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The Bailey Doctrine (California)

In People v. Bailey (1961) 55 Cal.2d 514, the defendant was found guilty of grand theft in unlawfully taking more than $3,000 in public assistance monies from the County of Santa Clara following an undisclosed change in her marital status.

Defendant successfully moved for a new trial on the grounds the facts did not constitute a crime and the court misinstructed the jury.

On the People's appeal to the Supreme Court, the question arose whether the defendant was guilty of grand theft or of a series of petty thefts, since she obtained a number of public assistance payments, each less than the statutory minimum of $200 required for grand theft but aggregating more than that sum.

The Supreme Court concluded:

"Whether a series of wrongful acts constitutes a single offense or multiple offenses depends upon the facts of each case, and a defendant may be properly convicted upon separate counts charging grand theft from the same person if the evidence shows that the offenses are separate and distinct and were not committed pursuant to one intention, one general impulse, and one plan." (Bailey, supra, 55 Cal.2d at p. 519.)

The Supreme Court ultimately reversed the order granting new trial, holding the material facts of defendant's case were not in dispute and the jury had been properly instructed.

In People v. Mitchell (2008) 164 Cal.App.4th 442, a case involving multiple counts of forgery, receiving stolen property, and wrongful use of personal identifying information (§ 530.5), the Third District Court of Appeal found Bailey "distinguishable," stating:

"In deciding whether a defendant commits a series of thefts pursuant to a single intent or plan, we do not use a single, broad objective of stealing property. A defendant who steals from multiple victims over a lengthy crime spree may have a single objective of obtaining as much money or property as possible. However, he has still committed multiple offenses.... By parity of reasoning, a single theft of personal identifying information and use of that information to obtain property will not immunize the thief from prosecution for subsequent uses of the information to obtain other property." (People v. Mitchell, supra, 164 Cal.App.4th at p. 456.)

In In re David D. (1997) 52 Cal.App.4th 304, 306 (David D.), the Madera County Juvenile Court adjudicated minor a ward of the court, after finding, among other things, that he committed one count of vandalism consisting of "thirty-four instances of defacing property with graffiti, with damages totaling between $5,000 and $50,000."

The minor appealed, contending the wardship petition erroneously alleged felonies by improperly aggregating separate misdemeanor offenses, contrary to the Bailey doctrine.

The Court reversed the dispositional order, finding each tagging incident clearly represented a separate offense affecting a different victim. In reaching its conclusion, this court determined "the Bailey doctrine does not apply here." (David D., supra, at p. 311.)

The Court stated:

"Application of People v. Bailey has been limited not only to the crime of theft, but generally to thefts involving a single victim. Although never expressly cited as an element of its doctrine, Bailey itself implies aggregation may occur only when the offense was committed against one victim. 'Where as part of a single plan a defendant makes false representations and receives various sums from the victim the receipts may be cumulated to constitute but one offense of grand theft....' (People v. Bailey, supra, 55 Cal.2d at p. 518.) The authorities upon which Bailey relies to reach its conclusion describe offenses against a single victim, and the court later notes aggregation is inappropriate, even though the thefts occurred against a single person, if the facts fail to establish one plan or intention. (55 Cal.2d at p. 519.) This observation presupposes a single victim. ... One limitation of the Bailey doctrine is its inapplicability to offenses involving multiple victims." (David D., supra, 52 Cal.App.4th at pp. 309-310.)