Thursday, March 12, 2020
Court of Appeal:
No Statute Authorizes Regulation of Whereabouts of Misdemeanant After Serving Jail Time, Opinion Says, and No Inherent Powers Exist for Issuing Directive
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has held that a judge had neither statutory authority nor the inherent power to order a man who was convicted of a misdemeanor in connection with setting a fire, not to return to the scene of his crime because persons who work there and witnessed his misdeed would be disturbed by the sight of him,
Justice Marie E. Stratton wrote the opinion, filed Tuesday. The opinion recites that the order in question, by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Renee Korn, is “stricken” (although the disposition, as reflected on the Judicial Council website, is that the case is remanded for the Superior Court to strike the order).
Korn’s order, issued in tandem with the sentence, was directed to Juan F. Corrales. He had been charged with two felonies in connection with setting ablaze a palm tree next to a strip mall, but was found guilty by a jury of the misdemeanor of unlawful burning the property of another.
The judge ordered him not to come within 100 yards of “the perimeter area of 530 E. Washington Boulevard,” a medical clinic, at the south end of the strip mall. She said that Corrales “should stay away from that location, because everyone at that location who was there that day and saw what he did and went through that obviously would be upset to see him on that property again.”
The judge acknowledged that the order “has no teeth to it” because it was not a condition of probation—she sentenced him to six months in jail and he already had served more than 10 months in confinement awaiting trial, and was ordered freed—but warned that “a violation of a court order… could mean a new charge against you.”
The problem with the order, Stratton said, is that Penal Code §136.2 governs protective orders in criminal cases, unless a more specific statute pertains, and none does. However, that section generally applies only prior to a judgment in a case, as a means of safeguarding victims and witnesses, she noted.
“Accordingly, section 136.2 does not authorize a trial court to impose a postjudgment restraining order against a criminal defendant,” the jurist declared.
(In a footnote, Stratton advised that the section does authorize postjudgment orders where a defendant is convicted of a crime involving domestic violence, street terrorism, a crime requiring registration as a sex offender, or one of six specified sex-related offenses.)
Supreme Court Decision
The Office of Attorney General, defending Korn’s order, pointed to the California Supreme Court’s 1999 decision in Townsel v. Superior Court which validated an order to appellate counsel not to contact, without permission, the jurors who had convicted his client of murder. Then-Justice Kathryn Werdegar (now retired) wrote that “trial courts have always possessed the inherent power to protect jurors’ physical safety and privacy.”
The case made no mention of §136.2.
“The defendant in Townsel had been convicted of murdering one victim because she was a witness to a previous crime and was also convicted of attempting to prevent or dissuade a witness. Consequently the trial court’s order was justified because of the defendant’s history of interfering with the judicial process by killing or threatening witnesses….Townsel does not support the conclusion that a court can issue a postjudgment protective order under section 136.2 based on its inherent authority.”
She noted that Div. Six of this district’s Court of Appeal, in the 2009 case of People v. Ponce, “limited Townsel to its facts,” adding: “and so do we.”
There, Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert observed:
“Where the Legislature authorizes a specific variety of available procedures, the courts should use them and should normally refrain from exercising their inherent powers to invent alternatives….
“Moreover, even where a court has inherent authority over an area where the Legislature has not acted, this does not authorize issuing orders against defendants by fiat or without any valid showing to justify the need for the order.”
Stratton expressed agreement.
The case is People v. Corrales, 2020 S.O.S. 1092.
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