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A jury found defendant Eric Jones guilty of multiple counts of second degree burglary of a vehicle and additional offenses arising from a series of car break-ins throughout San Francisco that occurred over a 17-month period. The trial court instructed the jury that if it found Jones committed one or more of the charged auto burglaries (along with one uncharged auto burglary) by a preponderance of the evidence, it could consider that evidence in deciding identity and intent to commit theft for the other charged crimes. The instruction reminded the jury that the prosecution had to prove each charge beyond a reasonable doubt. Jones argued on appeal this instruction had the effect of lowering the prosecution’s burden of proof, and was structural error requiring automatic reversal. The Court of Appeal concluded the instruction should not have been given, but there was no structural error. Any error in giving the instruction was harmless. View "California v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254. Petitioner claimed that the prosecutor made improper statements during closing arguments. The court held that the prosecutor's comment on petitioner's failure to testify was not an invitation for the jury to consider petitioner's decision as evidence of his guilty. To the extent that any prejudice arose from the comment, the clear jury instructions cured it. The court also held that the prosecutor's argument concerning the Gangster Disciples did not prejudice petitioner. View "Clark v. Lashbrook" on Justia Law

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In this writ proceeding, the State sought relief from a discovery order requiring them to produce certain materials related to DNA testing in a criminal action. Petitioner Florencio Dominguez was accused of conspiracy to commit murder. Pertinent here, one piece of evidence expected to be introduced at his upcoming trial was central: results from DNA testing conducted on a pair of blood-soaked gloves found near the scene of the crime. No one disputed DNA testing established the blood on the gloves' exterior to be that of victim. DNA on swabs from the gloves' interior, however, could not be tied to a single source. Rather, those swabs yielded a low template DNA mixture with multiple contributors. The San Diego Police Department Crime Lab (the lab) tested the swabs using the STRmix program. In February 2018, defense counsel informally requested discovery of materials related to the STRmix program from the State. After review, the Court of Appeal granted the state’s application and issued a writ of mandate directing the superior court to: (1) vacate its order of March 29, 2018; (2) enter a new order denying defendant's motion to compel production of the STRmix software program, the program source code, and ESR's internal validation studies; and (3) conduct further proceedings consistent with the Court’s opinion with respect to the STRmix user manual. The stay issued on May 18, 2018 would be vacated when this opinion was final as to the Court of Appeal. View "California v. Superior Court (Dominguez)" on Justia Law

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The California Coastal Act of 1976 requires local governments like defendant City of Solana Beach (the City) to develop a local coastal program (LCP). The City submitted an amended LUP (ALUP) to the Commission. The Commission approved the ALUP with suggested modifications and the City accepted those modifications. In April 2013, Beach and Bluff Conservancy (BBC) brought this action for declaratory relief and traditional mandate under Code of Civil Procedure section 1085, challenging seven specific policies of the City's ALUP as facially inconsistent with the Coastal Act and/or facially unconstitutional. The court granted BBC's motion and petition for writ of mandate as to two of the challenged policies and denied the motion and writ petition as to the other five challenged policies, and entered judgment accordingly. BBC's appeal and the cross-appeals by the City, the Commission, and Surfrider Foundation (Surfrider) centered on five of the seven policies at issue in the trial court. BBC contended the court erred in rejecting its claims that one of those policies is facially inconsistent with the Coastal Act, another was facially unconstitutional under the "unconstitutional conditions doctrine," and a third was both inconsistent with the Coastal Act and unconstitutional. In their cross-appeals, the City, the Commission, and Surfrider contended the court erred in granting BBC's motion for judgment and petition for writ of mandate as to two of the policies. The City and the Commission also raised a number of procedural challenges to the judgment. The Court of Appeal concluded BBC's exclusive remedy to challenge policies in the ALUP on the ground they were inconsistent with the Coastal Act was to file a petition for writ of administrative mandate under Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5 rather than an action for declaratory relief and traditional mandamus. And assuming, without deciding, that administrative mandamus was not the exclusive remedy for BBC's facial challenges to two policies on constitutional grounds, the Court concluded those challenges failed on the merits. View "Beach & Bluff Conservancy v. City of Solana Beach" on Justia Law

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In this capital appeal, both Appellant Lavar Brown and the Commonwealth challenged the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County's order dismissing Brown’s petition for relief filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act. The the parties requested the Pennsylvania Supreme Court order that Brown’s death sentence be vacated, that his case be remanded to the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County for the limited purpose of resentencing Brown to life without parole, and that the case then be transferred to the Superior Court for merits disposition of Brown's guilt phase claims. The Supreme Court reviewed the PCRA court record and determined Brown was not entitled to relief, and the PCRA court correctly denied Brown's petition. View "Pennsylvania v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by E.V., a civilian on a military base in Japan, seeking to enjoin the release of her mental health records. Applying the framework in Larson v. Domestic & Foreign Commerce Corp., 337 U.S. 682 (1949), the panel held that sovereign immunity barred E.V.'s non-constitutional claims for injunctive relief because they were considered to be against the government and the government had not waived its immunity. Although E.V.'s constitutional claims were considered to be against Judge Robinson as an individual and were not barred by sovereign immunity, the panel held that E.V.'s constitutional claims must be dismissed on other grounds. View "E. V. v. Robinson" on Justia Law

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Darrell Goss was convicted of kidnapping, assault and battery with intent to kill (ABWIK), and armed robbery in connection with the armed robbery of a clothing store in North Charleston. In this post-conviction relief (PCR) matter, the PCR court denied relief, and the court of appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Goss's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the decision of the court of appeals. Under normal circumstances, the Supreme Court would apply its deferential standard of review to the PCR court’s findings. However, several witnesses were present at the PCR hearing and were prepared to testify to certain facts and circumstances. Some of these facts and circumstances were pertinent to evidence Goss claims should have been presented to the trial jury. Some of these facts and circumstances may have been pertinent to the dynamic surrounding trial counsel's alleged deficient failure to interview these individuals and perhaps call them as witnesses at trial. Under ordinary circumstances, once the witnesses testified at the PCR hearing, the PCR court would normally make findings as to their credibility. The Supreme Court determined the PCR court erred in taking judicial notice of the witnesses' testimony and then concluding these witnesses would not have been credible to a jury because of their relationships with Goss. “When a factfinder evaluates the credibility of witnesses, the mental process employed often requires the credibility evaluations to be based upon a consideration of all the evidence, not simply the parts the factfinder chooses to see and hear first-hand. Here, the PCR court's decision to take judicial notice of the substance of witnesses' testimony and then find those witnesses not credible diluted the process to the point where the PCR court's factual findings - and perhaps the legal conclusions arising from those factual findings - were based upon an incomplete consideration of all the evidence.” The matter was remanded back to the circuit court for a de novo PCR hearing. View "Goss v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to address the scope of consent given by a motorist to law enforcement for the search of his vehicle. After review of the circumstances of this case, the Court concluded that the consent given by Appellant Randy Valdivia to Pennsylvania State Police Troopers Jeremy Hoy and David Long to search his van did not extend to a canine search occurring approximately forty minutes later. "A reasonable person in Valdivia’s position would not have understood that he was consenting to such a search." The Court therefore reversed the decision of the Superior Court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Pennsylvania v. Valdivia" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to resolve inconsistencies between the Superior Court’s decisions in Commonwealth v. Kemp, 961 A.2d 1247 (Pa. Super. 2008) and Commonwealth v. Nguyen, 116 A.3d 657 (Pa. Super. 2015), specifically with regard to whether information obtained by a police officer during a lawful initial traffic stop may be used to justify re-engagement with the driver after the police officer indicates the driver is free to go, such that consent to search given during that re-engagement is valid. The Supreme Court concluded, under the circumstances of this case, the consent given was valid and suppression of evidence was not warranted. View "In the Int. of: A.A." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether appellee Joshua Lukach, who was subject to a custodial interrogation, clearly and unambiguously invoked his right to remain silent in accordance with the rule articulated in Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. 370 (2010) and, if so, whether physical evidence collected as a result of his subsequent confession was properly suppressed. After review, the Supreme Court concluded appellee unambiguously invoked his right to remain silent and was then impermissibly induced into abandoning that right, rendering his confession coerced and involuntary. As such, both his confession and the physical evidence collected as a result of that confession were properly suppressed. View "Pennsylvania v. Lukach" on Justia Law