People v. Superior Court (Feinstein)

In People v. Superior Court (Feinstein) (1994) 29 Cal.App.4th 323, a magistrate purported to reduce a wobbler felony sexual battery charge (Penal Code 243.4, subd. (a)) to a misdemeanor simple battery ( 242) and a nonwobbler, straight felony false imprisonment by violence, menace, fraud or deceit charge ( 236 & 237) to misdemeanor false imprisonment ( 236). (Feinstein, supra, 29 Cal.App.4th at p. 327.) The People filed a motion pursuant to section 871.5 for review by the superior court. (Id. at p. 328.) The superior court denied the motion and the People filed a petition for writ of mandate with the Court of Appeal. (Ibid.) The Court of Appeal concluded the magistrate did not have authority under section 17, subdivision (b)(5), to reduce the wobbler felony sexual battery to a simple battery, a different crime, or to reduce the straight felony false imprisonment by violence, menace, fraud, or deceit to a misdemeanor. (Feinstein, supra, 29 Cal.App.4th at pp. 329-330.) Then the Court of Appeal identified the issue as a straightforward question: "Since the magistrate lacked the power to reduce the charges, what was the effect of her order that purported to do so?" (Id. at p. 331.) The Feinstein court deemed the magistrate's order was a dismissal, concluding the lower court's order could not be characterized as anything else, including an action under section 17, subdivision (b)(5), since neither of the charged offenses was a wobbler as to which the reduced crime was its misdemeanor counterpart. (Feinstein, supra, 29 Cal.App.4th at p. 332.) In reaching its conclusion that the order was a dismissal under section 871 and properly the subject of a motion under section 871.5, the Feinstein court relied on the holding in People v. Booker (1994) 21 Cal.App.4th 1517. (In People v. Booker (1994) 21 Cal.App.4th 1517, neither of the defendants sought reduction under section 17, subdivision (b), and a superior court judge reduced felony charges before a judgment or imposition of sentence. Because the superior court's action was unauthorized, the Court of Appeal construed the resulting order as a dismissal in order to resolve the issue presented.) (Section 871 provides: "If, after hearing the proofs, it appears either that no public offense has been committed or that there is not sufficient cause to believe the defendant guilty of a public offense, the magistrate shall order the complaint dismissed and the defendant to be discharged, by an endorsement on the depositions and statement, signed by the magistrate, to the following effect: 'There being no sufficient cause to believe the within named A. B. guilty of the offense within mentioned, I order that the complaint be dismissed and that he or she shall be discharged.'")