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Name: People v. Guerrero
Case #: S253405
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 04/30/2020
Summary

Opinion By: Justice Liu (unanimous decision)
A meaningful connection between forgery and identity theft, for purposes of the identity theft exception to misdemeanor treatment of a forgery offense (Pen. Code, § 473, subd. (b)), requires a facilitative relationship between the two offenses. After Guerrero was arrested, a driver’s license, a benefits card, and checks that did not belong to him were found in his wallet. A counterfeit $50 bill was also discovered. He was convicted of a number of offenses, including misdemeanor possession of the personal identifying information of another (Pen. Code, § 530.5, subd. (c)(1)) and felony forgery by possession of fictitious bill (Pen. Code, § 476). Proposition 47 passed before Guerrero was sentenced, but the trial court did not reduce his felony forgery conviction to a misdemeanor. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The California Supreme Court granted review. Held: Reversed. Proposition 47 amended section 473 to add subdivision (b), which provides that forgery relating to certain items, where the value of the instrument does not exceed $950, shall be punishable as a misdemeanor, except, as applicable here, where the person “is convicted both of forgery and of identity theft, as defined in Section 530.5.” In People v. Gonzales (2018) 6 Cal.5th 44, the court held that this exception applies only where there is a “meaningful connection” between a defendant’s forgery and misuse of personal identifying information, beyond the convictions’ inclusion in the same judgment. Here, the court further clarified this exception and concluded that, “[t]o disqualify a defendant for relief under section 473(b), the prosecution must show that the forgery offense facilitated the identity theft offense, or vice versa. The fact that both offenses were committed at the same time and place, or the fact that evidence of both offenses was found at the same time and place, does not by itself mean that one offense facilitated the other.” In Guerrero’s case, the stolen identification information and the counterfeit $50 bill (the only evidence supporting his forgery conviction) were not shown to be connected in any way except that they were both found in his wallet. As a result, he was entitled to reduction of his forgery conviction to a misdemeanor.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/S253405.PDF