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Name: People v. Gonzalez
Case #: B262300
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 8
Opinion Date: 10/29/2015

Defendant’s payment of federal civil penalty for pointing a laser at an inhabited aircraft did not preclude his state prosecution for the offense. Defendant was charged with discharging a laser at an occupied aircraft (Pen. Code, § 247.5). Prior to the preliminary hearing, the trial court granted his motion to dismiss the complaint on double jeopardy grounds because he had already paid a civil penalty to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The prosecution appealed. Held: Reversed. The double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment protects against a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal, or after conviction, and protects against multiple punishments for the same offense. The payment of a federal civil penalty not based on a criminal conviction may implicate federal double jeopardy if it constitutes criminal punishment. However, under the separate sovereign doctrine, the federal Constitution does not bar the state or the federal government from instituting criminal prosecutions for the same act or conduct. Here, the FAA, a federal agency, issued a civil sanction for defendant’s act of pointing a laser at an inhabited aircraft. The state prosecutor thereafter initiated criminal proceedings for the same conduct. Even assuming the federal sanction was “criminal punishment,” the Fifth Amendment does not preclude the state prosecution because of the separate sovereign doctrine.

California’s double jeopardy statutes do not preclude the state criminal proceedings. Penal Code sections 656 and 793 provide double jeopardy protection beyond that extended by the Fifth Amendment because they prohibit successive prosecutions by separate sovereigns. Section 656 bars a second state “trial” and section 793 prohibits a successive state “prosecution” after a criminal conviction or acquittal in another jurisdiction of a criminal offense involving the same act or omission. However, Gonzalez was not “convicted” or “acquitted” in a former federal prosecution. The language of the statutes does not encompass governmental imposition of prior civil penalties.

The California Constitution, article I, section 15, does not prohibit the state criminal proceeding. California’s double jeopardy clause has the same purpose as the federal double jeopardy clause—to protect against successive prosecutions. No state case has addressed whether payment of a civil fine is or is not criminal punishment under the California Constitution and the Court of Appeal here adopted the federal analytical framework outlined in Hudson v. U.S. (1997) 522 U.S. 93 to address this issue. In Hudson, the Court evaluated whether a federal civil penalty precluded a successive criminal prosecution under the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Court concluded that the defendant is required to prove a legislative intent to treat the civil penalty as a criminal sanction and, if not, that the purpose and effect of the fine was constitutionally punitive. Here, Gonzalez did not identify the federal law under which he paid the federal fine and failed to show that the purpose and effect of the fine was punitive.