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Name: People v. Lezama (2024) 101 Cal.App.5th 583
Case #: G062075
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 04/22/2024
Summary

Individuals who pled guilty to manslaughter after statutory amendments that eliminated imputed malice theories of murder liability are not eligible for resentencing under Penal Code section 1172.6. Defendant was originally charged with murder in 2017 and entered a plea to voluntary manslaughter in mid-2019. His section 1172.6 petition for resentencing was denied at the prima facie stage because the court found defendant had pled guilty to manslaughter after theories of imputed malice were eliminated by SB 1437. He appealed. Held: Affirmed. Under section 1172.6, as amended by SB 775, a person convicted of manslaughter is eligible for resentencing if, among other criteria, the petitioner “could not presently be convicted of murder or attempted murder because of changes to section 188 and 189.” This criterion is ambiguous. The notion that someone could not presently be convicted of murder or attempted murder because of changes made by SB 1437 implies that at one point in time the circumstances were different. “On one hand, and consistent with defendant’s position, it could be the time of filing of an information charging murder which left open the possibility the prosecution could employ an imputed malice theory. On the other hand, and consistent with the Attorney General’s position, it could be the time of the trial or plea which resulted in the conviction.” After examining statements in relevant California Senate and Assembly reports, the court determined that the most reasonable reading of this criterion is that at the time of conviction — i.e., the time the plea was entered — the only way to a murder conviction was through an imputed malice theory. Therefore, defendant was ineligible for relief as a matter of law because he pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter at a time when imputed malice theories of liability had already been statutorily eliminated.