What is the test for dismissing a prior conviction under the Three Strikes?

California, United States of America

The following excerpt is from People v. Crosnoe, B187550 (Cal. App. 12/6/2006), B187550 (Cal. App. 2006):

Pursuant to Penal Code section 1385, subdivision (a), the trial court may strike a prior felony conviction "`in furtherance of justice.'" (People v. Williams (1998) 17 Cal.4th 148, 161.) The trial court and the reviewing court "must consider whether, in light of the nature and [circumstances] of his present felonies and prior serious and/or violent convictions, and circumstances of his background, character, and prospects, the defendant may be deemed outside the scheme's spirit, in whole or in part . . . ." (Ibid.) At the very least, the reason for dismissing a strike conviction must be that which would motivate a reasonable judge. (Id. at p. 159.)

A trial court's decision not to dismiss a strike conviction is reviewable for abuse of discretion. (People v. Carmony (2004) 33 Cal.4th 367, 375.) Such a decision will not be reversed merely because reasonable people might disagree. An appellate court may not substitute its judgment for the judgment of the trial court. (Id. at p. 377.) There is no abuse of discretion unless the trial court's decision is "so irrational or arbitrary that no reasonable person could agree with it." (Ibid.) Once the trial court has exercised its discretion, and does not dismiss the prior conviction, this court's role on appeal is very limited.

We reject appellant's claim the trial court focused exclusively or inordinately on the 1984 manslaughter conviction in denying his Romero motion. The court considered the prior conviction in conjunction with the nature and circumstances of the current offenses, as reflecting appellant's continuing danger to the victims and to society. Despite the fact appellant's strike conviction occurred some 20 years before the current offenses, the record establishes appellant to be a recidivist with poor prospects for the future. Under such circumstances, a trial court does not abuse its discretion in refusing to dismiss a prior conviction, even where, as here that conviction is a number of years old. (See, e.g. People v. Williams, supra, 17 Cal.4th at pp. 162-164 [abuse of discretion to dismiss 13-year-old prior conviction where little or nothing favorable to defendant in his record, background, character, or prospects].)

Appellant contends, however, that the trial court ignored the staleness of his voluntary manslaughter conviction and the particulars of his background, especially his mental illness, his efforts to self-medicate by substance abuse, and the fact that apart from his current convictions, appellant's most recent offenses were being under the influence of a controlled substance (for which he was successfully diverted), driving under the influence of alcohol, possession of 28.5 grams or less of marijuana, and forgery. Here too, the record does not support appellant's claim. The trial court considered the factors relevant to its decision, including appellant's history of mental illness and substance abuse, the nature and circumstances of his current offenses and his voluntary manslaughter conviction. As for the age of appellant's manslaughter conviction and the nature of his more recent offenses, these factors were before the court, through the probation officer's report and argument of defense counsel. We presume the court considered them since the record does not affirmatively reflect otherwise; it is not necessary for the trial court to address each independently. (People v. Evans (1983) 141 Cal.App.3d 1019, 1022.) The trial court did not abuse its discretion in concluding appellant did not fall outside the Three Strikes law.

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