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Name: People v. Sauceda
Case #: F071531
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 5 DCA
Opinion Date: 09/23/2016

Conviction for unlawful driving and taking of a vehicle (Veh. Code, § 10851) is not eligible for Proposition 47 resentencing. In 2006 Sauceda was sentenced in two separate cases, one of which was for driving or taking a vehicle (Veh. Code, § 10851). After the passage of Proposition 47, Sauceda petitioned to reduce his auto taking/driving conviction to a misdemeanor. The court denied the petition and Sauceda appealed. Held: Affirmed. Proposition 47 made certain theft-related offenses misdemeanors unless the defendant has prior convictions for disqualifying offenses. It created a procedure whereby defendants serving time for listed offenses could petition to have their felony sentences reduced to misdemeanor sentences (Pen. Code, § 1170.18), and modified/added a number of statutes to implement the goal of reducing the punishment for certain nonserious crimes. It did not directly modify Vehicle Code section 10851, nor did it list that offense as one of the sections subject to resentencing. Under Penal Code section 490.2 (added by Prop. 47), one is guilty of petty theft when obtaining any property by theft where the value of the property taken does not exceed $950. However, Vehicle Code section 10851 is not necessarily a theft offense as it may be violated either by taking the vehicle with the intent to steal it or by driving it with the intent to temporarily deprive the owner of possession. In this case, the evidence does not support a conclusion that Sauceda was convicted only of a theft-based Vehicle Code violation. The drafters of Proposition 47 chose not to modify the sentencing provisions of section 10851, “or otherwise connect their amendments with the statute.”

There is no evidence of voter intent to amend Vehicle Code section 10851. The intent of Proposition 47 was to require misdemeanors instead of felonies for certain nonserious, nonviolent crimes. Its resentencing provisions are limited to those eligible defendants “currently serving a sentence for any of the offenses listed [in the statute] that are now misdemeanors,” which does not include Vehicle Code section 10851. There is no indication that offenses that involve conduct similar to those listed will also be changed, “nor is there any indication that the people intended to eliminate any crimes specifically dealing with automobiles through incorporation of those offenses into the crimes of grand or petty theft.”

Excluding Vehicle Code section 10851 from the resentencing provisions of Proposition 47 does not lead to absurd results. One rule of statutory construction provides that ambiguity in a statute should not be interpreted in a manner that provides an absurd result or is inconsistent with legislative intent. Sauceda claimed that excluding defendants who violate Vehicle Code section 10851 from Proposition 47 resentencing creates an absurdity because defendants who steal a vehicle and are prosecuted under Penal Code section 487, subdivision (d)(1) receive misdemeanor sentences if the value of the vehicle is less than $950, and a violation of Vehicle Code section 10851 is a lesser included offense (LIO) of grand theft. However, section 10851 covers more criminal conduct than just what qualifies as an LIO of grand theft. Further, there is no reason an LIO must be punished less severely than the primary offense to which it attaches. Finally, Proposition 47 was designed to modify the definition of a limited set of crimes, specifically grand theft, and applying it to a section 10851 offense would read new elements into that crime and undue a separate legislative act that regulates the taking of vehicles with or without the intent to steal.

The equal protection clause does not require those convicted of violating Vehicle Code section 10851 be treated the same as those convicted of theft involving a vehicle or other low-value property. Equal protection of the law means that persons similarly situated regarding the legitimate purposes of the law must receive the same treatment. Where the law does not involve a suspect classification, the law is tested to determine if the challenged classification bears a rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose. However, “neither the existence of two identical criminal statutes prescribing different levels of punishment, nor the exercise of a prosecutor’s discretion in charging under one such statute and not the other, violates equal protection principles.”

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