Articles Posted in Vehicle Crimes

Who gets to decide on the defendant’s defense in a California criminal trial? The answer is, it is nuanced, and depends —some decisions are up to the lawyer, while others are left to the client. In a recent California case, the appeals court clarified whether the lawyer can admit that a defendant committed an act over the defendant’s objection.

In the case, the defendant was charged with the unlawful possession of weapons, and later with deliberately driving his car into a police officer while the officer was conducting a traffic stop. The officer was seriously injured, but survived. The defendant allegedly drove away, left the car, and went to a train station parking lot. He was arrested there, and later made incriminating statements to cellmates.

Before trial, the defendant told the court about his displeasure with his lawyer, saying that the lawyer wanted “to make him admit to something that [he] didn’t want to admit.” During the trial, the lawyer admitted that the defendant was driving the car, and argued that the defendant never had the premeditated intent to kill which was necessary to sustain a first-degree attempted murder conviction. The defendant objected to his lawyer’s admission that he was driving the car that injured the officer. At a later trial on the charges of weapons possession, the defendant objected when his lawyer admitted that he possessed certain firearms, and argued that he did not knowingly possess them because he did not understand the unlawful nature of the weapons.

In a recent decision, the California Supreme Court decided that defendants who had not yet been sentenced at the time of Proposition 47’s effective date were entitled to the initial sentencing under Proposition 47. Proposition 47 was a 2014 ballot initiative that reduced certain felony offenses to misdemeanors. It also allowed certain defendants who were already serving their sentences to petition the court for resentencing. However, the resentencing provision only allows resentencing if a trial court finds that the defendant would not pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety. Proposition 47 was approved during the November 2014 election, and took effect on November 5, 2015.

According to the court’s opinion, in January 2015, the defendant was charged with unlawfully taking or driving a vehicle and with receiving a stolen vehicle. He was alleged to have committed the offenses in August 2013, when he was found driving a stolen car. A jury found him guilty of driving a vehicle without permission under section 10851 of the Vehicle Code. The court sentenced him to three years in prison, which was increased to ten years because of sentence enhancements for prior prison terms and prior convictions. Proposition 47 went into effect after the defendant committed the offense but before he was charged, tried, or sentenced.

Under Proposition 47, offenses of obtaining property by theft where the value of the property is $950 or less are generally considered misdemeanor offenses. The defendant argued that the statute applied to convictions under section 10851 of the Vehicle Code, and that his conviction must be reduced to a misdemeanor offense according to the new penal code provision because the jury never found that the value of the vehicle exceeded $950. The issue before the California Supreme Court was whether Proposition 47 applied to defendants who committed crimes before the law’s effective date but who were tried or sentenced after the effective date.

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