Shooting at an Inhabited Dwelling Case in California

In People v. Jones (2009) 47 Cal.4th 566, the defendant was convicted of the felony offense of shooting at an inhabited dwelling (§ 246), punishable by a life sentence pursuant to Penal Code section 186.22, subdivision (b)(4), because it was found to have been committed to benefit a criminal street gang. (Jones, supra, 47 Cal.4th at p. 571.)

The trial court further imposed an additional 20-year prison term under the sentence enhancement provision of section 12022.53, subdivision (c), which prescribes an increased sentence for using a firearm in the commission of "'any felony punishable by death or imprisonment in the state prison for life.'" (Jones, supra, 47 Cal.4th at p. 571, quoting § 12022.53, subd. (a)(17).)

At issue on appeal was whether the defendant committed a "'felony punishable by'" life imprisonment and thus was correctly sentenced to an additional 20-year prison term under section 12022.53, subdivision (c). (Jones, supra, 47 Cal.4th at pp. 571-572, citing § 12022.53, subd. (a)(17).)

The defendant argued that it amounted to impermissible "bootstrapping" for the trial court both to apply section 186.22 to raise the underlying offense into a more serious category, and then to use the new category to impose an enhancement it could not have applied to the original, underlying offense. (Jones, supra, 47 Cal.4th at p. 574.)

The Supreme Court rejected this argument, focusing on the fact that the section 186.22 alternative penalty and the section 12022.53 enhancement "appear in separate statutes enacted at different times" and target different conduct--activity to benefit a criminal gang, and gun use in the commission of a particularly serious crime, respectively. (Jones, supra, 47 Cal.4th at p. 575.)

On this basis, the court distinguished People v. Briceno (2004) 34 Cal.4th 451, 465, which held that a misdemeanor sentenced as a felony under section 186.22(d), may not be "'bootstrapped'" into the enhancement provision for felonies in section 186.22, subdivision (b)(1) "'as a means of applying a double dose of harsher punishment'" for gang activity, as well as People v. Arroyas (2002) 96 Cal.App.4th 1439 at page 1445, which similarly held that when a defendant commits a misdemeanor that is punished as a felony under section 186.22(d), he is not subject to the additional enhancements of section 186.22, subdivision (b)(1). (Jones, supra, at pp. 573-574.)

The Jones court concluded that "both Briceno and Arroyas considered the interplay between two statutory provisions that impose penalties for committing a crime to benefit a criminal street gang, and each concluded that the California electorate, which enacted those provisions through an initiative measure, did not intend to apply both provisions to the same crime." (Jones, supra, 47 Cal.4th at p. 575.)