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Court of Appeal, First District, Division 1, California.

PEOPLE of the State of California, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Michael WOODHEAD, Defendant and Appellant.


Decided: April 10, 1986

John K. Van de Kamp, Atty. Gen., Martin S. Kaye, Deputy Atty. Gen., and Laurence K. Sullivan, Deputy Atty. Gen., San Francisco, for plaintiff and respondent. Frank O. Bell, Jr., State Public Defender, and Linda Feldman, Deputy State Public Defender, San Francisco, for defendant and appellant.

Defendant Michael Woodhead, aged 19, pleaded nolo contendere to a charge of second degree burglary.   He had previously been convicted of first degree “burglary of a residence” as defined by Penal Code section 1192.7 (subds. (c)(18)), committed while he was of the age of 18 years or older.   Following his nolo contendere plea to the instant second degree burglary charge, he was committed by the superior court to the California Youth Authority (hereafter, “C.Y.A.”).   Basing its action on Welfare and Institutions Code section 1732.5, the C.Y.A. refused to accept Woodhead's commitment and he was remanded to the superior court.   The superior court thereupon sentenced him to prison for the statutory midterm of two years on his nolo contendere plea to the instant second degree burglary charge.  (See Pen.Code, §§ 18, 461.)

Woodhead has appealed from the judgment under which he was sentenced to state prison.

The judgment will be affirmed for the reasons we now state.

 The first of Woodhead's appellate contentions is that he was “improperly rejected by the Youth Authority.”

Welfare and Institutions Code section 1732.5 (hereafter, “section 1732.5”) as here relevant and in effect, provides:

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no person convicted of ․ any ․ serious felony, as defined in Section 1192.7 of the Penal Code, committed when he or she was 18 years of age or older shall be committed to Youth Authority.” *

It will be noted that Woodhead's prior conviction was for such a serious felony, and that his instant conviction and commitment were not for such a serious felony.

The question presented on the appeal is whether the statute mandates that a young adult who has been previously convicted of a serious felony be automatically excluded from C.Y.A. commitment, regardless of the seriousness of his present conviction.

Prior to June 8, 1982, by virtue of Welfare and Institutions Code section 1731.5, Woodhead would have been, as argued, eligible for commitment to the C.Y.A.

Then, on that date, June 8, 1982, the electors of California adopted Proposition 8, which included constitutional amendments and initiative statutes relating to crime and criminals.  Section 1732.5, with which we are here concerned, is one of such initiative statutes.

Our prime purpose is the determination of the intent of the People of this state in legislating the enactment of section 1732.5 and other provisions of Proposition 8.

“When questions as to the applicability or interpretation of statutes are presented ․ the controlling issue is the intent of the Legislature” (Milligan v. City of Laguna Beach, 34 Cal.3d 829, 831, 196 Cal.Rptr. 38, 670 P.2d 1121), whether the Legislature be the People's chosen representatives, or the People themselves enacting legislation through the initiative process.   (See Fair Political Practices Com. v. Superior Court, 25 Cal.3d 33, 42, 157 Cal.Rptr. 855, 599 P.2d 46;  Weaver v. Jordan, 64 Cal.2d 235, 241, 49 Cal.Rptr. 537, 411 P.2d 289.)

We accordingly look to the intent of the People in enacting Proposition 8 and section 1732.5.

The preamble of Proposition 8 stated:

“The rights of victims pervade the criminal justice system, encompassing ․ the more basic expectation that persons who commit felonious acts causing injury to innocent victims will be ․ sufficiently punished so that the public safety is protected and encouraged as a goal of highest importance․  To accomplish these goals, broad reforms in the procedural treatment of accused persons and the disposition and sentencing of convicted persons are necessary and proper as deterrents to criminal behavior and to serious disruption of people's lives.”  (Cal. Const., art. I., § 28, subd. (a).)

Elaborating on the People's intent in enacting Proposition 8 and section 1732.5, the state's high court has said:  “These changes were aimed at achieving more severe punishment for, and more effective deterrence of, criminal acts, protecting the public from the premature release into society of criminal offenders” (Brosnahan v. Brown, 32 Cal.3d 236, 247, 186 Cal.Rptr. 30, 651 P.2d 274);  and that “there seems to be little doubt that the drafters of section 28 wanted a change and that the voters legislated it” (People v. Castro, 38 Cal.3d 301, 309, 211 Cal.Rptr. 719, 696 P.2d 111).

When the legislative intent is made clear, a statute must be construed “so as to effectuate its purpose.”  (Palos Verdes Faculty Assn. v. Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified Sch. Dist., 21 Cal.3d 650, 658, 147 Cal.Rptr. 359, 580 P.2d 1155.)  “It is well established that a specific provision should be construed with reference to the entire statutory system of which it is a part.”   (Bowland v. Municipal Court, 18 Cal.3d 479, 489, 134 Cal.Rptr. 630, 556 P.2d 1081.)

And:  “The right of the initiative is ‘precious to the people and is one which the courts are zealous to preserve to the fullest tenable measure of spirit as well as letter.’ ”  (Emphasis added;  Schmitz v. Younger, 21 Cal.3d 90, 92, 145 Cal.Rptr. 517, 577 P.2d 652.)

Patently it is the “spirit ” and purpose of the statute that young recidivist criminals who have committed “serious felonies,” be punished more severely upon resumption of their criminal careers.   We look now to the “letter ” of the statute.

As noted in Schmitz v. Younger, supra, in determining the legislative intent of a statute, courts are directed to look first to the “words themselves.”  (People v. Castro, supra, 38 Cal.3d 301, 309, 211 Cal.Rptr. 719, 696 P.2d 111;  People v. Black, 32 Cal.3d 1, 5, 184 Cal.Rptr. 454, 648 P.2d 104.)   Here section 1732.5's language—“․ no person convicted of ․ any serious felony ․ committed when he or she was 18 years of age or older shall be committed to the Youth Authority”—has a clear and unmistakable meaning.

It thus becomes manifest that the People in enacting section 1732.5, intended a more severe punishment than formerly, for young persons, 18 years of age or older, who have committed serious felonies, and thereafter resumed their criminal careers.

We have considered Woodhead's contention that the statute is ambiguous.   We do not find it so.   As pointed out, looking to the statute's “plain words” (see Morse v. Municipal Court, 13 Cal.3d 149, 156, 118 Cal.Rptr. 14, 529 P.2d 46), it states that “no person,” situated as was Woodhead, “convicted of any serious felony ․ shall be committed to Youth Authority.”

But were we, arguendo, to find the claimed ambiguity even then, “the statute is to be interpreted ‘in the light of the objective sought to be achieved by it, as well as the evil sought to be averted.’ ”  (In re Andrews, 18 Cal.3d 208, 212, 133 Cal.Rptr. 365, 555 P.2d 97.)

We observe that were we to accept Woodhead's argument, section 1732.5 would have the effect of allowing young persons who have been convicted of serious felonies to be incarcerated with those convicted of less serious offenses simply because they were convicted subsequently of a less serious felony.   Such a result would defeat an obvious objective the statute also seeks to achieve, the separation of those two categories of offenders.   See People v. Haynes, 160 Cal.App.3d 1122, 1133–1134, 207 Cal.Rptr. 139, declaring:  “By their adoption of Welfare and Institutions Code section 1732.5, the people have declared [that] youthful offenders over the age of 18 who have been convicted of ․ section 1192.7 serious felonies should be separated from those involved in less serious crime.”

 We note further that section 1732.5 is mandatory in its terms;  it is prefaced by a phrase of “unmistakable clarity ”—“notwithstanding any other provision of law.”   Such a phrase has a mandatory meaning, and the trial court is divested of any discretion to treat it otherwise.  (See People v. Tanner, 24 Cal.3d 514, 518, 520, 156 Cal.Rptr. 450, 596 P.2d 328;  In re Marriage of Dover, 15 Cal.App.3d 675, 678, fn. 3, 93 Cal.Rptr. 384;  State of California v. Superior Court, 238 Cal.App.2d 691, 695, 48 Cal.Rptr. 156;  see also People v. Fritz, 40 Cal.3d 227, 229–231, 219 Cal.Rptr. 460, 707 P.2d 833;  People v. Williams, 30 Cal.3d 470, 482–484, 179 Cal.Rptr. 443, 637 P.2d 1029.)

 Woodhead's remaining contentions are that:  “Assuming arguendo that section 1732.5 could preclude eligibility from the Youth Authority based upon a prior serious felony conviction, the trial court had the power to strike appellant's prior conviction to allow Youth Authority eligibility, [and that] to forbid the use of Penal Code section 1385 to strike appellant's prior conviction to allow Youth Authority eligibility would deny appellant equal protection of the law.”

As we have pointed out, such a statute as section 1732.5 has been held by higher authority to have a “mandatory ” effect.   And we are in agreement with People v. Haynes, supra, 160 Cal.App.3d 1122, 1131–1135, 207 Cal.Rptr. 139, and People v. Main, 152 Cal.App.3d 686, 199 Cal.Rptr. 683, passim, that it does not abridge the constitutional requirement of “equal protection of the laws.”

The judgment is affirmed.


FOOTNOTE.   The full text of Welfare and Institutions Code section 1732.5 states:“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no person convicted of murder, rape or any other serious felony, as defined in Section 1192.7 of the Penal Code, committed when he or she was 18 years of age or older shall be committed to Youth Authority.“The provisions of this section shall not be amended by the Legislature except by statute passed in each house by rollcall vote entered in the journal, two-thirds of the membership concurring, or by a statute that becomes effective only when approved by the electors.”

ELKINGTON, Acting Presiding Justice.

NEWSOM and HOLMDAHL, JJ., concur.

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