Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Admission in Probation Report Not Part of Three-Strikes Record—S.C.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 yesterday that a defendant’s prior conviction for infliction of corporal injury was not a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes Law even though the defendant admitted using a knife when committing the offense.
The court reversed the Sixth District Court of Appeal and held that a defendant’s admissions in a probation report, made after a guilty plea had been accepted in a prior conviction, is not part of the record for determining whether the conviction is a strike.
In 2002, a jury convicted Manuel A. Trujillo of assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury. Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Hugh F. Mullin III found that Trujillo had prior convictions for inflicting corporal injury and for assault with a deadly weapon.
The prosecution and defense agreed that the assault conviction was a strike, but disagreed on the conviction for inflicting corporal injury.
In 1991, Trujillo was charged with inflicting corporal injury, with a further allegation that he personally used a deadly weapon in the commission of the offense. A second count charged him with assault with a deadly weapon, a knife.
Pursuant to a plea agreement, the allegation that Trujillo used a deadly weapon was stricken and the second count was dismissed.
A probation report prepared prior to sentencing showed that Trujillo admitted during an interview that he stabbed the victim with a knife during an argument, saying:
“I stuck her with the knife.”
In the current case, the prosecution argued that the prior conviction was for a serious felony based upon Trujillo’s admission that he used a knife.
Trujillo argued the prior conviction was not a strike, regardless of the probation report, because he was convicted merely of  inflicting corporal injury, and the allegation of using a deadly weapon that would have elevated it into a strike was stricken.
Mullin held that Trujillo’s prior conviction was not a strike because the allegation that he used a deadly weapon had been stricken. The judge noted that the prosecutor in the prior case “settled the case with the understanding the knife allegation would not be used. It went away. The defendant relied on that.”
Mullin sentenced Trujillo to seven years in prison, and the prosecution appealed the sentence.
The Court of Appeal reversed, reasoning that the plea bargain that struck the allegation that Trujillo had used a deadly weapon did not “bar the use of the facts underlying the stricken enhancement in sentencing on a subsequent conviction” and concluding that “the trial court’s refusal to consider defendant’s statement [reflected in the probation report] constituted judicial error and deprived the prosecution of a full and fair opportunity to prove that the prior offense was a ‘serious’ felony.”
Chief Justice Ronald M. George and Justices Joyce L. Kennard, Kathryn Mickle Werdegar and Carlos R. Moreno voted to reverse the Court of Appeal.
Writing for the majority, Moreno said:
“A statement by the defendant recounted in a postconviction probation officer’s report does not necessarily reflect the nature of the crime of which the defendant was convicted.”
“In the present case, for example, the prosecution did not attempt to prove that defendant used a knife and, instead, entered into a plea bargain in which it dismissed the allegation that defendant used a deadly or dangerous weapon and committed an assault with a deadly weapon.”
In a dissent joined by Justices Ming W. Chin and Carol A. Corrigan, Justice Marvin R. Baxter said he “strongly disagreed” with the majority.
“[A] probation officer’s report—with its recitation of the facts and circumstances of the defendant’s crime and its inclusion of any admissions made by the defendant—properly serves to inform official decisions regarding the appropriate punishment, restitution fines, correctional facility, and rehabilitative programs for the defendant based on the nature of his crime and other factors, “ Baxter noted.
Quoting from prior cases, he concluded:
“In light of this sanctioned use, it makes no sense whatsoever to find that the same report cannot be considered, in a subsequent criminal proceeding, as a document that ‘reliably reflect[s] the facts of the [prior] offense for which the defendant was convicted’ . . .  or as a document in the record of the prior criminal proceeding from which the ‘nature or basis of the [prior] crime’ can be determined . . . .”
The case is People v. Trujillo, 06 SOS 5987.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company