Articles Posted in California Court of Appeal

by
This case involved the interplay between two criminal law statutes: Penal Code section 490.2 (petty theft) and Vehicle Code section 10851 (unlawful taking or driving a vehicle). Defendant Charles Van Orden appealed the trial court’s order denying his petition under the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act (Proposition 47) to have his felony section 10851 conviction reduced to misdemeanor petty theft under section 490.2. The State argued the trial court was correct in concluding section 10851 offenses did not qualify as petty theft offenses under any circumstances. Penal Code section 490.2 redefined the crime of petty theft as “obtaining any property by theft where the value of the . . . property taken does not exceed nine hundred fifty dollars ($950).” Section 490.2 also directed any petty theft, so defined, would be punished as a misdemeanor. The issue on appeal was whether Van Orden’s conviction for violating section 10851, which criminalized the act of unlawfully taking or driving a vehicle, would have been a misdemeanor petty theft under section 490.2 had Proposition 47 been in effect at the time of the offense. As the California Supreme Court explained, “[u]nlawfully taking a vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of possession is a form of theft, and the taking may be accomplished by driving the vehicle away. For this reason, a defendant convicted under section 10851(a) of unlawfully taking a vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of possession has suffered a theft conviction” and, it follows, must be punished under section 490.2 of petty theft. “On the other hand, unlawful driving of a vehicle is not a form of theft when the driving occurs or continues after the theft is complete (“ posttheft driving”).” Therefore, the Court of Appeals found that a conviction under section 10851(a) for posttheft driving is not a theft conviction, and need not be punished under section 490.2 as petty theft. View "California v. Van Orden" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Lamonte Russell and codefendants, Ronald Butterfield and Eric Williams, were charged with committing attempted murder, aggravated mayhem, torture, and assault with a deadly weapon. The trial court severed defendant’s trial from the other two defendants’ trial. The jury found defendant guilty of aggravated mayhem, torture, and assault with a deadly weapon, but not guilty of attempted murder. The trial court sentenced defendant to seven years to life in prison. Defendant appealed his convictions on the grounds there was no unanimous oral declaration of a guilty jury verdict and the trial court erred in denying his motion to exclude statements he made during a police interview before he was advised of his Miranda rights. Defendant also contended the trial court violated his constitutional due process rights by failing to disclose Juror No. 11’s identifying information, and by not subpoenaing Juror No. 11 to testify regarding juror misconduct disclosed to trial counsel. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the convictions. View "California v. Russell" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-appellant Selina Angel had two jury trials on three charges. At the first trial, the jury acquitted defendant of the third count of committing a lewd or lascivious act on John Doe 2 (JD2), a minor under 16 years old. The first jury was unable to reach a verdict on the remaining two charges. At the second trial, the jury found defendant guilty of: (1) committing a lewd or lascivious act upon John Doe 1 (JD1), a child under 14 years old; and (2) committing a lewd or lascivious act on JD2, a minor under 16 years old. The second jury found true the allegation that defendant engaged in substantial sexual conduct with JD1, who was under 14 years old. The trial court sentenced defendant to prison for a term of six years eight months. On appeal, defendant contended her counsel rendered ineffective assistance at the second trial by failing to subpoena two witnesses who testified at the first trial. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Angel" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-appellant Philip Mejia appealed his conviction for torture, spousal rape, spousal abuse, and criminal threats. The Court of Appeal rejected his contention that the court should have conducted a hearing pursuant to "California v. Marsden," (2 Cal.3d 118 (1970)) based on defendant’s statements during a hearing on his request to represent himself. The Court also rejected his contentions concerning the improper admission of evidence. The Court agreed, however, that Penal Code section 6541 required remand for resentencing. View "California v. Mejia" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-appellant Luther Darnell Stapleton, Jr. pleaded guilty to petty theft with a prior. Defendant stole less than $950 worth of property from a Target store in 2014. Defendant had prior theft-related convictions, as well as failing to register pursuant to Penal Code section 290. In return, defendant was placed on probation for a period of 36 months on various terms and conditions. Defendant challenged two of his probation conditions on constitutional grounds. But finding no reversible error in the imposition of those conditions, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Stapleton" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Tom Phung was 17 years old when he and fellow Tiny Rascal Gang (TRG) members, riding in about five cars, chased a fleeing vehicle containing eight rival gang members. A TRG member shot and killed one rival and seriously wounded a second. A jury convicted defendant of the lesser included crime of second degree murder, attempted murder, shooting at an occupied motor vehicle, and street terrorism. With respect to the first three crimes, the jury found true the allegations that defendant committed them for the benefit of a criminal street gang and vicariously discharged a firearm causing great bodily injury and death. The trial court sentenced defendant to an aggregate prison sentence of 40 years to life. On appeal, defendant argued he was a passive aider and abettor and consequently his 40-year-to-life sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. He also argued his concurrent sentence on count 3 should have been stayed pursuant to section 654. He also requested that a clerical error in his abstract of judgment be corrected, which described his count 3 conviction as shooting at an “inhabited dwelling” rather than an “occupied motor vehicle.” The Court of Appeal agreed the abstract of judgment had be corrected as to count 3. In all other respects, the Court affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Phung" on Justia Law

by
Nicholas Behunin filed suit against Charles Schwab and his son Michael Schwab over an unsuccessful real estate investment deal. Behunin's attorneys, Leonard Steiner and Steiner & Libo, engaged a public relations consultant, Levick Strategic Communications, to create a website containing information linking the Schwabs and their real estate investments in Indonesia to the family of former Indonesian dictator Suharto. Charles Schwab filed suit against Behunin for libel and Michael Schwab filed suit against Behunin for libel, slander, and invasion of privacy. Behunin filed a special motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16. At issue was whether the communications among Behunin, Steiner, and Levick were confidential, attorney-client privileged communications and whether disclosure to Levick waived the privilege. The court concluded that, although in some circumstances the attorney-client privilege may extend to communications with a public relations consultant, it did not do so in this case because Behunin failed to prove the disclosure of the communications to Levick was reasonably necessary for Steiner's representation of Behunin in his lawsuit against the Schwabs. Accordingly, the court denied Behunin's petition for a writ of mandate. View "Behunin v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

by
Proposition 57 eliminated the State's ability to directly file charges against a juvenile offender in adult court and instead authorized the State to file “a motion to transfer the minor from juvenile court to a court of criminal jurisdiction.” Prior to the passage of Proposition 57, the State directly filed a complaint against real party in interest, a minor, in adult court under the authority of former section 707(d)(2) of the Welfare and Institutions Code. A preliminary hearing took place May 26, 2016; on June 10, 2016, the State filed an information charging real party in interest with felony violations of Penal Code sections 209(b)(1), 286(c)(2)(B), and 288a(c)(2)(B). On November 16, 2016, real party in interest filed a motion requesting “a fitness hearing in juvenile court pursuant to recently enacted legislation via Proposition 57.” After considering written opposition from the State, who argued Proposition 57 could not be applied to real party in interest's case retroactively, the trial court granted the motion on November 29, 2016. Noting that the issue was “novel,” the trial court stayed its order until December 20, 2016, so the State could seek appellate intervention. The State's petition in this case followed three days later, seeking an emergency stay and asserted there would be “widespread confusion and continued litigation” if the trial court's order in this case stood. In addition, the petition introduced evidence that there were 57 other direct-file cases pending, and that 10 motions to transfer to juvenile court had already been received. The Court of Appeal denied the State's petition and published this opinion because "we recognize that trial courts may need guidance deciding whether and how to apply Proposition 57 to cases that were directly filed in adult court before its passage. We caution that we need not and therefore do not opine about anything other than the retroactivity of the portion of Proposition 57 that requires the juvenile court to permit trial of a minor in an adult criminal court. We do not address the equal protection argument real party in interest advanced in his informal response. In addition, although the People asked for advice about how courts should handle direct-filed cases that are transferred to juvenile court and then back to adult court after a successful motion under Welfare and Institutions Code section 707, subdivision (a), we do not purport to guide trial courts regarding other procedural aspects of cases against juveniles now that Proposition 57 has passed. Any such issues are best left for cases that squarely present them." View "California v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

by
Steven Salas pleaded no contest to domestic violence and the trial court sentenced him to three years in prison. The trial court also ordered Salas to pay victim restitution of $17,194.45, including $14,055.48 for security windows and an alarm system. Section 1202.4, subdivision (f)(3)(J) authorized sentencing courts to award restitution "to fully reimburse the victim . . . for every determined economic loss incurred as the result of the defendant's criminal conduct, including, but not limited to . . .[e]xpenses to install or increase residential security incurred related to a violent felony, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 667.5, including, but not limited to, a home security device or system, or replacing or increasing the number of locks." On appeal, Salas argued that because he was not convicted of a "violent felony" as defined in section 667.5, subdivision (c), the trial court erred in awarding victim restitution for residential security expenses. Based on the statutory definition of a "violent felony," the Court of Appeal agreed and modified the judgment accordingly. View "California v. Salas" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Cesar Villa-Gomez appealed after he was tried and convicted by a jury on multiple assault and gang-related counts arising out of a group attack on fellow prisoners in the Yuba County jail. He was sentenced to six years in state prison. On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred in admitting his statements made in response to jail classification questions about his gang membership. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court did not err in allowing defendant’s statements concerning his gang affiliation made at booking. Because the crime for which defendant was prosecuted had not yet been committed at the time he answered the classification deputy’s questions, those questions were not reasonably likely to illicit an incriminating response. Furthermore, any error in admitting these statements was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Defendant also made several other contentions which were addressed in the unpublished portion of this opinion. There. defendant contended: (1) there was not sufficient evidence to support his conviction for simple assault; (2) there was not sufficient evidence to support the findings on the participation in a criminal street gang count and gang enhancements; (3) the trial court failed to properly instruct the jury that defendant’s knowledge that other participants were gang members is an element of the offense of active participation in a criminal street gang and the gang enhancement; and (4) the prosecutor’s comments during closing argument about the credibility of a police witness was prejudicial prosecutorial misconduct. The Court's review revealed an unauthorized sentence related to a count that was subject to Penal Code section 654.1 To that, the Court ordered imposition of a full-term sentence instead of one-third the midterm imposed by the trial court and further ordered execution of that sentence stayed pursuant to section 654. The Court otherwise affirmed. View "California v. Villa-Gomez" on Justia Law