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Trial Court Permission to Consolidate Pleadings

Case Name: People v. Henson (2022) 13 Cal.5th 574
Case #: S252702
Last Updated: August 1, 2022

When a defendant is held to answer following separate preliminary hearings on charges brought in separate complaints, can the People file a unitary information covering the charges in both those cases or must they obtain the trial court’s permission to consolidate the pleadings? (See Pen. Code, §§ 949, 954.)

Held:

Penal Code1 section 954 provides in relevant part: “[1] An accusatory pleading may charge two or more different offenses connected together in their commission, or different statements of the same offense[,] or two or more different offenses of the same class of crimes or offenses, under separate counts, and [2] if two or more accusatory pleadings are filed in such cases in the same court, the court may order them to be consolidated.” As is evident from our insertion of numerals into the text, the quoted portion of section 954 includes two main clauses joined by the conjunction “and.” (See People v. Merriman (2014) 60 Cal.4th 1, 36 [177 Cal. Rptr. 3d 1, 332 P.3d 1187] [recognizing these distinct clauses in § 954].) The first clause addresses joinder of related offenses in a single pleading, and for convenience, we will refer to it as the “joinder clause.” The second clause addresses court consolidation of separate pleadings, which we will refer to as the “consolidation clause.”

In this case, the question before us is whether and under what circumstances a trial court can consider more than one preliminary hearing record in ruling on a motion under section 995 to set aside the information for lack of probable cause to support the commitment order. (See § 995, subd. (a)(2).) But in order to resolve that question, the parties and the Court of Appeal offer three different interpretations of section 954. The People argue that section 954’s joinder clause authorizes a district attorney to file a single information combining related offenses that were the subject of separate preliminary examinations. By contrast, the Court of Appeal majority concluded that section 954’s consolidation clause provides the district attorney with that authority. Third, defendant argues that a single information combining related offenses that were the subject of separate preliminary examinations is unauthorized absent a court-issued consolidation order—and no such order was obtained in this case.

We conclude that section 954’s joinder clause permits a district attorney to file a single information in the circumstances presented here, provided, as is true here, that the applicable time constraints are satisfied. We further conclude that when, as here, related offenses are properly joined by the district attorney, a trial court is permitted to consider more than one preliminary hearing record in ruling on a section 995 motion. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which reversed the trial court’s order of dismissal, although we do not employ the Court of Appeal’s reasoning.

This case was decided on 8/1/2022.

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