Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, April 27, 2004


Page 1


Supreme Court Rules:

Single Injury Supports Multiple Enhancements for Firearm Use


By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer


A defendant convicted on five counts of attempted murder for firing two shots into a group of five people, injuring one of them, must have each count enhanced under the “10-20-life” firearm use law, a unanimous state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

The justices rejected the argument, accepted by the trial judge and the Fourth District Court of Appeal, that a single injury can support only a single added penalty of 25 years to life in prison under Penal Code Sec. 12022.53(d).

But three concurring justices said the result the court disdained was supported by “both common sense and the overall scheme of the 10-20-life law” and suggested that the statutory language—which, they agreed, required the multiple enhancements—was “likely the result of oversight rather than legislative intent.”

Sec. 12022.53 provides additional penalties for the use of a firearm in committing  felonies specified in its first subdivision. The law’s second, third and fourth subdivisions provide for a 10-year enhancement for personal use, a 20-year enhancement if the weapon is discharged, and an enhancement of 25 years to life if the defendant “personally and intentionally discharges a firearm and proximately causes great bodily injury...or death, to any person other than an accomplice.”

Jimmie Lee Oates was convicted in a drive-by gang shooting that injured Gustavo Barrera, whose leg had to be amputated as a result. Oates was convicted of the attempted premeditated murder of each of the five persons standing in the group into which he fired two shots, one of which struck Barrera.

Trial Judge’s Decision

San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Ingrid Adamson Uhler imposed a 25-years-to-life enhancement under Sec. 12022.53(d) for the attempted murder of Barrera and a 20-year enhancement on one of the remaining counts. She imposed additional 10-year, 20-year, and 25-years-to-life enhancements on all of the counts, but stayed them based either on Sec. 12022.53(f) or Sec. 654.

Sec. 12022.53(f) provides that only one firearm use enhancement may be imposed “for each crime,” and directs judges to impose “the enhancement that provides the longest term of imprisonment” where “more than one enhancement per person is found true under this section.” Sec. 654 bars punishment of an “act or omission” under multiple provisions of law.

Oates appealed, arguing among other things that Uhler should have stricken, rather than stayed, all but a single enhancement as to each count, and that under Sec. 654 the single injury to Barrera could support only one Sec. 12022.53(d) enhancement. In an opinion filed just under a year ago, Justice Barton C. Gaut of Div. Two agreed.

But yesterday Justice Ming Chin said nothing in Sec. 12022.53 or its legislative history prohibits a judge from imposing a 25-years-to-life enhancement on each of multiple counts arising from a single act which produces a single injury. On the contrary, he declared, the statute required five Sec. 12022.53(d) enhancements in Oates’ case.

Each of the murder attempts met the requirements for the enhancement, since each was accomplished by the same use of a firearm resulting in injury, he said.

“Had the Legislature wanted to limit the number of subdivision (d) enhancements imposed to the number of injuries inflicted, or had it not wanted subdivision (d) to serve as the enhancement applicable to each qualifying conviction where there is only one qualifying injury, it could have said so,” Chin explained.

Nor, the justice said, does Sec. 654 limit how many enhancements can be imposed.

‘Multiple Victim’ Exception

The judicially created exception to Sec. 654’s limitations for violent crimes involving multiple victims is applicable to Oates’ situation, Chin said, citing People v. King (1993) 5 Cal.4th 59 and In re Tameka C. (2000) 22 Cal.4th 190.

“Given that the ‘multiple victim’ exception and our decision in King predated passage of section 12022.53 in 1997, the Legislature would have no doubt included—limiting language had it intended to preclude imposition of multiple enhancements where there are multiple victims,” Chin reasoned.

Chief Justice Ronald M. George and Justices Marvin Baxter and Janice Rogers Brown joined in Chin’s opinion.

Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar wrote separately, joined by Justices Joyce L. Kennard and Carlos Moreno, to protest that the result was not one the Legislature could plausibly have intended.

She declared:

“[U]nlike the majority, I believe the statute’s failure to conform punishment to culpability in this respect is likely the result of oversight rather than legislative intent.  Rather than multiple life-term enhancements under section 12022.53, subdivision (d), both common sense and the overall scheme of the 10-20-life law suggest an assailant who shoots in the direction of several people, but injures only one of them, should receive only one 25-year-to-life enhancement for injuring one victim—while also being severely punished with multiple 20-year enhancements under section 12022.53, subdivision (c), for discharging a firearm in the commission of offenses against the remaining, uninjured victims.”

She added:

     “Under the court’s statutory reading today, defendant is treated the same as an assailant who shoots in the direction of, and hits, several victims, a result I do not believe the Legislature, in enacting section 12022.53’s graduated series of penalties, intended.”

But Werdegar conceded that since Sec. 12022.53(d) speaks of injury to “any person other than an accomplice”—not injury to the victim of the charged crime—the court’s conclusion was inescapable.

“[A]bsent such an express limitation a trial court must impose as to each qualifying felony, and cannot strike, the longest section 12022.53 enhancement pleaded by the prosecution and found true by the trier of fact,” she explained.

The case is People v. Oates, 04 S.O.S. 2060.


Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company