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Strike Sentence Vacated

California v. Farias Court: California Courts of Appeal, Docket: C094195 (Third Appellate District), Opinion Date: June 15, 2023. Defendant inmates Jesse Farias and Fernando Miranda were found guilty of various charges stemming from their attack on a fellow inmate. Defendants, their counsel, and the State then agreed to allow the trial court to determine the truth of allegations that they had previously been convicted of crimes that constituted both serious felonies under Penal Code section 667(a), and strikes under Penal Code sections 667(e)(2) and 1170.12(c)(2), without their appearances. The trial court expressly found the prior convictions were for serious felonies under section 667 (a), but made no mention of the allegations under sections 667(e)(2) and 1170.12(c)(2). However, at the sentencing hearing, the court imposed sentences on the defendants as if it had found the strike allegations to be true. Had all parties attended the hearing on the priors, the Court of Appeal surmised someone in the group would have requested the court clearly make an oral record of its findings. Instead, the record was silent "with little way to know if the error was purely clerical in nature or if the trial court, in fact, failed to consider the strike allegations at all." On appeal, both defendants argued the court could not impose a strike sentence here, because it made no strike finding. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed a strike sentence was not appropriate, and vacated the sentence without prejudice for the trial court to correct the record. In addition to joining Farias’s challenge to the strike sentence, Miranda also challenged the trial court’s finding that two of his prior convictions were for serious felonies on grounds that those findings are not supported by substantial evidence. While the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s finding on one of the two subject prior convictions, the Court agreed with Miranda that, considering changes to the law governing gang offenses, the trial court lacked substantial evidence to support its finding that his prior conviction under section 186.22(a), was for a serious felony as contemplated by section 667(a). Both Defendants argued that amendments to Penal Code section 654 made after the trial court entered its sentence applied here; to this the Court remanded the case to allow the trial court to exercise its discretion under the amended law.

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