In People v. Reynoza, the Supreme Court today interprets Penal Code section 136.1, subdivision (b)(2), which makes illegal an attempt to prevent or dissuade a witness from “[c]ausing a complaint . . . to be sought and prosecuted, and assisting in the prosecution thereof.” The second “and” in the statute is read in the conjunctive, not as synonymous with “or,” and that leads to the reversal of the defendant’s conviction for conduct occurring after the complaint in the underlying criminal case had been filed.

The court’s unanimous opinion by Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero concludes construing the second “and” conjunctively or disjunctively are “equally plausible interpretations of the statute.” Because of that, the court finds “ ‘this is one of those rare cases where the rule of lenity applies,’ ” a rule that “counsels in favor of adopting the ‘interpretation more favorable to the defendant.’ ” The court does so (in 46 pages) “[a]fter considering the text, statutory context, legislative history, and the experiences of other jurisdictions when faced with similar statutory language,” and finding that none of those tools resolves the statute’s “egregious[ ]” ambiguity.

Quoting from a legislative report when the statute was enacted in 1980, the court says, “our Legislature remains free to clarify section 136.1(b)(2), as the Senate Committee on the Judiciary suggested it do ‘[a]t some point’ to smooth out the statute’s ‘numerous rough edges.’ ”

The court affirms the Sixth District Court of Appeal’s published opinion. It disapproves the Second District, Division Four, decision in People v. Velazquez (2011) 201 Cal.App.4th 219, with which the Sixth District had disagreed. The Supreme Court denied review in Velazquez.