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Shooting "At" a Vehicle

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People v. Manzo, S191400, California Supreme Court, March 8:

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 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.

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