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Citation 53 Cal. 4th 880, 270 P.3d 711, 138 Cal. Rptr. 3d 16

People v. Manzo

Filed 3/8/12

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA

THE PEOPLE,
Plaintiff and Respondent,
S191400
v.
Ct.App. 4/1 D055671
MARTIN MANZO,
San Diego County
Defendant and Appellant.
Super. Ct. No. SCS212840

Penal Code section 246 (section 246) makes it unlawful for any person to
maliciously and willfully discharge a firearm at an occupied motor vehicle. In this
case, defendant was convicted of violating section 246 by standing outside his
truck and shooting Jose Valadez, a passenger. Defendant argues that because the
gun had crossed the threshold of the truck at the time of the shooting, the gun was
not “discharged ‘at’ the vehicle” but was instead discharged “within” the vehicle.
According to defendant, “[w]hat matters under section 246 is what the shooting is
‘at,’ a determination that depends on the location of the discharge (the tip of the
gun), not the location of the shooter.” The Court of Appeal decided this was a
reasonable construction of section 246 and invoked the rule of lenity to reverse
defendant’s conviction for shooting at an occupied vehicle.
Although we agree that the statutory text alone is susceptible of more than
one interpretation, including an interpretation favoring defendant, reliable extrinsic
aids to statutory construction convince us that the Legislature intended section 246
1


to apply to a person standing outside an occupied motor vehicle and shooting into
it, even if the gun has crossed the plane of the vehicle. Because we can discern the
Legislature’s intent in enacting section 246, there is no need to invoke the rule of
lenity as “a tie-breaking principle” in this case. (Lexin v. Superior Court (2010)
47 Cal.4th 1050, 1102, fn. 30.) We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of
Appeal insofar as it reversed defendant’s section 246 conviction and the
accompanying true findings on the firearm and great bodily injury allegations.
BACKGROUND
Defendant was convicted of the first degree murder of Jose Valadez (Pen.
Code, § 187, subd. (a)),1 the attempted premeditated murder of Jose Estrada
(§§ 664/187), and shooting at the occupied vehicle in which Valadez and Estrada
were seated (§ 246) causing great bodily injury (§ 12022.7, subd. (a)), all by
personal use of a firearm (§§ 12022.5, subd. (a), 122022.53, subds. (b) & (d)).
Defendant was also convicted of unlawful possession of ammunition. (§ 12316,
subd. (b)(1).) In a bifurcated proceeding, defendant admitted allegations that he
had suffered two prior felony convictions within the meaning of the “Three
Strikes” law (§§ 667, subds. (b)-(i), 1170.12, subds. (a)-(d)), two prior serious
felony convictions (§ 667, subd. (a)), and three prior prison terms (§ 667.5, subd.
(b)). He was sentenced to 150 years to life, plus a consecutive five-year
determinate term. The issue on appeal concerns only the conviction for shooting
at an occupied vehicle (for which punishment was stayed under section 654), and
the statement of facts is limited accordingly.
On August 23, 2007, Valadez and his friend, Estrada, were walking near a
convenience store in San Ysidro as defendant drove by in his truck. Valadez

1
All further statutory references are to the Penal Code.
2


flagged down defendant, who had tattooed Valadez’s right wrist, to ask for another
tattoo. Defendant agreed, and Valadez and Estrada got in the truck. Defendant
drove to his apartment to get his tattoo equipment.
About 20 minutes later, defendant returned to the truck, drove to the corner
of the apartment’s parking lot, and stood next to the driver’s seat with the door
open. He pulled a gun from his waistband and placed it on the seat. Valadez
asked whether he could see the gun—a 7.62 x 25 mm Tokarev pistol that was
commonly used in the Soviet military. Defendant instead picked up the gun,
extended his arm, pointed it at Valadez and Estrada, and pulled the trigger, but the
gun did not fire. Defendant removed the magazine, pulled out a bullet, and
reloaded the gun manually. Then he aimed the gun and pulled the trigger again.
This time, the gun fired. The bullet struck Valadez in his left cheek; a large
fragment lodged in his brain. With an “evil trippy face” defendant pointed the gun
at Estrada, but the gun misfired. The prosecution theory was that defendant shot
Valadez to steal methamphetamine, worth up to $1,000, that was hidden in
Valadez’s cell phone.
The gunshot wound proved fatal. Steven Campman, a forensic pathologist,
testified that based on the lack of stippling near the entry wound, the gun must
have been at least two to three feet away from Valadez’s head at the time of the
shooting. Campman testified that Valadez’s injuries were consistent with the
gun’s being about 27 inches away. Photographs of a police reenactment of the
crime, which was based on Estrada’s and Campman’s testimony and which used
the same truck and a replica of the gun, depicted the gun inside the threshold of
the truck (and about 27 inches from Valadez’s cheek) at the time the shot was
fired. As for defendant himself, Estrada told police that defendant’s “whole body”
was outside the truck at the time of the shooting.
3
The Court of Appeal reversed the conviction for shooting at an occupied
vehicle because of insufficient evidence. The court reasoned that, under the rule
of lenity, section 246 must be construed as excluding the discharge from a firearm
that has crossed the plane of an occupied motor vehicle: “[E]ven if the People are
correct that section 246’s language can be reasonably construed as prohibiting the
discharge of a firearm within an occupied motor vehicle by a person standing
outside the periphery of the vehicle, we nevertheless must adopt the alternative
reasonable construction that section 246 does not prohibit such conduct.” The
court thus disagreed with People v. Jones (2010) 187 Cal.App.4th 266, which had
reached a contrary conclusion on similar facts. Because of this published conflict,
we granted review on our own motion to decide whether a defendant can be
convicted of violating section 246 if the defendant was outside the vehicle at the
time the firearm discharged, but the firearm itself was inside the threshold of the
vehicle.
DISCUSSION
Section 246 makes it an alternative felony-misdemeanor for “[a]ny person
. . . [to] maliciously and willfully discharge a firearm at an inhabited dwelling
house, occupied building, occupied motor vehicle, occupied aircraft, inhabited
housecar, . . . or inhabited camper . . . .” This case arises from the fatal shooting
of Jose Valadez, a passenger in a motor vehicle, by defendant, who was standing
outside the vehicle but had thrust the gun into the vehicle at the time he fired the
weapon. Whether a person who discharges a firearm that has crossed the plane of
the vehicle but is himself outside the vehicle can be said to have violated this
statute depends, as the parties concede, on the construction of the word “at.”
Defendant argues that “at” must be measured from the location of the firearm,
such that any shooting that occurs after the firearm has crossed the plane of the
vehicle is inside—not at—the vehicle. The People, on the other hand, contend
4
that “at” is to be understood from the perspective of the shooter, and that a person
can shoot at an occupied vehicle as long as the shooter is outside the vehicle.
Statutory construction begins with the plain, commonsense meaning of the
words in the statute, “ ‘because it is generally the most reliable indicator of
legislative intent and purpose.’ ” (People v. Skiles (2011) 51 Cal.4th 1178, 1185.)
“When the language of a statute is clear, we need go no further.” (People v.
Flores (2003) 30 Cal.4th 1059, 1063.) “At,” however, is a short word with a long
list of possibilities, “ ‘[a] preposition of extremely various use, to which
lexicographers have given many definitions and shades of meaning. It is a word
of great relativity and elasticity of meaning and is somewhat indefinite, shaping
itself easily to varying contexts and circumstances, and taking its color from the
circumstances and situation under which it is necessary to apply it to surrounding
objects. Aside from its context, it is not a word of precise and accurate meaning,
or of clean, clear-cut definition, and it has been said that the connection furnishes
the best definition.’ ” (People v. Stepney (1981) 120 Cal.App.3d 1016, 1019,
fn. 3.)
The parties agree that the relevant definition of “at” in this statute is “[o]f
motion directed towards: In the direction of, towards, so as to get at; often with
hostile intent, ‘against’; in to run, rush, go, have, throw, shoot, let drive, aim, etc.
at.” (1 Oxford English Dict. (2d ed. 1989) p. 739.) Accordingly, one may restate
section 246 as prohibiting any person from maliciously and willfully discharging a
firearm in the direction of or towards an occupied motor vehicle. But this
dictionary definition does not resolve whether the connection contemplated by the
word “at” is to be measured by the relationship between the shooter and the
vehicle (as the People contend) or by the relationship between the firearm and the
vehicle (as defendant contends). In common parlance, it can be reasonable to say
that a person who is standing outside a vehicle and fires a weapon has shot at, in
5
the direction of, or towards the vehicle, even if the tip of the weapon has crossed
the threshold of the vehicle. On the other hand, we cannot conclude that the plain
meaning of the statutory text necessarily excludes the construction proposed by
defendant. Either interpretation seems reasonable.
Because of this ambiguity, “[i]t is appropriate to consider evidence of the
intent of the enacting body in addition to the words of the measure, and to examine
the history and background of the provision, in an attempt to ascertain the most
reasonable interpretation.” (People v. Canty (2004) 32 Cal.4th 1266, 1277.) We
may also consider extrinsic aids such as the ostensible objects to be achieved, the
evils to be remedied, and public policy. (Catlin v. Superior Court (2011) 51
Cal.4th 300, 304.) When construing a statute, “our goal is ‘ “to ascertain the intent
of the enacting legislative body so that we may adopt the construction that best
effectuates the purpose of the law.” ’ ” (City of Santa Monica v. Gonzalez (2008)
43 Cal.4th 905, 919.)
The purpose of section 246, when it was enacted in 1949, is apparent. It
was to combat “the increasing frequency of shootings into homes by reckless,
irresponsible and malicious persons.” (Beach Vasey, Legislative mem. to Gov.
Warren re Assem. Bill No. 414 (1949 Reg. Sess.) June 13, 1949, p. 1.) The 1976
amendment, which added “occupied motor vehicle” to the specified targets, was
intended to strengthen the law prohibiting discharge of a firearm at a motor
vehicle, which at that time required (for felony purposes) a showing the shooter
intended to cause great bodily harm. (Sen. Com. on Judiciary, Analysis of Assem.
Bill No. 3303 (1975-1976 Reg. Sess.) as amended May 5, 1976, pp. 1-2; see Veh.
Code, former § 23110, subd. (b).) According to an enrolled bill report prepared by
the California Highway Patrol in support of the amendment, there had been “an
alarming number of incidents in the recent past where a person has discharged a
firearm into an occupied vehicle,” with a “tremendous” potential for “severe or
6
fatal wounds.” (Cal. Highway Patrol, Enrolled Bill Rep. on Assem. Bill No. 3303
(1975-1976 Reg. Sess.) Sept. 3, 1976, p. 1.) The bill’s supporters believed that the
act of discharging a firearm at an occupied vehicle, even in the absence of an
intent to cause great bodily harm, was serious enough to warrant felony
punishment. (Sen. Com. on Judiciary, Analysis of Assem. Bill No. 3303, supra, at
p. 2.)
The legislative history’s expressly stated concern about the danger
associated with shooting “into” a home or an occupied vehicle is in no way
diminished if the shooter is so close that the gun breaches the plane of the home or
vehicle. (See State v. Mancuso (N.C. 1988) 364 S.E.2d 359, 362 [“We cannot
believe that the Legislature intended that a person should escape liability for this
crime by sticking his weapon inside the occupied property before shooting. We
hold that a firearm can be discharged ‘into’ occupied property even if the firearm
itself is inside the property, so long as the person discharging it is not inside the
property.”].) As defendant acknowledges, the impetus for the 1976 amendment
was concern over the likelihood of bodily injury in an occupied vehicle, regardless
of the shooter’s intent to cause such injury, “ ‘since the total area is more confined,
giving exposure to flying bullets, glass and steel.’ ” Yet under defendant’s
interpretation, a shooter would be guilty of violating section 246 if the gun was
pressed against a closed window, but the same shooter performing the same act
would not be guilty if the window was open and the weight of the gun carried its
tip across the threshold of the vehicle. Given that the danger to the occupants
from “ ‘exposure to flying bullets, glass, and steel’ ” is the same in each scenario,
defendant’s proffered interpretation would defeat the evident purpose of the
7
statute.2 Indeed, as the People point out, “[t]he salient characteristics of shooting
into a vehicle are that the shooter is likely to have a tactical advantage over the
vehicle occupant, an advantage that comes from having his or her body outside the
vehicle while the target is trapped inside, and one that is not diminished if his or
her hand extends inside to trigger the actual discharge.”
Moreover, defendant’s interpretation would cause guilt to turn on such
trivialities as the length of the barrel or the degree to which the shooter’s arm was
extended. Although, in defendant’s view, he should not be guilty of discharging a
firearm at an occupied motor vehicle in this case, a person standing where
defendant was standing would be guilty if, say, he were armed with a snub-nosed
revolver or if his arm were not extended. We find no indication that the
Legislature intended the scope of section 246 to depend on such inconsequential
matters, nor does defendant explain why the Legislature would have wanted to
distinguish among these scenarios. (See People v. Jones, supra, 187 Cal.App.4th
at p. 274.)
Construing the statute to include a shooting in the direction of the specified
building or vehicle as measured from the perspective of the shooter is—with the
exception of the decision currently under review—entirely consistent with the case
law relating to section 246.

2
Ample justification remains for distinguishing, as the statute does, between
a person shooting from the outside of the vehicle or from the inside of the vehicle.
As the People observe, “[o]ne who shoots from outside is often effectively
blocked from the vehicle occupants. This is true whether the shooter is sticking
the gun through an open door or window to the vehicle, or is firing from across the
street. Thus, while there may be a reason for the law to distinguish between one
who shoots from a position inside a vehicle and one who shoots from outside,
there is no reason to distinguish between one who shoots from outside by reaching
inside the vehicle and one who shoots from farther away.”
8


Two cases have found no section 246 violation occurs when the person, the
firearm, and the discharge of the firearm are all inside the target building or
vehicle. In People v. Stepney, supra, 120 Cal.App.3d 1016, the Court of Appeal
found insufficient evidence to support a section 246 conviction when the
defendant climbed through a window into the victim’s living room and fired a
bullet into the television set. (Stepney, supra, at p. 1018.) “The most that can be
said for [Stepney]’s conduct was that he intentionally discharged a pistol within a
dwelling.” (Id. at p. 1021.) In People v. Morales (2008) 168 Cal.App.4th 1075,
the Court of Appeal found insufficient evidence where the defendant fired shots
into the kitchen from the attached garage. The court characterized the pivotal
legal issue as “whether defendant was inside the dwelling house or occupied
building when he fired shots from the attached garage into the kitchen.” (Id. at
p. 1080.) Because it found the attached garage was “ ‘an integral part of the . . .
residence,’ ” the court concluded “that he was not firing at an inhabited dwelling
house or occupied building, but instead was firing within an inhabited dwelling,
from one room of it into another.” (Ibid.) Thus, “a person who is inside an
occupied structure cannot fire ‘at’ that structure because the person doing the
firing is within the structure.” (People v. Jones, supra, 187 Cal.App.4th at p. 273.)
Like the Jones court, we believe these decisions did not intend “to suggest that the
relevant question is whether the gun is within or without the structure when it is
fired, but, rather, whether the person who fires the gun is within or without the
structure.” (Id. at p. 273, fn. 4.) Neither Stepney nor Morales considered “the
possibility that a gun might be within a structure while the individual shooting it is
outside of the structure,” and both cases “appeared to assume that the gun would
be discharged from the same location as the person doing the firing, vis-à-vis the
structure.” (Ibid.)
9
The case law also shows that a section 246 violation can be stated when the
person, the firearm, and the discharge of the firearm are all outside the specified
building or vehicle. In People v. Overman (2005) 126 Cal.App.4th 1344, the
defendant aimed his rifle at two coworkers as they ran towards the office of their
employer, and fired six shots. (Id. at p. 1362.) Neither the building nor the
coworkers were hit. The Court of Appeal held that “section 246 is not limited to
shooting directly at an inhabited or occupied target. Rather, it proscribes shooting
either directly at or in close proximity to an inhabited or occupied target under
circumstances showing a conscious disregard for the probability that one or more
bullets will strike the target . . . .” (Overman, supra, at pp. 1355-1356.) Similarly,
People v. Chavira (1970) 3 Cal.App.3d 988 found sufficient evidence where the
defendant and others “engaged in a fusillade of shots directed primarily at persons
standing close to a dwelling. The jury was entitled to conclude that they were
aware of the probability that some shots would hit the building and that they were
consciously indifferent to that result.” (Id. at p. 993.) In both cases, the shooter,
like defendant, was outside the specified building or vehicle.
And, of course, a section 246 violation exists when the person and the
firearm are outside the specified building or vehicle but the discharge is inside the
building or vehicle. In People v. Jischke (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 552, the
defendant fired a gun from his apartment into the apartment below, where it struck
a 14-year-old boy in the shoulder. Noting that the defendant’s floor was the
ceiling of the apartment below, the Court of Appeal reasoned that “[i]n shooting
through his own floor, defendant necessarily shot into and ‘at’ the adjacent
dwelling unit.” (Id. at p. 556.)
None of these cases suggests that a defendant could avoid a section 246
conviction by shooting in the direction of an occupied motor vehicle from outside
the vehicle but close enough that the tip of the weapon crosses the threshold of the
10
building or vehicle. Indeed, Morales—which framed the critical issue as “whether
defendant was inside the dwelling house or occupied building when he fired shots
from the attached garage” (People v. Morales, supra, 168 Cal.App.4th at p. 1080,
italics added)—suggests just the opposite. Defendant’s insistence that that the
crucial question “is the location of the point of discharge—the tip of the barrel of
the gun”—thus finds scant support in the legislative history, public policy, case
law, or logic.
Defendant’s fallback position—and the argument embraced by the Court of
Appeal below—is that when a statute defining a crime is susceptible of two
reasonable interpretations, the rule of lenity requires a court to prefer the
interpretation that is more favorable to the defendant. Both defendant and the
Court of Appeal misapprehend the rule. The rule of lenity does not apply every
time there are two or more reasonable interpretations of a penal statute. (People v.
Cole (2006) 38 Cal.4th 964, 986.) Rather, the rule applies “ ‘only if the court can
do no more than guess what the legislative body intended; there must be an
egregious ambiguity and uncertainty to justify invoking the rule.’ ” (People v.
Avery (2002) 27 Cal.4th 49, 58, italics added.) In other words, “the rule of lenity
is a tie-breaking principle, of relevance when ‘ “two reasonable interpretations of
the same provision stand in relative equipoise . . . .” ’ ” (Lexin v. Superior Court,
supra, 47 Cal.4th at p. 1102, fn. 30.)
We do not face that degree of uncertainty in this case. The legislative
history, the purpose of the statute, general public policy concerns, and logic all
favor an interpretation that would recognize a violation of section 246 when the
shooter stands outside and fires at an occupied motor vehicle, regardless of
whether the shooter is standing so close that the gun breaks the plane of the
vehicle. An interpretation exculpating a defendant in those circumstances, even if
a reasonable reading of the statutory text, is not, for the reasons given above,
11
equally as reasonable as the one proffered by the People. The rule of lenity “ ‘ “is
not an inexorable command to override common sense and evident statutory
purpose. It does not require magnified emphasis upon a single ambiguous word in
order to give it a meaning contradictory to the fair import of the whole remaining
language.” ’ [Citation.] Or in the words of Justice Black, writing for the court in
United States v. Raynor (1938) 302 U.S. 540, 552, the rule does not ‘require[] that
a penal statute be strained and distorted in order to exclude conduct clearly
intended to be within its scope—nor does any rule require that the act be given the
“narrowest meaning.” It is sufficient if the words are given their fair meaning in
accord with the evident intent of [the legislative body].’ ” (People v. Anderson
(1987) 43 Cal.3d 1104, 1146.)
The Court of Appeal erred in invoking the rule of lenity on a lesser
showing—i.e., merely because “section 246’s language could be reasonably
construed” in a manner favorable to defendant. Extrinsic aids reveal the
legislative intent to criminalize defendant’s conduct under section 246, making
invocation of the rule of lenity unnecessary in this case. (People v. Avery, supra,
27 Cal.4th at p. 58 [“although true ambiguities are resolved in a defendant’s favor,
an appellate court should not strain to interpret a penal statute in defendant’s favor
if it can fairly discern a contrary legislative intent”].)
12

DISPOSITION
The judgment of the Court of Appeal is reversed to the extent it reversed
the conviction for shooting at an occupied vehicle in violation of section 246,
reversed the true findings on the allegations related to that conviction, and
remanded for resentencing. In all other respects, the judgment is affirmed.
BAXTER, J.
WE CONCUR:
CANTIL-SAKAUYE, C.J.
KENNARD, J.
WERDEGAR, J.
CHIN, J.
CORRIGAN, J.
LIU, J.

13


See next page for addresses and telephone numbers for counsel who argued in Supreme Court.

Name of Opinion People v. Manzo
__________________________________________________________________________________

Unpublished Opinion


Original Appeal
Original Proceeding
Review Granted
XXX 192 Cal.App.4th 366
Rehearing Granted

__________________________________________________________________________________

Opinion No.

S191400
Date Filed: March 8, 2012
__________________________________________________________________________________

Court:

Superior
County: San Diego
Judge: Timothy R. Walsh

__________________________________________________________________________________

Counsel:

Arthur Martin, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Edmund G. Brown, Jr., and Kamala D. Harris, Attorneys General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant
Attorney General, Gary W. Schons, Assistant Attorney General, Steve Oetting, Kelley Johnson and
Christine Levingston Bergman, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


Counsel who argued in Supreme Court (not intended for publication with opinion):

Arthur Martin
P.O. Box 5084
Klamath Falls, OR 97601
(541) 273-8738

Christine Levingston Bergman
Deputy Attorney General
110 West A Street, Suite 1100
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 645-2247


Review on the court's own motion after the Court of Appeal affirmed in part and reversed in part a judgment of conviction of criminal offenses. The court limited review to the following issue: Could defendant be convicted of discharging a firearm at an occupied motor vehicle in violation of Penal Code section 246, if he was outside the vehicle at the time he discharged his firearm but the firearm itself was inside the vehicle?

Opinion Information
Date:Citation:Docket Number:
Thu, 03/08/201253 Cal. 4th 880, 270 P.3d 711, 138 Cal. Rptr. 3d 16S191400

Opinion Authors
OpinionJustice Marvin R. Baxter

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Jun 8, 2012
Annotated by Matthew Owens

OPINION BY: Baxter, J. (joined by Cantil-Sakauye, C.J., Kennard, Werdegar, Chin, Corrigan, and Liu, JJ.)

FACTS

On August 23, 2007, defendant fired a gun three times into a truck occupied by Jose Valadez and Jose Estrada. Valadez was killed; Estrada was unharmed because the gun misfired on the third shot. In his statement to the police, Estrada testified that the defendant’s “whole body” was outside of the truck when all three shots were fired. Forensic evidence showed that the gun itself had crossed the threshold of the truck.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Defendant was convicted of first degree murder and unlawful possession of ammunition. Defendant was also convicted of a section 246 offense, which makes it unlawful for “[a]ny person . . . [to] maliciously and willfully discharge a firearm at an . . . occupied motor vehicle.” Cal. Penal Code § 246. After determining that the defendant had two prior felony convictions, the trial court sentenced him to 150 years to life under California’s “Three Strikes” law.

On appeal, defendant challenged his section 246 conviction for insufficiency of evidence. Defendant argued that, in order to shoot “at” an occupied motor vehicle, both the shooter and the firearm must be outside of the vehicle’s periphery; the People argued that only the shooter must be outside of the vehicle’s periphery. Although the Court of Appeals conceded that section 246 is susceptible to both interpretations, it sided with the defendant’s interpretation and reversed. To reach this conclusion, the Court of Appeals applied the rule of lenity, which holds that ambiguous criminal statutes should be construed in favor of the more lenient interpretation.

ISSUE

Can a defendant be convicted of violating section 246 if the defendant was outside of the vehicle when the firearm was discharged, but the firearm itself had crossed the threshold of the vehicle?

HOLDING

The Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals. The Court held that section 246 applies to any person who discharges a firearm at an occupied motor vehicle while standing outside of the vehicle, even if the firearm itself has crossed the threshold of the vehicle.

ANALYSIS

1. The statutory text of section 246 is ambiguous. Although the parties agreed that the word “at” in the statute should be defined as “in the direction of or towards” an occupied motor vehicle, this definition does not resolve whether the firearm itself must be outside of the vehicle’s periphery. Defendant argued that if a firearm has crossed the threshold of a vehicle, it is discharged “within” the vehicle rather than “at” the vehicle. The People argued that, in common parlance, a shooter standing outside of the vehicle fires “at” the vehicle, regardless of whether the firearm has crossed the vehicle’s threshold. Based solely on the text of section 246, both interpretations are reasonable.

When a statute’s plain meaning is ambiguous, the Court may consider legislative history, statutory purpose, and public policy. The legislative history of section 246 indicates that the drafters were primarily concerned with the heightened risk of injury associated with shooting into a confined space. Under defendant’s interpretation, section 246 liability would turn on trivial distinctions like the firearm’s barrel length and whether the vehicle’s window was open or closed. Because such distinctions do not affect the risk of injury—and because the Legislature did not signal intent to limit section 246’s scope in this way—the People’s interpretation “best effectuates the purpose of the law.” Additionally, the case law provides no support for defendant’s interpretation of section 246. If anything, the case law establishes that the “critical issue” is the location of the shooter, not the firearm. See People v. Morales, 168 Cal. App. 4th 1075, 1080 (2008).

2. The rule of lenity should not be invoked whenever a statutory provision is amenable to two or more reasonable interpretations; rather, the rule of lenity is only applicable when each interpretation is equally reasonable. Here, legislative history, statutory purpose, and public policy “all favor [the People’s interpretation].” Thus, because the interpretations are not equally reasonable, the rule of lenity does not mandate a ruling in the defendant’s favor.

KEY STATUTES

California Penal Code section 246

KEY CASES

People v. Morales, 168 Cal. App. 4th 1075, 1080(2008).

People v. Jones, 187 Cal. App. 4th 266 (2010).

People v. Stepney, 120 Cal. App. 3d 1016 (Ct. App. 1981).

People v. Overman, 126 Cal. App. 4th 1344 (2005).

People v. Chavira, 3 Cal. App. 3d 988 (Ct. App. 1970).

People v. Jischke, 51 Cal. App. 4th 552 (1996).

People v. Cole, 135 P.3d 669 (2006).

People v. Avery 38 P.3d 1 (2002).

TAGS

California Penal Code section 246, rule of lenity, discharge of firearm, shooting firearm, shooting gun, statutory interpretation, sufficiency of evidence, gun law, firearm law, legislative history, statutory purpose, legislative intent, occupied motor vehicle, occupied vehicle, occupied dwelling, occupied building

Annotation by Matt Owens