Court of Appeal:
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday dismissed an appeal from the denial of a motion to vacate and correct an unauthorized sentence, declaring that the Los Angeles Superior Court was devoid of jurisdiction to act on such a motion.
That rendered the ruling on such a motion nonappealable, Presiding Justice Elwood Lui of Div. Two wrote, thus foreclosing jurisdiction in the appellate court.
David Jerome King, who was convicted in 1986 of multiple sex offenses and sentenced to 105 years in prison in 2021 challenged a six-year middle term on a count of forcible rape in concert. Judge Hector E. Gutierrez denied the motion and he appealed.
The rule that an unauthorized sentence may be challenged at any time did not create jurisdiction in the Superior Court, Lui wrote, pointing out that, in general, jurisdiction over a sentence is lost once execution of that sentence begins.
“The Legislature has also created…specific statutory avenues for incarcerated defendants to seek resentencing in particular cases….If a modification does not make a substantive change to a sentence but simply corrects a clerical error, the trial court has the inherent power to correct its own records at any time….And a trial court may of course rule on a defendant’s challenge to an unlawful sentence in a properly filed petition for a writ of habeas corpus….
“Because the unauthorized sentence doctrine is a principle of waiver rather than jurisdiction, however, it is not one of those exceptions. The doctrine does not itself create jurisdiction for the trial court to rule on a motion challenging the legality of a sentence.”
Supreme Court Opinion
The jurist said this is in line with the California Supreme Court’s 2020 opinion in In re G.C. There, Justice Carol Corrigan wrote for a unanimous court in determining that although a judge in a juvenile delinquency case had a mandatory duty to specify whether the offense, which was a wobbler, was a misdemeanor or a felony, “noncompliance did not make the original dispositional order an unauthorized sentence that could be corrected at any time.”
Lui commented that “[a] defendant who is incarcerated under a truly illegal sentence should not have difficulty in meeting the requirements for habeas relief,” adding:
“Our holding here is necessarily limited to the circumstances of this case, involving a motion filed by an incarcerated defendant seeking a substantive change to his sentence after his conviction has become final and where the trial court did not otherwise have jurisdiction. We do not attempt to consider all the potential implications of characterizing the unauthorized sentence rule as a principle of waiver rather than jurisdiction. Instead, our holding is restricted to the proposition that the unauthorized sentence doctrine does not itself create jurisdiction for a trial court to rule on an incarcerated defendant’s motion to correct an alleged illegal sentence after the conviction is final and after the execution of the sentence has begun.”
The case is People v. King, B315265.
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