PEOPLE v. HURTH

No. A147676.

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. MAURICE PIERRE HURTH, Defendant and Appellant.

Court of Appeals of California, First District, Division One.


NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS

California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.115.

BANKE, J.

Defendant Maurice Pierre Hurth appeals from a postjudgment order granting a petition under Penal Code1 sections 1203.2 and 3455, subdivision (b), to revoke his postrelease community supervision (PRCS) after he was found operating a stolen vehicle with stolen license plates in the backseat. The court ordered defendant to serve 114 days in jail, with credit for time served and reinstated PRCS. The sole issue on appeal is whether there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court's order finding he violated the terms and conditions of his PRCS. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

Solano County Sheriff's Deputy Joseph Perkins was conducting an area check around 3:00 a.m., when he noticed a Toyota Camry that matched the description of a recently stolen vehicle. The deputy ran a check of the car's license plate number and discovered the plates were stolen. He then parked behind the vehicle, and defendant stepped out and "inquired as to what was wrong." The deputy explained the license plates on the vehicle were stolen. At this point, Deputy Perkins' partner arrived and detained defendant while Perkins ran a check on the car's vehicle identification number. After confirming the car was indeed the stolen Camry, Deputy Perkins arrested defendant. Deputy Perkins discovered two additional stolen license plates on the backseat of the car, and stated the plates could be seen from the driver's seat if someone "turned their head to the right and looked back."

Defendant was originally convicted under sections 4573.6 (felony possession of controlled substance while in a detention facility) and 594, subdivision (a) (vandalism) in October 2012, sentenced to three years' state prison and released on PRCS in September 2013. On December 24, 2015, the Solano County District Attorney filed a petition to revoke defendant's PRCS, alleging he violated the terms and conditions.

The trial court held an evidentiary hearing on the petition, and Deputy Perkins testified defendant had the car keys and claimed he had recently met an individual outside a bar who let him borrow the car. Deputy Perkins attempted to call this individual 10 times, but the call did not go through. The deputy later drove past the house that defendant stated belonged to the individual but did not otherwise follow up. The owner of one of the stolen license plates also testified defendant did not have permission to possess the plate.

The trial court determined defendant violated the terms and conditions of his PRCS by a preponderance of the evidence. The court found defendant's possession of a stolen car with three different stolen plates early in the morning "[a]ll . . . point to that this individual knew that this car was likely stolen and the plates—at least one or two of the plates that were part of the car—were stolen since they're different plates." The trial court ordered defendant to serve 114 days in jail, with credit for time served and reinstated PRCS.

DISCUSSION

PRCS includes the condition that "[t]he person shall obey all laws." (§ 3453, subd. (b).) An order revoking PRCS is reviewed under the abuse of discretion standard. (People v. Rodriguez (1990) 51 Cal.3d 437, 442; People v. Gonzalez (2017) 7 Cal.App.5th 370, 381; People v. Urke (2011) 197 Cal.App.4th 766, 773.) The trial court's factual findings are reviewed for substantial evidence. (Gonzalez, at p. 381.) Defendant asserts the trial court abused its discretion here because there was insufficient evidence he was knowingly in possession of stolen property.

Section 496, subdivision (a) provides in pertinent part: "Every person who buys or receives any property that has been stolen . . ., knowing the property to be so stolen or obtained, or who conceals, sells, withholds, or aids in concealing, selling, or withholding any property from the owner, knowing the property to be so stolen or obtained, shall be punished by imprisonment . . . for not more than one year. . . ." Thus, the elements of the crime are: "(1) the property was stolen; (2) the defendant knew the property was stolen; and, (3) the defendant had possession of the stolen property." (People v. Land (1994) 30 Cal.App.4th 220, 223; People v. Johnson (1980) 104 Cal.App.3d 598, 605.) Here, there is no doubt the car defendant was driving and the plates that were on and in it were stolen. Defendant also concedes he had "dominion and control over the vehicle." He claims there was insufficient evidence, however, that he knowingly possessed the stolen property.

Defendant asserts the plates on the rear seat were not "at all visible" and therefore he did not even know they were there. Defendant's focus on the license plates is perhaps understandable, given that the prosecution argued in the trial court that it could be inferred from all the circumstances that defendant knew the plates were stolen and "ask[ed] the Court to find the defendant in violation based on his receiving the stolen license plate." The trial court actually found, however, there was "competent evidence" the car and the plates were stolen and, under the circumstances, defendant "knew this car was likely stolen and the plates."

In any case, there was ample evidence to support the court's finding as to the license plates. In the wee hours of the morning, defendant obtained possession of a car, from someone he had just met. The car has been recently reported stolen as had several other cars of the same model in the area. Deputy Perkins testified the plates, bearing different numbers, were visible from the driver's seat of the car if you turned your "head to the right and looked back." In short, the trial court credited Deputy Perkins' testimony that the stolen license plates were in plain view on the backseat of the car. Although defendant takes issue with Perkins' lack of follow up regarding the individual from whom he claimed to have borrowed the vehicle, suspicious circumstances surrounding possession or failure to offer a satisfactory explanation is sufficient to infer knowledge. (People v. Alvarado (1982) 133 Cal.App.3d 1003, 1019-1020.)

Citing People v. Roder (1983) 33 Cal.3d 491 (Roder), defendant claims the trial court "implicitly invoked a presumption of some kind to relieve himself of the burden of discriminating review of the available evidence." In Roder, the defendant was convicted of receiving stolen property. On appeal, he challenged a jury instruction based on a then-operative statutory presumption applicable to secondhand dealers in merchandise. (Id. at pp. 495-496.) The Supreme Court agreed both the statutory language and the instruction given to the jury effectuated a mandatory presumption that the defendant had knowingly received stolen property, rather than merely allowing the jury to draw an inference of such from the operative facts as established beyond a reasonable doubt. (Id. at pp. 496-504.) The court therefore concluded the statute and instruction were unconstitutional. It further concluded the instructional error was not harmless (id. at pp. 504-505) and remanded for retrial with a recrafted instruction. (Id. at pp. 506-507; see People v. Anderson (1989) 210 Cal.App.3d 414, 428-429 ["Roder simply reaffirms a central tenet of due process: Mandatory presumptions which either reduce the People's burden of proof or shift the burden to the defendant to raise a reasonable doubt are constitutionally unsound."].)

Here, no jury instruction was involved and the trial court did not refer to any kind of presumption in its assessment of the evidence or in finding by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant knew the car and the plates likely were stolen. Rather, the court pointed to the evidence that at approximately 2:00 a.m., defendant had borrowed a car from a person he had recently met outside a bar, and there were three different license plates associated with the car, two of which were on the back seat of the car. This evidence was more than sufficient to support the court's finding.

DISPOSITION

The postjudgment order is affirmed.

Margulies, P.J. and Dondero, J., concurs.

FootNotes


1. All further statutory references are to the Penal Code.

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