California Supreme Court:
Although Defendant—Placed on Probation, Execution of Prison Sentence Suspended—Could Have Appealed Immediately, Conviction Not Final; May Raise New Statute on Appeal From Revocation of Probation—Opinion
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A man who was sentenced in 2015 to five years in prison—including two one-year enhancements—with execution of that sentence suspended and probation granted, is, on an appeal from revocation of probation, entitled to the benefit of an intervening statute under which those enhancements could no longer be imposed, the California Supreme Court held yesterday.
This is so, it said, even though the defendant could have appealed in 2015.
“The parties agreed that the amendment applies to all cases that were not final when the legislation took effect,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said in an opinion for a unanimous court. “The parties disagreed, however, about whether defendant’s case was already final.”
“We hold that a case in which a defendant is placed on probation with execution of an imposed state prison sentence suspended is not yet final for this purpose if the defendant may still timely obtain direct review of an order revoking probation and causing the state prison sentence to take effect.”
Chronology of Events
The petitioner, Randolph Steven Esquivel, on Sept. 11, 2015, pled guilty, pursuant to a plea bargain, to attempted arson. In 2018, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jesus I. Rodriguez ordered that probation be revoked and that the prison sentence be executed.
Esquivel appealed. The Court of Appeal for this district declared on March 16, 2020, in an unpublished opinion, that the conviction of Randolph Steven Esquivel, pursuant to a guilty plea, for attempted arson, had become final in 2015 and that the 2019 ameliorative legislation was inapplicable to him.
Presiding Justice Laurence D. Rubin of Div. Eight explained:
“[Penal Code] Section 1237, subdivision (a) provides that an appeal may be taken from a judgment of conviction, and that, for purposes of appealability, an order granting probation ‘shall be deemed to be a final judgment.’
“For this reason, if a defendant receives a probationary sentence following a finding of guilt at trial, the defendant must immediately appeal to challenge any errors at trial; he cannot wait until probation is revoked and he is sentenced to prison to then raise those issues.”
Rubin noted that the California Supreme Court had decided earlier that year in People v. McKenzie that where a defendant is placed on probation, with imposition of sentence suspended, probation is revoked, and the person is then sentenced to prison, that defendant is entitled to the benefit of intervening ameliorative legislation. That decision, he said, is “distinguishable,” explaining:
“The McKenzie court did not expressly discuss the finality of the situation raised by this case—the finality when sentence is imposed but execution suspended.”
Cantil-Sakauye disagreed, saying:
“At bottom, this is a case about presumed legislative intent. We see no persuasive reason to presume that the Legislature would wish to extend the benefit of ameliorative legislation to suspended-imposition defendants whose probation is revoked (per McKenzie), but not to suspended-execution defendants whose probation is revoked. Accordingly, we conclude that legislation ameliorating punishment presumptively applies to suspended execution cases pending on appeal from an order causing a previously imposed sentence to take effect.”
Need for ‘Closure’
The chief justice recited the argument of the Office of Attorney General that reopening cases under such circumstances denies victims “closure.” She responded:
“But when an appeal from an order causing punishment to take effect is ongoing, there is no closed case to reopen; the criminal proceeding remains pending, and closure has yet to be obtained. Indeed, at the time when the People would have us deem suspended execution cases final (after direct review of the order imposing sentence is complete), it may be unclear whether the court will revoke probation and require the defendant to suffer the punishment imposed. Even the terms of probation itself remain subject to modification.”
The case is People v. Esquivel, 2021 S.O.S. 2662
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