Saturday, February 1, 2014

California Courts Rule A Motor Home Is Not A House For Arson Crime

Many decisions have come down in the Torrance Court concluding that a motor home is the same as a house for many purposes, such as whether the police are required to obtain a search warrant prior to entry, for example.  In this recent case, the California appeals court went the other way.  Though this case has little to do with DUI, the principles set forth are interesting and could come into play within the context of drunk driving cases involving motor homes.

Here are the facts: Following an argument with his girlfriend, defendant used a vehicle to push an inoperable motor home next to the one in which he was living and in which his girlfriend was sleeping. He then set fire to it. The girlfriend escaped, but the fire spread to the home in which she had been sleeping, destroying both. A jury found defendant guilty of arson of an inhabited structure in violation of Penal Code section 451, subdivision (b) and was sentenced to 25 years to life under "Three Strikes." 

I his appeal, the defendant contended that the evidence was insufficient to show that the motor home in which he and girlfriend were then living was a "structure." The appellate court agreed and reversed. The motor home at issue is not a structure as that term is defined in the arson statutes. The court also held that because the only other crime on which the trial court instructed was arson of property, which is not a lesser included offense, the court could not exercise its authority under section 1181, subdivision 6, to reduce the conviction to that offense. Further, remand and a subsequent trial would constitute a new prosecution of the defendant based on the same evidence to prosecute the original charge, and is therefore prohibited. The District Attorney failed to prove its case against the accused offender, and the only option is reversal with instructions to the trial court to dismiss the charges. (Courtesy CCAP)

The DA now has a decision to make.  He can dismiss the charge and close the case.  He can proceed on a different theory of a crime or strike a deal for a lesses offense.