The Scott Rule In California

In People v. Scott (1994) 9 Cal.4th 331, the California Supreme Court enunciated the rule (the Scott rule) that "complaints about the manner in which the trial court exercises its sentencing discretion and articulates its supporting reasons cannot be raised for the first time on appeal." The high court indicated that included within the Scott rule are "cases in which the stated reasons allegedly do not apply to the particular case, and cases in which the court purportedly erred because it double-counted a particular sentencing factor, misweighed the various factors, or failed to state any reasons or give a sufficient number of valid reasons." (Id. at p. 353.) A relevant and illustrative application of the Scott rule is found in People v. Soto (1997) 54 Cal.App.4th 1 (Soto). In Soto, the trial court sentenced a defendant convicted of residential burglary ( 459, 460, subd. (a)) to the upper term of six years for that offense, finding as an aggravating factor that the burglary involved planning. (Soto, supra, 54 Cal.App.4th at pp. 4, 6.) During sentencing, defense counsel objected that the court was "using the same facts both to aggravate the base term and to impose an enhancement," and further objected to the court's use of "any fact constituting an element of the offense to aggravate or enhance the sentence." (Id. at p. 7.) On appeal, the defendant made the more specific objection that the court should not have considered "planning" as an aggravating factor, because planning was an element common to all burglaries, and under rule 420(d) a fact that was an element of the crime cannot lawfully be used to impose the upper term. (Soto, supra, 54 Cal.App.4th at p. 7.) The Court of Appeal applied the Scott rule and held the defendant had waived his claim of rule 420(d) sentencing error, stating the defendant had raised only a "cursory" objection to the trial court's "use of a fact constituting an unidentified element of the offense to aggravate and enhance his term." (Soto, supra, at p. 9.) the Soto court reasoned that "the objection made at sentencing to the court's use of the same facts to aggravate the base term and to impose an enhancement came close to being adequate, but failed to advise the court of which facts, specifically, were the subject of the objection. Without any specifically articulated reasons for the objections, the court had no real basis upon which he could evaluate the claims and correct the errors, if any existed." (Id. at p. 9.) The Supreme Court in Scott also discussed the "unauthorized sentence" exception to the Scott rule, stating, "the 'unauthorized sentence' concept constitutes a narrow exception to the general requirement that only those claims properly raised and preserved by the parties are reviewable on appeal." (Scott, supra, 9 Cal.4th at p. 354.) The high court explained that "a sentence is generally 'unauthorized' where it could not lawfully be imposed under any circumstance in the particular case. Appellate courts are willing to intervene in the first instance because such error is 'clear and correctable' independent of any factual issues presented by the record at sentencing." (Ibid.)