Tuesday, August 30, 2011

People v. Torres: Transporting and Possessing Alcohol in Prison are Two Separate Criminal Acts


In People v. Torres, the Second Appellate District determined the acts of bringing alcohol into a jail facility and possessing alcohol in a jail facility are two separate punishable crimes that each have its own objective.

Alfonso Torres and Adan Barajas were two inmates at a minimum security prison fire camp who snuck alcohol into the facility with the help from a civilian. A correctional officer saw a car drive onto the facility making a stop at a trash can. The driver got out of the car and placed two trash bags in the trash can. The civilian quickly drove off while honking several times. Moments later, Torres and Barajas ran to the trash can, picked up the trash bags, and ran back to a nearby building.

To prove that Torres and Barajas “knowingly” brought alcohol onto the jail’s facility, the court explained several circumstances that showed they were fully aware of the crime they committed. A civilian cooperated with the defendants to successfully transport the contraband onto the jail’s facility. The trash can was a predetermined location for the civilian to inconspicuously drop off the items using trash bags. Upon driving off the premises, the civilian honked, issuing a signal to the defendants to grab the trash bags before a garbage man or a correctional officer could get a hold of it. Moreover, Barajas was heard saying “Which one is mine”, showing that he already knew what the bag contained. 

Although Torres argued that Penal Code §654 “precludes that no act or omission be punished under more than one provision”, the court explained that there were two separate objectives that distinguish two crimes had occurred. The first crime was completed when the alcohol was transported onto the prison camp. The objective shifted to possession when Torres and Barajas took the trash bags.

The Second Appellate District affirmed judgment on Torres and Barajas’s convictions, holding that there were two crimes that were committed and sentencing them for each crime.

-California Court of Appeals, 2nd Appellate District, 2nd Div., August 15, 2011; B226903