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Crimes PC 136.1 and Dissuading a Victim or Witness After a Charging Document Has Been Filed

Case Name: People v. Reynoza (2024) 15 Cal.5th 982
Case #: S273797
Last Updated: April 22, 2024

Does Penal Code section 136.1, subdivision (b)(2), which prohibits dissuading or attempting to dissuade a victim or witness from causing a charging document “to be sought and prosecuted, and assisting in the prosecution thereof,” encompass attempts to dissuade a victim or witness after a charging document has been filed?

Held:

Penal Code section 136.1, subdivision (b)(2) makes it a crime to attempt to dissuade a victim or witness from “[c]ausing a complaint . . . to be sought and prosecuted, and assisting in the prosecution thereof.” (Italics added.) A jury found defendant Raymond Gregory Reynoza guilty of violating this statute based on actions that occurred entirely after the complaint in the underlying criminal case had been filed.

The question before us is whether section 136.1(b)(2) supports this disjunctive interpretation — in which the statute independently applies where a defendant dissuades a witness from “assisting in the prosecution” of a case after the charging document has already been filed — or whether a conjunctive interpretation precludes a conviction under such circumstances. On the one hand, the word “and,” which joins the subject clauses of section 136.1(b)(2), is ordinarily used as a conjunction (In re C.H. (2011) 53 Cal.4th 94, 101). On the other hand, the word “and” also “is sometimes, in a fair and rational construction of a statute, to be read as if it were or, and taken disjunctively” (People v. Pool (1865) 27 Cal. 572, 581 (Pool)), which would lead us to apply section 136.1(b)(2) to situations where a defendant dissuades a witness from “assisting in the prosecution” of a case only after a charging document has already been filed.

After considering the text, statutory context, legislative history, and the experiences of other jurisdictions when faced with similar statutory language, we conclude that section 136.1(b)(2) is equally susceptible to both the conjunctive and disjunctive constructions. Accordingly, the rule of lenity counsels in favor of adopting the “interpretation more favorable to the defendant.” (People v. Avery (2002) 27 Cal.4th 49, 57 (Avery).) Here, that is the conjunctive construction, which does not permit a conviction to be based solely on proof of dissuasion from “assisting in the prosecution” of an already-filed charging document.

Because there is no dispute that defendant’s conduct amounted to, at most, dissuasion after a complaint was filed, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal reversing his conviction.

This case was decided on 4/22/2024. Chief Justice Guerrero authored the opinion of the court (unanimous decision).

Review on this issue was also granted with briefing deferred in:

First District

  • People v. Timms (A163864) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 8/30/2023 (S281020)

Third District

  • People v. Towner (C095094) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 5/17/2023 (S279107)
  • People v. Burgess (C095650) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 7/12/2023 (S280162)
  • People v. Yu (C096075) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 4/10/2024 (S284117)

Fifth District

  • People v. Gaytan (F080702) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 8/31/2022 (S275599)

Sixth District

  • People v. Cervantes (H048986) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 10/25/2023 (S281898)

 

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