the psychiatric reports contained misstatements, and (d) the sentence was unduly severe." (Kraus, at p. 571.)

Several days later, Kraus filed a declaration asserting that at the time he pled guilty he " 'was in a state of mental haze, tension, anxiety and confusion and unable to think clearly or understand the possible effects and consequences of his plea of guilty.' The declaration concluded with a request that the court grant his petition as a petition for writ of error coram nobis, and permit him to withdraw his guilty plea." (Id. at p. 572.)

Following a hearing on the matter, the trial court denied the motion. Approximately six weeks later, the defendant timely filed a notice of appeal from the order "(1) denying defendant's motion to withdraw his plea of guilty and to vacate judgment; (2) denying defendant's petition for writ of error coram nobis; (3) and denying defendant's application for certificate of probable cause.' " (Kraus, supra, 47 Cal.3d at p. 572.)

The People made a motion to dismiss the appeal, asserting the order constituted the denial of a motion to withdraw a guilty plea and that there was no requisite certificate of probable cause. The appellate court denied the People's motion, indicating that "the appeal was from the denial of a motion to set aside a judgment. The only statutory requirement for a certificate of probable cause is in Penal Code section 1237.5 which refers only to appeals 'from a judgment of conviction.' " (Kraus, supra, 47 Cal.App.3d at p. 573.)

The court commented that, in Kraus's case, an appeal from the judgment, "if taken and perfected in accordance with the provisions of . . . sections 1237 and 1237.5 . . . would have been an exercise in futility. Appeals are heard and decided upon the record made in the trial court leading up to the order or judgment appealed from. The matters urged by defendant as grounds for setting aside his conviction do not appear in the record made in the trial court prior to judgment. Defendant is relying wholly upon matters raised and submitted to the court after judgment. The record made prior to judgment contains no arguable ground of reversal, as defendant's counsel doubtless recognized when he prepared his attack by way of a post-judgment motion, supported by declarations alleging matters not theretofore submitted to the court." (Kraus, at p. 573.)

Noting that " 'a petition for a writ of coram nobis is the equivalent of a motion to vacate a judgment,' " the court stated that "such a motion to set aside a judgment of conviction is considered a part of the criminal case, and an order of the trial court denying such a motion may be appealable by the defendant under Penal Code section 1237, subdivision 2 . . ., as an 'order made after judgment, affecting the substantial rights of the party.' " (Kraus, supra, 47 Cal.App.3d at p. 573.)

The court concluded that, "although the grounds of post-judgment relief by coram nobis or motion to vacate are strictly limited, it is possible for defendant, upon a proper showing, to employ such a motion to attack a judgment based upon a plea of guilty, and, if the ruling is adverse to appeal the order of the trial court." (Id. at p. 574.)

Citing People v. Golden (1966) 245 Cal.App.2d 512, the Kraus court "pointed out that Penal Code section 1237.5 placed a limitation upon judgment appeals but not on appeals from the denial of coram nobis. . . . During the . . . years since the enactment of section 1237.5, the Courts of Appeal have entertained a considerable number of appeals from superior court orders denying motions to vacate judgments based upon guilty pleas, without any suggestion that a certificate of probable cause was required." (Kraus, at p. 574.)

With regard to the court's decision in People v. Chew (1971) 16 Cal.App.3d 254, the Kraus court indicated the Chew court "did not have before it the issue presented in Kraus's case." (Kraus, supra, 47 Cal.App.3d at p. 575.)

According to Kraus, the Chew court "held that Penal Code section 1237.5 was not applicable to the appeal because the purpose of the appeal was to challenge proceedings conducted subsequent to the guilty plea. The court also concluded that Chew was not entitled to file an original coram nobis proceeding in the appellate court because he had not sought a certificate of probable cause in the trial court. . . . The coram nobis proceeding was therefore dismissed." (Kraus, at p. 576.) The Kraus court indicated it "need not consider whether the Chew opinion was correct in holding that Penal Code section 1237.5 is a limitation upon the power of an appellate court to entertain an original proceeding to attack a judgment based upon a guilty plea. For its purpose it was sufficient to point out that the Chew case did not involve an appeal from an order of the superior court denying coram nobis." (Kraus, at p. 576.)