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Name: Steen v. Appellate Division, Superior Court (L.A.)
Case #: S174773
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 08/11/2014

Court clerk may issue misdemeanor complaint for failure to appear where prosecutorial agency has implicitly given advance approval. The petitioner pled no contest to a misdemeanor of willfully violating her promise to appear charged in a complaint electronically generated by a court clerk. On appeal, she contended that the complaint was void because it was not issued by an executive branch officer with prosecutorial authority, in violation of the California Constitution’s separation of powers clause. The California Supreme Court granted review to consider the validity of a misdemeanor complaint issued by a superior court clerk under the authority of Penal Code section 959.1, subdivision (c). The court held that although a judicial employee could not commence criminal prosecutions without the prosecutor’s approval, section 959.1, subdivision (c) does not permit the clerk to commence prosecutions without the prosecutor’s approval. Here, the relevant prosecutorial agency, through an established practice, implicitly approved in advance the clerk’s routine issuance of complaints for the offense of failure to appear. Therefore, the complaint was valid and the prosecution timely commenced.