Romero Motions to Remove Strikes (California Landmark Cases)

The Supreme Court held in People v. Superior Court (Romero) (1996) 13 Cal.4th 497, that the trial court is empowered under section 1385, subdivision (a) on its own motion to dismiss or strike prior felony conviction allegations in cases that are brought under the law known as the "Three Strikes" law. (Romero, supra, 13 Cal.4th at pp. 529-530.) The court's discretion, however, is limited to instances in which dismissing such strikes is in the furtherance of justice, as determined by giving "'"consideration both of the constitutional rights of the defendant, and the interests of society represented by the People . . . ."'" (Id. at p. 530.) Thus, the court may not strike a sentencing allegation "solely 'to accommodate judicial convenience or because of court congestion' citation, or simply because a defendant pleads guilty. Nor would a court act properly if 'guided solely by a personal antipathy for the effect that the three strikes law would have on a defendant,' while ignoring 'defendant's background,' 'the nature of his present offenses,' and other 'individualized considerations.' " (Id. at p. 531.) The Supreme Court later attempted to further explain "the 'concept' of 'furtherance of justice' within the meaning of Penal Code section 1385, subdivision (a) which Romero had recognized as being '"amorphous."' " (People v. Williams (1998) 17 Cal.4th 148, 159 (Williams).) The high court noted that in deciding whether to dismiss a strike "'in furtherance of justice' pursuant to Penal Code section 1385, subdivision (a), or in reviewing such a ruling, the court in question must consider whether, in light of the nature and circumstances of his present felonies and prior serious and/or violent felony convictions, and the particulars of his background, character, and prospects, the defendant may be deemed outside the scheme's spirit, in whole or in part, and hence should be treated as though he had not previously been convicted of one or more serious and/or violent felonies." (Id. at p. 161.) The sentence to be meted out to the defendant "is also a relevant consideration . . . in fact, it is the overarching consideration because the underlying purpose of striking prior conviction allegations is the avoidance of unjust sentences. " (People v. Garcia (1999) 20 Cal.4th 490, 500.) Furthermore, the court may give "no weight whatsoever . . . to factors extrinsic to the Three Strikes scheme." (Williams, supra, at p. 161.) If the court strikes or dismisses one or more prior conviction allegations, its reasons for doing so must be stated in an order entered on the minutes. (Ibid.; cf In re Large (2007) 41 Cal.4th 538, 546, fn. 6 trial court has no obligation to set forth reasons for decision not to strike or dismiss prior strikes.) As the court explained in Williams, the granting of a Romero motion is "subject to review for abuse of discretion. This standard is deferential. But it is not empty. Although variously phrased in various decisions , it asks in substance whether the ruling in question 'falls outside the bounds of reason' under the applicable law and the relevant facts. " (Williams, supra, 17 Cal.4th at p. 162; see also People v. Garcia, supra, 20 Cal.4th at p. 503.) And this abuse of discretion standard also applies to appellate review of the denial of Romero motions. (People v. Carmony (2004) 33 Cal.4th 367, 374-376; see also id. at p. 374: "'Discretion is the power to make the decision, one way or the other.'") It is the defendant's burden as the party attacking the sentencing decision to show that it was arbitrary or irrational, and, absent such showing, there is a presumption that the court "'"acted to achieve the legitimate sentencing objectives, and its discretionary determination to impose a particular sentence will not be set aside on review."' " (Id. at p. 377.)