Res Judicata and Collateral Estoppel In California

In In re Crow (1971), 4 Cal. 3d 613, our Supreme Court specifically reviewed the policy reasons for res judicata in civil and criminal cases before finding it applicable, stating: "The doctrine of res judicata in civil matters rests upon the sound policy of limiting litigation by preventing a party who has had one fair adversary hearing on an issue from again drawing it into controversy and subjecting the other party to further expense in its reexamination. In criminal cases in which an individual has once been haled before a jury and found innocent, res judicata, including collateral estoppel, rests upon the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment and prevents a second prosecution for the same conduct or subject matter. The social policies which underlie the doctrine of res judicata and the high purpose of the writ of habeas corpus also conjoin in barring a governmental attempt to relitigate the grant of relief in habeas corpus. The writ of habeas corpus affords an efficacious means of vindicating an individual's fundamental rights. . . . a final order or judgment granting relief to a petitioner on habeas corpus is a conclusive determination . . . ; it is res judicata of all issues of law and fact necessarily involved in that result." (Id. at pp. 622-623.) Because the People could have appealed the order granting the petitioner habeas corpus relief in that case, but did not do so, the court in In re Crow, supra, 4 Cal. 3d 613, concluded that such decision became final and the judgment in the case, and the People were required by the doctrine of res judicata "to act in accordance with that judgment." (Id. at p. 623.) The doctrine of collateral estoppel, similar to res judicata, is "based upon the sound public policy of limiting litigation by preventing a party who has had one fair trial on an issue from again drawing it into controversy. Citation." (People v. Gephart (1979) 93 Cal. App. 3d 989, 997 156 Cal. Rptr. 489.) The purposes of both "are to promote judicial economy by minimizing repetitive litigation, to prevent inconsistent judgments which undermine the integrity of the judicial system, and to provide repose by preventing a person from being harassed by vexatious litigation." (Ibid.) Generally, a court in deciding whether res judicata is applicable in any particular case "must balance the need to limit litigation against the right of a fair adversary proceeding in which a party may fully present his or her case." (Ibid.)