Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Defendant Lonnie Schmidt managed a home foreclosure rescue operation, doing business as Second Opinion Services and Financial Services Bureau Limited. Following a lengthy jury trial in which he represented himself, defendant was convicted on four counts of prohibited practices by a foreclosure consultant, ten counts of filing false instruments, six counts of identity theft, and five counts of attempted grand theft. Defendant was sentenced to a total of 28 years in prison, plus one year to serve in the county jail. On appeal, defendant argued, and the State conceded: (1) insufficient evidence supported some of defendant’s convictions for grand theft; (2) the evidence did not support some of defendant’s convictions for filing false instruments; and (3) the trial court should have stayed his sentence for second degree burglary and attempted grand theft. The Court of Appeal agreed as to all these contentions and reversed judgment and sentence regarding those counts. The Court remanded the case for resentencing in light of this decision. View "California v. Schmidt" on Justia Law

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Alexander Stringer was convicted by jury of aggravated kidnapping to commit extortion or exact money or property from another person, three counts of aggravated kidnapping to facilitate carjacking, two counts of simple kidnapping, two counts of assault with a firearm, one count of child endangerment, two counts of felony possession of a firearm, and one count of robbery. Stringer admitted a prior serious felony conviction and two prior strikes under the three strikes law, and the jury returned true findings on several firearm enhancements. The trial court sentenced Stringer to an aggregate term of life without the possibility of parole, plus an additional 87 years to life, in state prison. Stringer appealed. After review of Stringer’s arguments on appeal, the Court of Appeal determined: (1) the jury instruction for aggravated kidnapping to commit extortion or exact money or property from another person contained a prejudicial legal error permitting the jury to find Stringer guilty on a legally invalid basis; (2) simple kidnapping to facilitate carjacking was a lesser included offense of kidnapping, and the State conceded as much. Therefore, the Court of Appeal reversed the aggravated kidnapping charge and accepted the State’s concession on simple kidnapping. Judgment was affirmed as to all other charges, and the Court left it to the State on whether to retry Stringer on counts affected by the faulty instructions. View "California v. Stringer" on Justia Law

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Defendant Kayvon Patton pleaded guilty to grand theft of personal property after he joined friends and stole cell phones and other electronic devices from an electronics store. Among the conditions of his probation was a condition subjecting his electronic devices to warrantless search. Patton challenged this condition as unreasonable under California v. Lent, 15 Cal.3d 481 (1975) and constitutionally overbroad. In its initial opinion, the Court of Appeal rejected the State’s argument that Patton's appeal should have been dismissed for failure to obtain a certificate of probable cause. The Court then concluded the electronics search condition was valid under Lent and not overbroad. After the appellate court’s decision, the California Supreme Court issued In re Ricardo P., 7 Cal.5th 1113 (2019), clarifying when an electronics search was is reasonably related to the probationer's future criminality under Lent. The Court of Appeal granted Patton's petition for rehearing and allowed both parties to file supplemental briefs concerning the effect of Ricardo P. Upon rehearing the Court of Appeal concluded, as before, that Patton did not need a certificate of probable cause to challenge the electronics search condition on appeal. Despite a boilerplate waiver of appellate rights in his plea agreement, he did not waive his right to challenge a later-imposed condition of probation that was not referenced in that agreement. Accordingly, his appeal was based on "[g]rounds that arose after entry of the plea and do not affect the plea's validity." The Court found the electronics search condition was validly imposed under Lent's first prong because it related to Patton’s underlying crime. Ricardo P. did not alter this analysis. Moreover, because the nature of Patton's offense means that some electronics search condition could constitutionally be imposed, the condition was not facially overbroad. Accordingly, the Court affirmed. View "California v. Patton" on Justia Law

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Parents, students, taxpayers, and community organizations filed suit alleging that the school district adopted and implemented a district-wide disciplinary program that was biased toward minority students, students who speak limited English, and others similarly situated. This case arose from information released to the public regarding suspensions, transfers, and other disciplinary proceedings in the school district that allegedly demonstrated that racial bias affected how the school district disciplined minority students, and actions taken by the school district to actively hide this fact from the public. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's dismissal of most of plaintiffs' claims against the state level defendants, either because the claims did not state a cause of action or such claims may be brought against the local level defendants but not the state level defendants. The court held, however, that plaintiffs have stated a cause of action for disparate impact under California's equal protection clause and they have properly petitioned for a writ of mandate based on the state level defendants' ministerial duty to monitor the practices of local school districts for violations of federal law. Therefore, the court held that the trial court wrongly sustained the state-level defendants' demurrer on those claims, along with plaintiffs' request for declaratory relief on the same issues. The court also held that plaintiffs' complaint contained sufficient allegations to demonstrate associational standing for one of the community organizations to pursue these claims against the state level defendants. View "Collins v. Thurmond" on Justia Law

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Pursuant to a stipulation by the parties made at its suggestion, the trial court vacated its earlier dismissal of an information against defendant Gary Hampton, Jr., in order to approve a plea agreement in this and other pending actions. The court placed defendant on probation, but later, it found he had violated probation and sentenced him to prison. On appeal, defendant contended the trial court lacked jurisdiction to vacate its earlier dismissal and thus could not accept his plea, place him on probation, or sentence him to prison for violating probation. The Court of Appeal agreed: no California authority vests a trial court with jurisdiction to vacate the dismissal of a criminal case upon the stipulation of the parties seeking to adopt a plea agreement. "Under California jurisdiction law, a court loses subject matter jurisdiction upon dismissing a criminal case in its entirety, and these rules prevent a court from later vacating such a dismissal, even when the vacation was sought by stipulation of the parties." View "California v. Hampton" on Justia Law

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LeAndre Martell and his girlfriend, Jasmine McCann, were in the process of moving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas when things fell apart. McCann moved to Las Vegas without Martell. A few days later she returned to Victorville and reported the car she let Martell drive, as stolen. She said she never told Martell about the police report, and never contacted the police again. Despite their problems, the break-up didn’t take. Though McCann said she had asked Martell repeatedly to return the car, he didn’t. He said she never asked for the car. Back in Los Angeles in 2016, police stopped Martell while he was driving the car and arrested him for driving with a suspended license. They impounded the car and discovered it was registered to McCann. After the arrest, McCann got her car and her boyfriend back. She recovered the car from police impound, picked Martell up from court, and the two drove to Las Vegas, where they finally set up house together. He continued driving her car in Las Vegas until she bought him another one. Though their relationship was rocky, they stayed together through April 2017 when Martell left her for another woman. McCann then lost the car when it was impounded for illegal parking and she decided it wasn’t worth the cost of getting it out. Shortly after the final breakup, a jury tried Martell and found him guilty of felony unlawfully taking or driving a vehicle. Although it wasn’t clear at the time, the California Supreme Court held a defendant could not be convicted of a felony for unlawfully taking a vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of possession unless it was worth more than $950, though they could be convicted of a felony for unlawfully driving a vehicle even if it was worth less than that threshold amount. The Court of Appeal determined that though the trial court correctly determined the evidence wouldn’t support a jury finding that McCann’s car was worth more than $950, it erroneously concluded Martell could be convicted of felony unlawful taking such a low-value vehicle. This error "infected" the court’s jury instructions. Since the Court of Appeal determined there was a reasonable chance the jury convicted under the improper theory, Martell was entitled to have his conviction reduced to a misdemeanor or to be retried for a felony conviction under a proper legal theory. View "California v. Martell" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed two separate orders under the anti-SLAPP statute addressing special motions to strike malicious prosecution claims stemming from defendant's commencement of the underlying action, on behalf of his client, against Plaintiffs Lee and Grip Smart. Defendant alleged that his client was denied access to Lee's business, Grip Smart, because the adjacent parking lot did not have a handicapped accessible spot. The court affirmed the order granting defendant's special motion to strike Lee's complaint and order denying defendant's special motion to strike Grip Smart's complaint. The court held that Lee did not demonstrate a probability of prevailing on the merits of his claim for malicious prosecution, because Lee forfeited any argument that he made the requisite prima facie showing with regard to two elements of his claim. The court held that the denial of defendant's motion to strike Grip Smart's complaint was proper where there was no indication that the trial court misunderstood who bore the burden on the second prong of the anti-SLAPP analysis; the underlying action terminated in favor of Grip Smart in a manner that reflected on the merits of the claim, because the underlying action terminated based on the lack of any causal link between Grip Smart's actions and the alleged injury; Grip Smart made the requisite showing that continued prosecution after November 2016 was done without probable cause; and Grip Smart made a sufficient showing to support the element of malice. View "Lee v. Kim" on Justia Law

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Kahn was convicted of arson of an inhabited structure (Pen. Code 451(b)). The jury found true an enhancement allegation that he committed the arson by use of a device designed to accelerate the fire. Khan was sentenced to a total term of nine years. The court of appeal affirmed, upholding the denial of Kahn's motion to suppress evidence obtained through a warrant to search his home. The warrant affidavit presented ample facts establishing probable cause to believe that the residence where S.S. and his family lived had been the object of arson using an accelerant. There were circumstances that implicated Kahn, who was disgruntled with S.S., his former supervisor. There were previous incidents in which Kahn attempted retaliation or acted in a threatening manner. Even if the warrant were not valid, the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule would apply. The court rejected an argument that it was required to remand so that the trial court could order pretrial diversion for the treatment of Kahn’s mental health condition under Penal Code 1001.36, which went into effect while his appeal was pending. Section 1001.36, which authorizes pretrial diversion for mental health treatment, does not retroactively apply to Kahn, who had been convicted and is serving his sentence. View "People v. Khan" on Justia Law

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Defendant Leola Allen plead guilty to committing felony welfare fraud in 1993, 1997, and 2000 (and to committing felony perjury in 2000). At sentencing in each case, the trial court ordered Allen to pay direct victim restitution and various fines and fees. In 2018, Allen petitioned pursuant to Penal Code sections 1203.4 and 1203.42 seeking discretionary "expungement" of her convictions on the basis she had been rehabilitated. She also sought to stay, dismiss, or delete her court-ordered fines and fees because she asserted she was unable to pay them. The prosecution opposed the expungement requests because Allen still owed about $9,000 in direct victim restitution; the prosecution did not oppose the request for relief from the fines and fees. The trial court denied Allen's petitions based on her outstanding victim restitution obligations, but did not directly address her request for relief from the fines and fees. On appeal, Allen argued that under the recent decision in California v. Duenas, 30 Cal.App.5th 1157 (2019), the trial court's denial of her expungement petitions violated her due process or equal protection rights because she was financially unable to pay the victim restitution. Alternatively, Allen contended the trial court erred in its conclusion her outstanding restitution obligations deprived the court of the authority to grant discretionary expungement. The Court of Appeal found Duenas was materially distinguishable: it involved revenue-generating assessments and a punitive restitution fine, whereas this case involves voter-mandated direct victim restitution intended to make the victim whole. Furthermore, the Court agreed with the analysis of numerous courts that rejected Duenas's due process framework. On remand, however, the Court directed the trial court to conduct further proceedings: (1) because the trial court did not directly address Allen's request for relief from the court-ordered fines and fees (other than victim restitution); and (2) because the record was unclear regarding whether Allen paid all the victim restitution owed in connection with her convictions in 2000. In all other respects, judgment was affirmed. View "California v. Allen" on Justia Law

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Sanchez was charged with robbery, assault with a deadly weapon on a transit passenger, and receiving stolen property for acts against victim R.D. alleged to have occurred on a Muni bus in January 2016. The prosecution dismissed the complaint due to victim unavailability. Sanchez was later charged with another robbery, assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, and vandalism for acts against another victim on in July 2016. He rejected plea offers. The prosecutor located and subpoenaed R.D. to testify under Evidence Code section 1101(b) (uncharged acts). R.D. testified at trial. The jury found Sanchez guilty of misdemeanor assault and felony vandalism but hung on the robbery count. Days before sentencing, the prosecution re-filed the previously dismissed case. Sanchez moved to dismiss the refiled complaint, citing vindictive prosecution in violation of his constitutional right to due process. The magistrate judge granted the motion, finding a presumption of vindictiveness. He explained the reasons for dismissal in a 19-page opinion which referenced no statutory grounds; the court’s minutes stated the case was dismissed “PURSUANT TO PENAL CODE 1385 FOR REASONS STATED ON THE RECORD.” The court of appeal affirmed the superior court’s refusal to reinstate. Sanchez’s motion to dismiss for vindictive prosecution was made and decided as a matter of constitutional due process. Such a dismissal is not an enumerated order that may be reviewed under section 871.5. View "People v. Sanchez" on Justia Law