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Name: People v. Vargas
Case #: S203744
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 07/10/2014

Two prior convictions arising out of a single act against a single victim cannot constitute two strikes under the Three Strikes law. Vargas was tried for first degree burglary and other crimes. Two strike priors were alleged, a robbery and a carjacking. These priors were tried in the same proceeding and arose out of the same facts. Vargas moved to dismiss the carjacking prior; the court granted the request as to several counts, but not as to the burglary. She appealed and sought writ relief. The Court of Appeal granted a writ of habeas corpus, finding Vargas’ trial counsel had been ineffective for not placing before the court a transcript of the preliminary hearing to show the strike priors arose from the same act. On remand the trial court refused to dismiss the strike on the burglary count. The Court of Appeal affirmed; the Supreme Court granted review. Held: Reversed. Vargas “was convicted in 1999 of two different crimes (robbery and carjacking) that were based on her commission of the same act (forcibly taking the victim’s car).” Both offenses were used as strike priors in her burglary case. However, based on these facts the trial court was required to dismiss one of the two strike priors. To use both convictions as strikes is inconsistent with the intent underlying both the legislative and initiative versions of the Three Strikes law, which punish recidivist behavior and allow three chances (“Three Strikes”) before the harshest penalty may be imposed. In this case, Vargas committed just one criminal act, not two, which resulted in two convictions; she does not pose a greater risk to society within the meaning of the Three Strikes law simply because the Legislature has chosen to criminalize her act in different ways.