Many cases are reversed due to a misunderstanding or mis application of the law by Judges. This case is a classic example of legal error which results in a case being reversed on appeal in California. The accused was originally sentenced to a term of 25 years to life for a 1999 drunk driving conviction with two prior strikes. The strikes were based on his plea in a 1993 California DUI offense, in which one person was killed and another injured. In sentencing the defendant for the 1999 offense, the trial Judge examined the preliminary hearing transcript of the 1993 case and found he had "personally inflicted" great bodily injury on both victims, qualifying the offenses as strikes. A federal court vacated that sentence based on a violation of well settled principles of law. On remand, the trial court struck one strike but not the one based on the manslaughter offense, and resentenced the defendant to a six year term - doubling the three year upper term for drunk driving. On appeal the appellant claimed the trial court's finding of "personal infliction" of injury denied his right to a jury trial. The appeals court agreed and reversed.
The fact is, the justices found, that the defendant never admitted to conduct sufficient to establish personal infliction of injury in the 1993 DUI offense; actually, he disputed the relevant facts of his conduct. In addition to finding whether the defendant suffered the prior conviction, the applicable statutory definition of serious felony required the court to find that he personally inflicted great bodily injury on any person other than an accomplice. It could make the finding as to injury because this was implicit in the manslaughter plea. But it could not find that defendant personally inflicted the injury without resolving a factual dispute, as his plea only admitted he proximately caused the injury. The court did not have the power to resolve this dispute under California criminal law or federal law . The error was not harmless because the evidence in the record could reasonably support a jury's finding of reasonable doubt that the accused personally inflicted great bodily injury.