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Name: People v. McDowell (2024) 99 Cal.App.5th 1147
Case #: G062263
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 02/23/2024

Senate Bill No. 81 does not apply to the alternative punishment for human trafficking of a minor under Penal Code section 236.1(c)(2), as it is an alternative penalty provision and not an enhancement. Defendant was convicted of human trafficking of a minor (§ 236.1(c)) and other offenses, and sentenced to 23 years to life. This included an indeterminate term of 15 years to life under the alternative penalty provision of section 236.1(c)(2), which deals with human trafficking of a minor with aggravating circumstances. On appeal, defendant argued that SB 81 required the trial court to dismiss his elevated sentence of 15 years to life. Held: Affirmed. SB 81 added section 1385(c), which provides that a court “shall dismiss an enhancement if it is in the furtherance of justice to do so” and states that a court must consider and afford great weight to certain mitigating circumstances, unless dismissing the enhancement would endanger public safety. Section 236.1 sets forth the penalties for different kinds of human trafficking offenses. Subdivision 236.1(c)(1) provides for a sentence of 5, 8, or 12 years, but when a perpetrator uses force, fear, or one of several other aggravating means to accomplish his aims, subdivision (c)(2) provides for a harsher sentence of 15 years to life. By its terms, section 1385(c) applies only to an “enhancement,” which has a well-established technical meaning in California law: it is an additional term of imprisonment added to the base term. Because section 236.1(c)(2) provides an alternative punishment for the underlying offense and is therefore not an enhancement, SB 81 has no application to sentences under section 236.1(c)(2). The court disagreed with defendant’s argument that the Legislature intended the term “enhancement” in section 1385(c) to mean any statutory mechanism that provides for a harsher sentence, concluding this interpretation was at odds with the term’s established legal meaning and the Penal Code’s instruction that courts follow that established meaning.