By Shellsea Lomeli
KERN COUNTY, CA – The Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of the Kern County Superior Court, which denied the petition for resentencing of a man convicted of two counts of second-degree murder and one count of gross vehicular manslaughter, the petition applying specifically to the second-degree murder counts.
On Jan. 1, 2019, California Senate Bill 1437 (SB 1437) went into effect, which changed “some of the laws for when a person can be convicted of murder,” according to Prison Law Office—a private non-profit organization that provides legal assistance to individuals in California state prisons. Under Penal Code section 1170.95, the law provides a path for those who have already been convicted of a crime and sentenced to petition to have their “murder conviction vacated and to be resentenced on any remaining counts” if their case applies to certain listed conditions. According to the new murder law, an individual can only be convicted of either first-degree or second-degree murder if they act with malice, which is “expressed when there is manifested a deliberate intention to unlawfully take away the life of a fellow creature.”
On Jan. 14, 2014, Joseph Haskell Maine was driving while under the influence. As he was entering an intersection, his vehicle collided with the passenger side of a black Ford Fusion, killing Vanessa Carrillo who was eight months pregnant. Officers arrived on the scene five minutes later, where they conducted Field Sobriety Tests and a preliminary alcoholic screening (PAS) test on the defendant. Maine registered a Blood Alcohol Content at 0.16 percent.
After being admitted to the hospital, the defendant allegedly told Officer Diedrich he had “two to four glasses of wine … approximately four to five hours before the collision” and then “six beers … within the last hour and a half to the collision.” Maine also admitted to being convicted of a “wet reckless,” also known as a reduced DUI charge, and given a Watson advisement.
A Watson advisement is a document an individual signs after being convicted of a DUI that makes the signer aware of the risks of a DUI to themself or others around them. This advisement also informs the individual they could be tried for second-degree murder if their DUI kills someone.
In 2015, Maine was found guilty and convicted by a jury on two counts of second-degree murder and one count of gross vehicular manslaughter. He was sentenced to 15 years to life for each second-degree murder charge, to be served concurrently, and “the upper term of 10 years, with a one-year enhancement as to each of the two victims” for the gross vehicular manslaughter count.
This leads to a total of at least 40 years if not given parole.
The original criminal conviction was appealed in 2018 and the 5th DCA affirmed the conviction in full.
In February 2019, Maine filed a Penal Code section 1170.95 petition to vacate his second-degree murder convictions and receive resentencing. His petition states his trial has been done under the old felony murder rule—the natural and probable consequences doctrine—and claims the felony murder definition as it now stands would lead him to not be convicted.
The Kern County District Attorney’s office filed a Motion to Dismiss under the grounds that SB 1437 was unconstitutional. Maine’s counsel, represented by Jennifer Mouzis, filed a response to the Motion to Dismiss.
In their briefs, Mouzis noted that at the time no Court of Appeals had ruled on the constitutionality of SB 1437 yet and asked the matter be continued. Counsel did agree that matters could proceed.
During this hearing, the prosecution argued that they did not present the felony murder rule or the natural and probable consequences doctrine in charging him with second-degree murder. They state their approach comes from the Watson case law and the advisement Maine signed.
The Superior Court denied the petition, stating they would treat SB 1437 as constitutional, and Maine appealed that decision.
In addition to the petition, Mouzis submitted an opening brief. The 5DCA invited Mr. Maine to also present a supplemental brief on Nov. 12, 2019, but the defendant did not respond.
After considering the facts of the case and the arguments, the 5DCA affirmed the ruling of the court in an unpublished opinion.
They referenced their unpublished opinion on the original conviction appeal. In that opinion, they note that the People and the defense “presented evidence through their respective experts regarding the effects of ‘rising blood alcohol…’ [and] regarding ‘accident reconstruction.’” The opinion also notes that the traffic signal at the intersection had been operating correctly at the time.
In approaching this case, the appellant requested the Appellate Court independently review the Maine case and motion under the case-law of People v. Wende (1979).
The People v. Maine opinion states, “Maine’s appellate counsel filed an opening brief that summarizes the facts, raised no issues and requests an independent review of the record.” This type of brief is referred to as a “Wende” brief which stems from People v. Wende (1979). The court responded to Maine’s appeal by stating they found “that no reasonable arguable or factual legal issues exist” after conducting “an independent review of the record.”
People v. Wende (1979) case law that states the court is required to “conduct a review of the entire record whenever appointed counsel submits a brief which raises no specific issues or describes the appeal as frivolous.”
This review of the record of appeal was done in fulfillment of the request described in Maine’s opening briefing. The request aligned with the California Supreme Court’s notation in People v. Wende (1957). The briefing supported the request by stating that “the Wende procedure was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in Smith v. Robbins (2000).”
According to Oyez, a multimedia judicial archive of the United States Supreme Court, the Court’s ruling in Smith v. Robbins confirmed that the Wende procedure was “acceptable.”
Ultimately, the opinion of the 5DCA indicated that Maine would not be resentenced to an equal or lesser sentence. Therefore, Maine will continue to carry out his current sentence in a California state prison.
Article contributed to by Danielle Silva.
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