Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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The State appealed an order that vacated defendant Jeffrey Duval's five-year jail sentence for a conviction to which he pled guilty to the possession for sale and transportation of methamphetamine, receiving stolen property, and unlawful possession of a stun gun. Defendant entered a Cruz1 waiver, agreeing that if he failed to appear at his sentencing hearing the trial court would not be bound by the negotiated two-year term and could sentence him up to the maximum term in his absence. Defendant failed to appear for his sentencing. In absentia, the court imposed a prison sentence of nine years, eight months. Defendant’s trial counsel did not object to the sentence, did not ask for a hearing on whether defendant’s violation of the Cruz waiver was willful, and did not present any evidence for why defendant failed to appear. The following court day defendant appeared and was taken into custody. The next day, at the request of defense counsel, the court recalled and vacated defendant’s prison sentence, and instead imposed a five-year county jail term. Defendant then filed a habeas corpus petition contending he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney failed to argue or present evidence he did not willfully violate his Cruz agreement. The Court of Appeal summarily denied that petition. But then the California Supreme Court directed the Court of Appeal to vacate its summary dismissal, and remand to the trial court for a hearing on why defendant wasn't entitled to habeas relief. Back in the superior court, a hearing was held on the 83rd day after the appeals court order. In the interim, the State did not file a return—or any other response—to to the appellate court's order to show cause. Notwithstanding the State's objections, the trial court ultimately granted relief by vacating the five-year sentence and reduced it to four. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court had no need to hold an evidentiary hearing when the State failed to file a return to defendant’s writ petition after being ordered to show cause why habeas corpus relief should not have been granted. In addition, the Court of Appeal found the court did not exceed its authority by vacating defendant’s previously imposed sentence and resentencing him in the manner it did. As such, the court did not err and the sentence was therefore affirmed. View "In re Duval" on Justia Law

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Defendant Wesley Robins was alleged to have aided and abetted in what started out as a shoplifting, but turned into an "Estes" robbery, recklessly evading authorities. He was convicted of attempted second-degree robbery (count 1) and felony reckless evading (count 2). Defendant admitted a prior strike, a prior prison term, and a prior serious felony. The court sentenced defendant to 32 months in prison on count 1, which was double the low term because of the prior strike. It sentenced defendant to a concurrent 32 months in prison on count 2, which was also double the low term. The court imposed but immediately struck a five-year enhancement for the prior serious felony and a one-year enhancement for the prior prison term. The result was a total prison sentence of 32 months. On appeal, defendant argued: (1) he could not be convicted of an attempted Estes robbery because there was no such crime; and (2) and (3) both the attempted robbery conviction and the reckless evading conviction were on the theory that these were natural and probable consequences of aiding and abetting the theft. Defendant was neither the thief, nor the getaway driver. Defendant contended there was insufficient evidence to support the theory in either case. The Court of Appeal determined that the gist of defendant’s argument was that the concept of an attempted Estes robbery was incoherent: when someone takes clothes from a retail store and uses force to get away, it does not matter if a store employee successfully retrieves the property; the instant force is used, the Estes robbery is complete. There is no possibility of a mere attempt, according to defendant. "While this is a clever argument," the Court of Appeal rejected it. The Court disagreed the evidence was insufficient to support the robbery and evading convictions, and affirmed all convictions. View "California v. Robins" on Justia Law

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In 2015, Gilbert Lopez died from gunshot wounds following a verbal argument with defendant-appellant, Salvador Yanez IV. Defendant was charged and convicted by a jury of the second degree murder of Lopez and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The jury also found true special allegations that defendant discharged a firearm and caused great bodily injury or death in the commission of the murder. In a bifurcated proceeding, the trial court found defendant had suffered a prior conviction for a serious or violent felony pursuant to Penal Code section 667(a) and a prior strike conviction pursuant to section 667(b)-(i). Defendant was sentenced to a total of 60 years to life in state prison: 30 years to life for the murder conviction, an additional 25 years to life for the firearm enhancement, and an additional consecutive five years for the prior serious felony conviction. On appeal, defendant contended: (1) the trial court abused its discretion in admitting expert gang testimony which should have been excluded as unduly prejudicial under Evidence Code section 352; (2) the prosecutor engaged in misconduct warranting reversal by referencing jury deliberations during argument on defendant’s motion to strike his firearm enhancement conviction; (3) defendant was not given constitutionally adequate advisement when waiving his right to a jury trial on his prior conviction and prior strike allegations; (4) the matter should be remanded to allow the trial court to exercise discretion to impose a lesser, uncharged firearm enhancement pursuant to Penal Code section 12022.53(h); and (5) the matter should have been remanded to allow the trial court to exercise its discretion to strike a five-year enhancement pursuant to recent amendments made to Penal Code sections 667 and 1385. The Court of Appeal remanded the matter for resentencing pursuant to amended Pena Code sections 667 and 1385. In all other respects, it affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Yanez" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Dominick Humphrey pled guilty to four counts of robbery (counts 2, 3, 4 and 24). For three of these counts (counts 2, 3, and 4), Humphrey admitted that he used a deadly weapon (a knife) during the commission of the offenses, and used a firearm during the commission of one of the counts (count 24). Humphrey also admitted that he was 16 years old when he committed the crimes within the meaning of Welfare and Institutions Code section 707. The trial court sentenced Humphrey to prison for 19 years. Five years into Humphrey's sentence, an employee of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) wrote a letter to the superior court, stating that the abstract of judgment "may be in error, or incomplete[.]" In 2018, the trial court clarified that Humphrey was sentenced to 15 years for count 24 and the associated firearm enhancement and consecutive 16-month terms for counts 2, 3, and 4 (including their deadly weapon enhancements). An amended abstract of judgment was issued showing a sentence of 19 years in state prison. Thereafter, Humphrey moved to strike the firearm enhancement under Senate Bill No. 620. The trial court denied the motion because Humphrey's conviction became final before the enactment of Senate Bill No. 620. Appellate counsel filed a "Wende" brief, indicating that he had not been able to identify any arguable issue for reversal on appeal, but asked the Court of Appeal to review the record for error as Wende mandated. In reviewing the record, the Court discovered an issue to be briefed, and the parties were requested to brief whether the trial court erred in finding Humphrey ineligible for relief under Senate Bill 620 after the trial court acted to correct the abstract of judgment. Find that the trial court only made plain how the original sentence should have appeared on the amended abstract of judgment, the Court of Appeal determined Humphrey did not file a notice of appeal following the original 2011 sentence. His case became final in 2011. Senate Bill 620 took effect January 1, 2018, and Humphrey's was not entitled to retroactive application of the law to his sentence. Therefore the trial court did not err in denying his motion for resentencing. View "California v. Humphrey" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Hipolito Morales was charged with two counts of oral copulation or sexual penetration of a child under 10, and seven counts of committing a lewd or lascivious act on a child under 14. During his trial, the trial court admitted into evidence, after jury deliberations began and without any limiting instructions, a video and transcript of Morales’s police interrogation. In a pre-Miranda portion of that interrogation, an officer made statements to the effect that children had informed law enforcement that Morales had molested them; the officer knew Morales was lying; the officer could tell Morales was lying from his experience as an investigator; and Morales committed the crimes. Although the officer testified at trial, the parties had agreed to limit questioning to the post-Miranda portion of the interrogation only. The jury found Morales guilty, and he was sentenced to 175 years to life. Morales appealed, contending that because the full interrogation was admitted only after the officer was excused and the jury began its deliberations, he was deprived of the right to confront the officer about the pre-Miranda statements described above, none of which were repeated after Morales was read his Miranda rights. The Court of Appeal found no confrontation clause violation. "In order to implicate the confrontation clause, a statement must be testimonial, meaning that it must be made with sufficient formality and with the primary purpose of creating a substitute for trial testimony. Accusatory statements made by law enforcement in an interrogation will, absent unusual circumstances, satisfy neither of these requirements." The Court addressed Morales’s other contentions in the unpublished portion of its opinion, found them without merit and therefore affirmed conviction and sentencing. View "California v. Morales" on Justia Law

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The City of Huntington Beach filed a petition for writ of mandamus and a complaint for declaratory relief to “invalidate the unconstitutional mandates of the [CVA] that impermissibly strip the City’s constitutionally protected Charter authority with respect to local ‘municipal affairs.’” Each cause of action alleged the CVA unconstitutionally violated the City’s authority to conduct municipal affairs guaranteed under article XI, section 5 of the California Constitution by mandating how the City operates its police force. The City also prayed for a declaration that the CVA is unconstitutional and preempted by article XI, section 5 of the California Constitution. The trial court granted the City’s petition for writ of mandamus and a peremptory writ of mandate was issued ordering the Attorney General to refrain from enforcing Government Code section 7284.6 against the City. In a statement of decision, the court found: (1) the “constitution, regulation and government” of a police force was a “quintessential municipal affair under [Section] 5(a)”; (2) the “constitution, regulation and government” of a police force was “a municipal prerogative” protected by Section 5(b); and (3) “there was no ‘statewide concern’ justifying the state[’]s regulation of a Charter City’s police force.” The issue before the Court of Appeal was whether charter cities were exempt from compliance with Government Code section 7284.6 on the ground it infringed the authority of charter cities under article XI, section 5(b) of the California Constitution to create, regulate, and govern city police forces. The Court held section 7284.6 was constitutional as applied to charter cities because it addressed matters of statewide concern - including public safety and health, effective policing, and protection of constitutional rights - was reasonably related to resolution of those statewide concerns, and was narrowly tailored to avoid unnecessary interference in local government. Because the trial court concluded otherwise, and granted a petition for writ of mandamus brought by the City, the Court of Appeal reversed with directions to deny the writ petition and enter judgment in favor of the Attorney General. View "City of Huntington Beach v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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Sony, the Estate of Michael J. Jackson, and MJJ Productions appealed from the superior court's order partially denying their motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute. Plaintiff alleged that defendants marketed a posthumous Michael Jackson album in violation of the Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA). Plaintiff also brought a fraud claim against the Cascio Defendants, alleging that they knowingly misrepresented to defendants that Jackson was the lead singer on the three tracks at issue. Upon reconsideration in light of FilmOn.com Inc. v. Double Verify Inc. (2019) 7 Cal.5th 133, the Court of Appeal held that its prior opinion was correct. In the prior opinion, the court held that plaintiff's claims against defendants arose from conduct furthering defendants' right of free speech in connection with a public issue, and that plaintiff did not show a probability that her claims under the UCL and the CLRA would succeed because the claims concern noncommercial speech that is not actionable under those statutes. The court largely adopted the prior opinion, except that it revised the discussion of the first step of the anti-SLAPP procedure to take into account the FilmOn decision and its application to the circumstances of this case. The court held that defendants' challenged statements were sufficiently connected to an issue of public interest to warrant anti-SLAPP protection. In this case, the representations that plaintiff challenged did not simply promote sale of the album, but also stated a position on a disputed issue of public interest. View "Serova v. Sony Music Entertainment" on Justia Law

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Defendant Bradley Roles was found guilty by jury of ten counts of making criminal threats (nine counts against Jennifer B. and one count against Heather S.), one count of stalking, and one count of making annoying phone calls. Defendant appealed contending: (1) he could be convicted of only one criminal threats charge against Jennifer B. because she heard all the threats at the same time and experienced a single period of sustained fear; (2) he could not be convicted of a criminal threats charge against Heather S. because there was insufficient evidence to show he intended for Jennifer B. to relay the threats to Heather S.; (3) the criminal threats punishment should have been stayed under Penal Code section 654; and (4) he did not knowingly and intelligently waive his right to a jury trial. The Court of Appeal agreed with defendant’s first three contentions but disagreed with the fourth. Accordingly, the Court reversed the nine criminal threats convictions and stayed the punishment on the remaining criminal threats conviction. In all other respects, judgment was affirmed. View "California v. Roles" on Justia Law

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Defendant Markeese Brantley committed the crime of possession of marijuana while he was in state prison, but both his guilty plea and sentencing for that crime took place after he was released from prison. Before sentencing on the possession charge, defendant was convicted and sentenced on a domestic violence charge in another case. Finding Penal Code section 1170.1(c) applied to the possession charge, the trial court here imposed a full consecutive three-year term on the possession charge, rather than imposing one-third of the middle term for this offense pursuant to section 1170.1 (a). On appeal, defendant contended: (1) the trial court erred in finding that section 1170.1(c)’s exception to the one-third the base term rule applied to his sentence; (2) the court failed to exercise its discretion to impose a consecutive or concurrent term; and (3) that trial counsel’s failure to object to the consecutive term constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court of Appeal concurred section 1170.1 (c) did not apply because defendant completed the prison term he was serving before being sentenced on the possession offense. Defendant's sentence was vacated and the matter remanded for resentencing. View "California v. Brantley" on Justia Law

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Appellant Donald Keene sought, for the first time on appeal, to challenge the trial court's imposition of various fines, fees and assessments as part of his sentence for one count of failure to register as a sex offender. The Court of Appeal found the issue had been forfeited by failure to raise it at the sentencing hearing. Since Keene did not challenge his conviction or any other part of his sentence, the Court affirmed the trial court. View "California v. Keene" on Justia Law