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Name: People v. Cross
Case #: S212157
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 05/18/2015

Before accepting defendant’s stipulation that he suffered a prior felony spousal battery conviction, trial court was required to give Boykin-Tahl warnings and apprise defendant of the penal consequences of his admission. A jury convicted Cross of spousal battery (Pen. Code, § 273.5) with a prior spousal battery. During trial his attorney stipulated to the prior, within the meaning of former subdivision (e) (now subdivision (f)) of section 273.5. This prior resulted in Cross being sentenced under the increased punishment triad for the substantive offense. On appeal Cross asserted his rights were violated when the trial court accepted the stipulation without advising him of any trial rights or the penal consequences of the admission. The Court of Appeal affirmed; the California Supreme Court granted review. Held: Reversed. A guilty plea must be knowing and voluntary. The same requirements of advisement and waiver that are required for a plea also apply when a defendant admits the truth of a prior conviction that subjects him to increased punishment (In re Yurko (1974) 10 Cal.3d 857). The finding of a prior spousal battery within seven years of a similar current conviction subjected Cross to greater punishment than a conviction of spousal battery alone. The Court of Appeal found the stipulation was not tantamount to admitting an enhancement, but was a sentencing factor allowing the court to use an alternative sentencing scheme. There is no meaningful distinction between an enhancement and a sentencing scheme in this context. A stipulation has “definite penal consequences” if it establishes every fact necessary to support an additional punishment, as did the stipulation here. While a trial court’s failure to advise a defendant of his trial rights is not reversible if the record affirmatively reflects the admission was voluntary and intelligent under the totality of the circumstances, that was not the case here.

Cross did not forfeit his right to raise the lack of advisement on appeal by failing to object at trial. In answer to the Attorney General’s argument that Cross forfeited his right to complain about the manner in which the stipulation was entered, the Supreme Court distinguished Cross’ case from People v. Vera (1997) 15 Cal.4th 269. In Vera the defendant failed to object to the discharge of the jury before trial on a prior. On appeal, Vera was found to have forfeited the issue of an ineffectual waiver of his statutory right to jury trial on prior prison term allegations, a right based on statute, rather than the state or federal Constitution. However, Vera still received a fair, albeit court, trial on his priors and was thereby not denied due process. In this case, “Cross’s unwarned stipulation to the truth of the prior conviction allegation did not merely waive a jury trial; it waived any trial at all.” It would be inappropriate to apply Vera in this context.