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California Prisoner Who Broke Already Damaged Jail Cell Door is Not Liable for Full Cost of Replacement

The California Court of Appeal, District 5, reversed a Kings County, California felony conviction of a county jail prisoner for intentionally damaging jail property worth more than $400 (Penal Code § 4600), and reduced the offense to a misdemeanor. The appellate court determined that while the $2,359 cell door needed to be replaced after the prisoner damaged it, his act was only cumulative to prior damage done to the door.

Edwin Franklin was in Kings County jail cell #20 in 2004 and regularly body-slammed the cell door. At one point he managed to pop the door open. He was charged and convicted under § 4600 based upon the theory that although extensive evidence showed the door of the 1964 jail had been bowed, hinges distorted and window broken for over 10 years, he alone was responsible for the replacement cost of the now non-repairable door.

The appellate court reviewed the record and found it uncontroverted that the door was barely serviceable long before Franklin was housed in cell #20. After Franklin had further damaged the door, a local welder was hired to repair the fractured hinge and to "tweak" the door back into shape. However, even after his $169 effort, the lock barely worked and the door was ordered replaced.

Accordingly, the appeals court found that Franklin's financial exposure was at most $169, which only met the elements of misdemeanor damage to jail property. The matter was remanded for resentencing. See: People v. Franklin, Case No. F046873 (Cal.App. 5 Dist. 2006) (unpublished); 2006 WL 1195781.

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Related legal case

People v. Franklin