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Name: People v. Codinha (2023) 92 Cal.App.5th 976
Case #: D080633
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Opinion Date: 06/26/2023

A trial court’s inherent authority to correct an unauthorized sentence allows the court to modify a final judgment. In 2019, defendant pleaded guilty to two felonies (counts 1 and 3), and admitted committing count 3 while released on bail for count 1. At his initial sentencing hearing, the trial court ordered count 3 to be served concurrent to count 1, for a total of 8 years. After defendant’s case was final, CDCR sent a letter noting that under the Penal Code, it appeared count 3 should be consecutive to count 1, and asked if correction was required. The trial court held a hearing and imposed count 3 consecutive to count 1, for a new total term of 9 years and 4 months. Defendant appealed. Held: Judgment vacated and case remanded for a full resentencing. The trial court had jurisdiction to modify defendant’s sentence based on the unauthorized sentence doctrine. The Court of Appeal analyzed cases discussing this doctrine and discerned the following rule: “A trial court that imposes a sentence unauthorized by law retains jurisdiction (or has inherent power) to correct the sentence at any time the error comes to its attention, even if execution of the sentence has commenced or the judgment imposing the sentence has become final and correction requires imposition of a more severe sentence, provided the error is apparent from the face of the record.” Applying this rule, the court concluded the trial court had jurisdiction to vacate the void portion of defendant’s judgment and impose a sentence authorized by law. [Editor’s Note: The Court of Appeal acknowledged a conflict in published decisions on this issue (citing People v. King (2022) 77 Cal.App.5th 629 [“[T]he 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 court also observed a “lack of clarity in the law that would warrant review by the California Supreme Court.”]

The proper remedy is a full resentencing hearing because there are additional errors in the sentence and the trial court exercised discretion at the original sentencing hearing to impose a non-maximum aggregate prison term. The Court of Appeal noted an additional error in the sentence that required remand, namely, the trial court’s failure to pronounce sentence on two misdemeanor convictions. On remand, the trial court is not limited to merely correcting illegal portions and may reconsider all sentencing choices. Since the court did not impose the maximum sentence and made various discretionary sentencing choices to structure defendant’s original eight-year sentence, the court may reevaluate its sentencing decisions in light of the changed circumstances, including the recent amendments to Penal Code section 1170 by Senate Bill No. 567.