Lesser Included Offense? Inmates' Alcohol Charges Stand - Criminal Law - California Case Law
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Lesser Included Offense? Inmates' Alcohol Charges Stand

Should California inmates fight for their right to party?

Not if a California Appellate Court will hear their grounding appeals. This week, the Second Appellate District upheld two prisoners' convictions for possessing and knowingly bringing alcohol into a prison camp.

The facts sound like a scheme that your little brother might have attempted in high school ... except in prison.

An officer was monitoring the front entrance of a minimum security prison when he saw a car drive through the entrance and stop near a trash can. The driver exited the vehicle, opened and closed his trunk, returned to the car, and sped away while honking like a maniac. The officer suspected a "drop" had occurred.

Approximately 20 minutes later, two inmates, Alfonso Torres and Adan Barajas, ran from one of the prison buildings directly to the trash can, dug out several trash bags, and ran back to the building.

Inside the building, a second officer observed Torres and Barajas crouched down and rummaging through three open trash bags. Barajas turned his head toward Torres and said something to the effect of, "Which one is mine?"

The second officer grabbed the bags and escorted Torres and Barajas to an administrative building. Three bottles of vodka were discovered in one of the bags. The other bags contained various hygienic items, a phone, and vitamins.

Torres and Barajas were convicted of bringing alcohol into a jail facility and possession of alcohol in a jail facility. They both received extra jailtime. They both challenged their convictions for knowingly bringing alcohol into the jail; after all, they didn't bring the alcohol onto the grounds.

And shouldn't one of these charges be a lesser included offense?

A California Appellate Court said no.

Under the circumstances, both the not-so-stealthy-civilian and the inmates were a part of the plan to bring alcohol into the jail. The court ruled that a rational trier of fact could have concluded that the driver's incessant honking was a signal planned by the trio to alert Torres and Barajas that the contraband had been deposited in the trash can.

This theory is further supported by the inmates' mad dash to the trash to retrieve their vodka and vitamins. If Torres and Barajas had merely stumbled merely this care package, the "bringing alcohol into a jail" charge probably would not have stuck.

What do you think? Torres and Barajas were slapped with an additional ten years and seven years, respectively, for this stunt. Is the sentence fair? Should the California Appellate Court have merged one of the charges as a lesser included offense?

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