Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Court of Appeal

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During defendant’s 19th birthday party, a confrontation occurred between defendant’s father and Barcenas. Defendant observed two men hitting her father; she claims they pushed her when she attempted to separate the men and stated they were gang members. Defendant was handed a gun by her boyfriend, approached the truck to which the men had retreated, and fired into the truck, piercing Barcenas’s spinal cord. About a half hour after police responded to the scene, defendant approached an officer and acknowledged that she had shot Barcenas. As the officer was handcuffing her, she explained that “she was defending her father.” At trial she testified that Barcenas “was coming outside of the truck towards me.” The defense objected to admission of statements made during an interrogation at the police station, which seemingly contradicted her testimony. Defendant was sentenced to 27 years to life following her conviction for attempted voluntary manslaughter, shooting at an occupied vehicle and mayhem. The court of appeal affirmed the conviction, rejecting defendant’s argument that she did not voluntarily and knowingly waive her right to remain silent when she spoke to the police after having been advised of her Miranda rights. The court vacated the sentence as constituting cruel and unusual punishment. View "People. v. Cuiriz" on Justia Law

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Five recruit officers of the LAPD filed suit against the City after the Department terminated or constructively discharged them because they could not obtain the necessary medical clearance to return to the Police Academy. The jury found that the City unlawfully discriminated against plaintiffs based on their physical disabilities, failed to provide them reasonable accommodations, and failed to engage in the interactive process required by the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), Gov. Coe 12900-12996. The court agreed that plaintiffs were not "qualified individuals" under FEHA for purposes of their discrimination claim but concluded that they satisfied this requirement for their failure to accommodate claim; concluded that requiring the City to assign temporarily injured recruit officers to light-duty administrative assignments was reasonable as a matter of law in light of the City's past policy and practice of doing so; and because the court affirmed the City's liability on this basis, the court did not reach the City's challenge to the verdict on plaintiffs' claim for failure to engage in the interactive process. The court agreed with the City that future economic losses are unreasonably speculative considering the fact that plaintiffs had completed only hours or weeks of their Police Academy training. Therefore, the court vacated that portion of the damages award and the trial court's award of attorneys' fees and costs. View "Atkins v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Khary Watson challenged his sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for committing felony murder when he was only four months shy of his 18th birthday. Watson's offense occurred after he chased down a woman who tried to run away while Watson was robbing her. Watson shot her in the back. He argued his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. He also contended California's sentencing scheme as well as specific Penal Code provisions violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the United States Constitution. The Court of Appeal concluded Watson's arguments lacked merit; thus, affirmed. View "California v. Watson" on Justia Law

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Defendant Melissa Nichols was charged in an information with the murder of James Payne, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury to Payne and Kandis Maddox, and driving with a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level causing injury. It was also alleged as to counts III and IV that defendant personally inflicted great bodily injury upon Maddox and that defendant proximately caused death or bodily injury to more than one victim. Count I was dismissed, and the case proceeded to trial on the remaining counts. A jury found her guilty of one count of driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury. She was sentenced to two years in prison. Defendant appealed a resulting victim restitution order following the judgment of conviction. The trial court awarded full restitution to the parents of the victim for travel expenses and lost wages related to the parents’ attendance at court proceedings. On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erred in declining to apply the doctrine of comparative negligence to reduce the restitution award. The Court of Appeal concluded that the doctrine of comparative negligence did not apply to reduce Penal Code section 1202.41 restitution to which the parents of a direct victim are entitled as reimbursement for their own economic loss. View "California v. Nichols" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Marlon Wayans and others, alleging, inter alia, that he was the victim of racial harassment during his day of work as an extra on Wayans's movie. Wayans moved to strike plaintiff's claims as an anti-SLAPP suit (strategic lawsuit against public participation), Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, arguing that plaintiff's claims arose from Wayans's constitutional right of free speech. The trial court entered judgment for Wayans and awarded him attorney fees. Under the two step-process applicable to anti-SLAPP motions, the court concluded that Wayans met his burden of showing that the claims arose from a protected activity because all of the alleged misconduct is based squarely on Wayans's exercise of free speech—the creation and promotion of a full-length motion picture, including the off-camera creative process. In regard to step two, the court concluded that plaintiff failed to meet his burden of demonstrating a probability of prevailing on his claims. The court rejected plaintiff's claims of misappropriation, false light, quasi-contract, and unjust enrichment based on an Internet posting. The court also rejected plaintiff's claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress based on both the on-set comments and conduct, as well as the Internet posting. Because the court held that the trial court properly granted Wayans's anti-SLAPP motion, the court further held that the award of attorney fees was proper. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Daniel v. Wayans" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Jose Martinez of continuous sexual abuse of a child under the age of 14. The court sentenced him to twelve years in prison. The court separately ordered him to pay the victim $150,000 in restitution for noneconomic damages (noneconomic restitution). Martinez appealed, arguing his conviction should have been reversed because the trial court prejudicially erred by failing to suppress his statements to police, by admitting the recorded forensic interviews of the victim, and by declining to give the jury his entire proposed special jury instruction on innocuous touching. In addition, Martinez argued the restitution order should have been reversed because the court lacked statutory authority to award the victim noneconomic restitution. In the published portion of the opinion the Court of Appeal held the trial court did not err in awarding the victim noneconomic restitution. In the remaining portions of the opinion, the Court of Appeal explained why it was unpersuaded by Martinez's other contentions and, consequently, affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "California v. Martinez" on Justia Law

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Under Proposition 47, Kevin Mallard sought and received a reclassification of his felony conviction of possession of concentrated cannabis. He sought immediate release from county jail on the grounds he was being incarcerated illegally. To this end, he argued that this reclassification prohibited the application of section 2933.1, which imposed a 15 percent conduct credit limitation on his sentence. He also contended that the application of section 2933.1 to his sentence violated federal and state equal protection clauses. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded Mallard's arguments lacked merit: when a consecutive felony term is subject to a 15 percent conduct credit limitation under section 2933.1, that felony term being resentenced to a misdemeanor term under Proposition 47 does not change the credit limitation imposed by section 2933.1. Accordingly, the Court denied the requested relief. View "In re Mallard" on Justia Law

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In a felony complaint, the prosecution charged Blake Hudson with three counts of willfully failing to timely file tax returns for three consecutive years with the intent to evade paying a tax. A magistrate presided over a preliminary hearing in which an Franchise Tax Board (FTB) agent testified as the prosecution’s sole witness. The agent testified that generally a person must file tax returns by either April 15, or October 15, for the prior taxable year. Generally, a crime occurs when a person commits a wrongful act with the requisite criminal intent. In California, it is a crime when a person willfully fails to timely file a state tax return with the intent to evade paying the taxes that are owed. Hudson had filed returns in other years and the FTB had repeatedly notified Hudson of his duty to file his tax returns. As a result, the magistrate bound Hudson over for trial; and the superior denied his motion to set aside the information. Hudson argues that there was insufficient evidence to show his intent to evade paying taxes. Hudson argued that in order to prove his intent, the prosecution needed to show an additional affirmative act of fraud. The Court of Appeal found that Hudson’s argument was based on a United States Supreme Court opinion interpreting a federal tax law. But unlike the California state statute, the federal tax law at issue did not explicitly make the failure to timely file a tax return a criminal act. "That distinction is ultimately fatal to Hudson’s claim." The Court concluded there was a rational basis for the magistrate to assume that Hudson harbored the requisite intent to evade paying his taxes when he failed to timely file his tax returns. View "Hudson v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Defendant Derrick Sledge appealed an order denying his petition for resentencing under one of the statutes that was enacted in 2014 as part of the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act (Proposition 47). The trial court found defendant’s record contained a 1980 felony forcible rape juvenile adjudication and ruled it was a disqualifying prior conviction under section 1170.18(i). After its review, the Court of Appeal concluded: (1) substantial evidence supports the court’s historical factual finding that defendant suffered the felony forcible rape juvenile adjudication; (2) some felony juvenile adjudications are disqualifying “prior convictions” for purposes of section 1170.18(i); and (3) defendant’s felony forcible rape juvenile adjudication is a disqualifying prior conviction under section 1170.18(i). Accordingly, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Sledge" on Justia Law

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In 2009, petitioner Sandra Hudson, acting as secretary of the board of directors for the Palo Verde Healthcare District (PVHD), voted to approve two contracts between PVHD and Hussain Sahlolbei, M.D. One pertained to “Surgical Services Directorship with Dr. Sahlolbei,” and the other was called the “Surgery On-Call Agreement with Dr. Salolbei.” At the time of petitioner’s vote on the contracts, Dr. Sahlolbei was renting a residence that was owned at least in part by petitioner’s husband. Petitioner received Dr. Sahlolbei’s rent checks at times, and that at least some of those checks were deposited into an account petitioner and her husband shared. In 2008, petitioner disclosed the rented property on her “Form 700” and explained that it was her husband’s separate property. However, her Form 700 filings in 2009 through 2013 failed to disclose any interest in the property. In 2014, real party in interest, the State, filed a complaint charging petitioner with a single count of violating of Government Code section 1090. Petitioner was arraigned on the single-count complaint. A grand jury later returned an indictment against petitioner. The indictment contained the original count for violation of Government Code section 1090 and added a second count under the same statute. Petitioner moved to set aside the indictment, arguing then as on appeal here, that she was not “financially interested in” PVHD?s contracts with Dr. Sahlolbei, invoked the Williamson rule, and attacked the timeliness of all but the two Penal Code section 115 counts. The trial court dismissed one of the Penal Code section 115 counts (count three) as time-barred, it otherwise denied petitioner’s motion under Penal Code section 995. The trial court agreed with petitioner that the tolling allegations in the complaint and the indictment were deficient but allowed the State leave to amend so they could add more detail to their tolling allegations. The Court of Appeal reviewed the petition, determined it may have merit, stayed the action in the trial court, and requested an informal response. Having considered the informal response and a reply, the Court determined that petitioner may have established a right to relief and set an order to show cause on two of the three issues petitioner raised. The Court subsequently reviewed the return and traverse and concluded the petition succeeds as to issues concerning the rule set forth in “Williamson,” (43 Cal.2d 651 (1954), but it failed with respect to petitioner’s complaints about the State’s allegations regarding tolling of the statute of limitations. The Court therefore granted relief only in part. View "Hudson v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law