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Name: People v. Estrada (2024) 101 Cal.App.5th 328
Case #: B324576
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 8
Opinion Date: 04/09/2024

Trial court erred in denying Penal Code section 1172.6 petition at the prima facie stage where relying on the preliminary hearing transcripts to deny relief required the court to engage in impermissible factfinding. At a preliminary hearing in 2017, a detective testified that Estrada admitted he stabbed victim 1 “two or three times” and that he kicked victim 2 in the face and stomped on his head. Beyond Estrada, there was also evidence of two people with blood on their clothes, one of whom carried a box cutter.  Estrada pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and attempted murder, and admitted to use of a deadly weapon and great bodily injury. In 2022, Estrada filed a petition for resentencing under section 1172.6. The trial court denied the petition at the prima facie stage on the basis that Estrada was “the actual killer.” Estrada appealed. Held: Reversed. In pleading no contest to attempted murder and voluntary manslaughter, Estrada did not admit to a specific theory of guilt, and his plea does not establish whether intent could have been imputed to him. Likewise, Estrada’s bare admission of the enhancements does not refute that he was convicted on a theory of imputed malice. The trial court did not state the basis for its finding that Estrada was the actual killer, but to the extent the court relied on the preliminary hearing transcript, this was error. The evidence did not conclusively foreclose the possibility that the petitioner was convicted under an invalid theory, as the testimony potentially suggested multiple perpetrators. Thus, the preliminary hearing testimony, standing alone, does not conclusively establish as a matter of law that Estrada is ineligible for relief. [Editor’s Notes: (1) The court also disagreed with the People’s argument that the amended information established Estrada was the sole perpetrator because he was charged alone. (2) The following issue is pending in the California Supreme Court in People v. Patton (2023) 89 Cal.App.5th 649, review granted 6/28/2023 (S279670/B320352): Did the trial court engage in impermissible judicial factfinding by relying on the preliminary hearing transcript to deny defendant’s Penal Code section 1172.6 petition at the prima facie stage? (See People v. Lewis (2021) 11 Cal.5th 952.)]