Friday, April 25, 2014
S.C to Decide Whether Movable Motor Home Is a ‘Structure’
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a movable motor home is a “structure” within the meaning of the arson statutes.
The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco Wednesday, voted unanimously to review the ruling of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in People v. Goolsby (2014) 222 C.A.4th 1323.
The Court of Appeal panel, in an opinion by Justice Art McKinster, threw out Richard James Goolsby’s conviction and 25-year-to-life “third strike” sentence for setting fire to his own mobile home.
In a case tried on undisputed facts, McKinster explained, it was established that the defendant used gasoline to set fire to an inoperable motor home which he had pushed—using a vehicle—next to the one in which he was living with his girlfriend. The two had argued earlier, and the woman was asleep when the defendant started the fire.
She and her dogs got out before the fire spread to that home, which was destroyed along with the inoperable home.
A San Bernardino Superior Court jury found Goolsby not guilty of attempted murder, but guilty of arson of an inhabited structure. But McKinster said the guilty verdict was unsupported by substantial evidence because a motor home isn’t a structure under Penal Code §451.
He distinguished People v. Labaer (2001) 88 Cal.App.4th 289, in which the court held that a mobile home burned by the defendant was a structure because it was “fixed to a particular location, could not be readily moved, and had been used as Labaer’s residence for several months.”
In Goolsby’s case, McKinster wrote:
“The prosecutor did not present evidence to show that the motor home in which he and [his girlfriend] then lived was fixed to a particular location and, therefore, had the attributes of a building. The common feature of the things included in the statutory definition of structure is that they are affixed to the ground and either cannot be moved at all or cannot be moved without first being dismantled and detached from the ground. A motor home is a vehicle, the very purpose of which is to move from location to location. Absent evidence to show the motor home was somehow fixed in place, such a vehicle cannot, as a matter of law, be a structure within the meaning of the arson statute. More importantly, and as defendant also pointed out in the trial court, the punishment for arson of an inhabited structure and the punishment for arson of inhabited property is exactly the same, unlike in Labaer, in which arson of a structure that is not inhabited carries a greater punishment than arson of property that is not inhabited.”
The justice went on to say that the court cannot reduce the conviction to one of arson of property, on which the trial judge instructed the jury, because that is a lesser related, not a lesser included, offense. The only option, he said, was for the trial court to dismiss the charge.
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