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Name: People v. Jones (2023) 89 Cal.App.5th 1344
Case #: A163558
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 5
Opinion Date: 04/04/2023
Summary

Jury’s verdict in the second part of a bifurcated trial was a nullity where the trial court had discharged and lost control of the jury after the first part of the trial. Following the reading of the verdicts in a bifurcated trial, the trial court discharged the jury and “expressly released the jurors from their obligation not to discuss the case with anyone else” and excused them from jury duty. The prosecutor informed the court that the matter of the prior serious felony conviction remained to be tried, and the trial court asked the bailiff to call the jurors back to the courtroom. Defense counsel unsuccessfully moved for dismissal as to the prior serious felony allegation on the grounds that the jury had been discharged. After a four-hour pause in the proceedings, the jurors reconvened and found that Jones had been previously convicted of a prior serious felony. Jones appealed. Held: Reversed and remanded with instructions to strike the true finding for the prior serious felony and resentence Jones accordingly. Where “a complete verdict has not been rendered or if the verdict is otherwise irregular, jurisdiction to reconvene the jury depends on whether the jury has left the court’s control. If it has, there is no jurisdiction; if it hasn’t, the jury may be recovened.” (Internal citations omitted.) Given the “paucity of evidence,” the Court of Appeal was unable to conclude that the jury remained within the court’s control. The trial court expressly excused the jurors from jury duty and failed to admonish the jury prior to the bifurcated portion of the trial that started roughly four hours later. The record further failed to account for the jurors’ conduct or whereabouts during their four-hour absence from the courtroom.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/A163558.PDF