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Name: People v. Reynoza (2024) 15 Cal.5th 982
Case #: S273797
Court: CA Supreme Court
Opinion Date: 04/22/2024

Where criminal charges have already been filed, post-charging witness dissuasion alone does not constitute an offense under Penal Code section 136.1(b)(2). Reynoza was found guilty of dissuading a witness under section 136.1(b)(2)). The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding there was insufficient evidence to support the witness dissuasion conviction because section 136.1(b)(2) requires proof that a defendant attempted to prevent or dissuade another person from causing a complaint to be filed and, in the present case, a complaint had already been filed when Reynoza and others confronted the witness in the underlying criminal case. The California Supreme Court granted review. Held: Affirmed. Relevant to this case, section 136.1(b)(2) makes it a crime to attempt to prevent or dissuade a crime victim or witness from “causing a complaint . . . to be sought and prosecuted, and assisting in the prosecution thereof.” (Emphasis added.) The question before the Supreme Court was whether the connecting “and” should be read conjunctively (as defendant argued), or whether it should be read disjunctively (as the Attorney General argued). After analyzing the text of section 136.1, statutory context, legislative history, and how similar statutes have been interpreted in other jurisdictions, the Supreme Court concluded that section 136.1(b)(2) is equally susceptible to both interpretations and that this is a rare case where the rule of lenity applies. The court “adopt[ed] the construction more favorable to defendants: section 136.1(b)(2) is to be read conjunctively such that the language ‘assisting in the prosecution thereof’ provides no independent basis for a conviction under the statute.” It was undisputed that all of Reynoza’s dissuasive conduct occurred after the underlying charging document had been filed and the Court of Appeal correctly concluded there was insufficient evidence to support Reynoza’s conviction under section 136.1(b)(2).