PEOPLE V. LOPEZ

This is an audio case brief of People v. Lopez, 79 P.3d 548 ( Cal. 2003). The audio brief provides a full case analysis. However a written summary of the case is provided below.

Table of Contents

FACTS

On July 1, 1999, Daniel Lopez approached Wa Vue Yang at a parking lot to sell him a watch.  Yang was seated in his van in a parking lot. When Lopez offered to sell Yang a watch, Yang replied that he already had a watch. Hearing this response, Lopez pulled out his gun and shot at the ground. He then pointed the gun at Yang and ordered him to get out of the van. Yang complied, but he left his keys in the ignition. After Yang got out of the car, Lopez got in the car, sat on the seat and threw his backpack onto the passenger’s seat. But as  Yang began to leave, he remembered that he had left some checks inside the van. Yang later realized that Lopez’s weapon was an air gun. His fear therefore subsided, and so he returned to the van to retrieve his checks. Upon seeing Yang return, Lopez  pointed his gun at Yang and pulled the trigger twice, but the gun did not fire. Lopez fled from the van and left his backpack, containing identification, in the van.

After a court trial, Lopez was found guilty of a number of offenses including carjacking.  And because he had prior felonies, the court sentenced him to a substantial prison term under the California three strikes and you’re out law.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

 Yang challenged his carjacking conviction all the way to the supreme court of California. A successful challenge to his carjacking conviction could lead to a substantially lower prison sentence under the three strikes law.

A successful challenge to his carjacking conviction rested on how the court interpretated the term “felonious taking”  that is found in the carjacking statute.

Car Jacking Statute

 Under California law, carjacking is defined as “the felonious taking of a motor vehicle in the possession of another, from his or her person or immediate presence, or from the person or immediate presence of a passenger of the motor vehicle, against his or her will and with the intent to either permanently or temporarily deprive the person in possession of the motor vehicle of his or her possession, accomplished by means.

The language of the carjacking statue as well as its legislative history demonstrated that the carjacking statute is a direct offshoot of the robbery statue, and the legislative modeled the carjacking statute of the robbery statute

Robbery Statute

 California robbery statute reads, “the felonious taking of personal property in the possession of another, from his person or immediate presence, and against his will, accomplished by means of force or fear.”

ISSUE

The issue for the California supreme court to decide on is whether the legislatures intended the phrase felonious taking found in the carjacking statute to have the same meaning as felonious taking found in the robbery statutes.

RULE

When legislation has been judicially construed and a subsequent statute on a similar subject uses identical or substantially similar language, the usual presumption is that the Legislature intended the same construction, unless a contrary intent clearly appears. Moreover, if a term known to the common law has not otherwise been defined by statute, it is assumed that the common law meaning was intended.

APPLICATION

Lopez argued that because the Legislature used the same “felonious taking” phrase in defining carjacking, it intended that the phrase be given the same meaning as the analogous provision in the robbery statute. California courts have construed the taking element of robbery to include two necessary elements:

(1) caption or gaining possession of the victim’s property, and

(2) asportation or carrying away the loot.

Lopez argued that his conduct amounted to an attempted carjacking because he fled from Yang’s car and did not drive it away.

The state argued that legislature did not intent for felonious taking in the robbery statue to have the same meaning as in the carjacking statute. It argued there are clear distinctions between the crime of carjacking and robbery. And because carjacking is more nearly a crime against the person than a crime against property, movement of the vehicle is not necessary for the serious potential of harm to the victim. Therefore, asportation is not required under the carjacking statute.

The court disagreed with the state and greed with the defendant.

The court reasoned that ass it stands, based on the language of the statute and its legislative purpose, carjacking adapts and expands specific elements of robbery to address increasing auto theft incidents by perpetrators who may not intend to permanently deprive their victims of possession of their vehicles, but whose criminal acts nevertheless heighten the risk of harm to a broader range of victims than were covered under the existing crime of robbery. Thus, the Legislature expanded the taking element to include takings from either the possessor or any passenger, including an infant, but neither the words of the carjacking statute nor the legislative history indicates that the Legislature intended to alter the meaning of “felonious taking” with respect to the requirement of asportation.

Additionally, Because the “felonious taking” in the crime of robbery has an established meaning at common law and the same “taking” language appears in the carjacking, robbery, and unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle statutes, we presume that t

CONCLUSION

Lopez conduct was an attempted carjacking because he did not drive the van away.

** Cannons of statutory construction present in this case:

  • Ascertain the legislatures intent .
  • Legislatures intent is ascertained by looking at the plain meaning of the statute where the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous.
  • Legislative history, notes, etc. can also help ascertain the plain meaning of the statute.
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