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Name: People v. Mejia
Case #: E062962
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 03/16/2017

Penal Code section 654 precludes imposition of unstayed sentences for torture and the underlying assaultive offenses upon which the prosecution relied to prove the elements of torture. Mejia was convicted of torture (Pen. Code, § 206), spousal abuse (Pen. Code, § 273.5, subd. (a)), spousal rape with binding or tying (Pen. Code, §§ 262, subd. (a)(1)/667.61, subds. (b), (e)(5)), and criminal threats (§ 422). He received unstayed sentences on all counts. On appeal he challenged the additional terms for spousal battery, rape, and criminal threats. Held: Sentence modified. Penal Code section 654 provides that an act or omission that is punishable under different provisions of law shall be punished under the provision which provides for the longest potential sentence, but may not be punished under more than one provision. Multiple punishment is precluded not only for a single act that violates more than one statute, but also for an indivisible course of conduct. If the offenses were merely incidental to or were the means of facilitating one objective, defendant may be punished only once. “Torture can be committed either by a single act or by a course of conduct.” It requires the infliction of great bodily injury with the intent to cause cruel or extreme pain or suffering. Here, the prosecutor based the offense of torture on a course of conduct that involved multiple discrete acts. “Because all of the acts of spousal rape and of infliction of corporal injury on a spouse were included among the acts underlying the torture count and were essential to satisfying an element of that offense, section 654 precludes imposition of unstayed sentences” on the spousal battery and spousal rape counts. (However, as discussed below, Penal Code section 654 mandates sentence on the count that carries the highest potential term.)

Penal Code section 654 requires the trial court to stay the life term for torture because the spousal rape, which has a tying or binding allegation, provides for a longer potential sentence. Penal Code section 654 provides that where a sentence on one of several counts must be stayed, the trial court is required to impose the term that provides for the “longest potential term of imprisonment.” The torture conviction carries an indeterminate life term. The spousal rape conviction, with the tying or binding allegation, provides for a potentially longer term because the binding (Pen. Code, § 667.61) carries a minimum parole eligibility period of 15 years. Thus, the torture count must be stayed.

An unstayed sentence on the criminal threats count is not precluded by Penal Code section 654. Criminal threats are neither necessary to the commission of torture nor sufficient to satisfy any of the elements of that offense. Mejia did not make the criminal threats to his wife in furtherance of the crime of torture, as torture requires the specific intent to inflict cruel or extreme physical pain or suffering. Thus, emotionally terrorizing the victim by means of threats is an objective different from the intent to inflict extreme physical pain and suffering.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: