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Name: People v. Frierson
Case #: S236728
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 12/28/2017
Summary

The beyond a reasonable doubt standard of proof applies to ineligibility factors for Three Strikes Reform resentencing. In 1998 defendant was convicted of stalking and two prior serious felonies were found true. He received a life Three Strikes sentence. After passage of the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012 (Prop. 36), he petitioned for resentencing. Applying a preponderance of the evidence standard, the trial court found defendant ineligible because the circumstances of the offense showed he intended to inflict great bodily injury (GBI). The Court of Appeal affirmed and the California Supreme Court granted review. Held: Reversed. Prospectively, the Act restricts imposition of a life Three Strikes sentence to cases where the current offense is serious or violent, or was committed under certain circumstances, which must be pleaded and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Retrospectively, a defendant may seek resentencing, whereupon the trial court determines eligibility. The prosecution bears the burden of proving that one of the ineligibility criteria applies. Because stalking is not by definition a serious/violent felony, the prosecution had to prove either defendant was armed or personally inflicted GBI during the offense (Pen. Code, § 1192.7, subd. (c)(8), (23)), or that he intended to cause GBI, thus bringing him within an exclusion provision (Pen. Code, § 1170.126, subd. (e)(2)). Although the resentencing provision of section 1170.126 does not reference a standard of proof, the parallel structure of the prospective and retrospective portions of the Act, as well as section 1170.126’s incorporation of the ineligibility criteria of section 1170.12, subdivision (c)(2)(C), reflects an intent to apply the same burden of proof for a finding of ineligibility for a second strike sentence in both contexts. The trial court’s discretion to deny resentencing based on a dangerousness finding acts as a safeguard where the record does not establish ineligibility criteria beyond a reasonable doubt. This comports with the structure and language of the Act and its intent to reduce excessive sentences, while protecting public safety. [Editor’s Note: In a footnote, the court stated that it was not considering what kinds of evidence may be offered on the subject of eligibility at a resentencing hearing.]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S236728.PDF