Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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A jury convicted Jesus Humberto Mejia of attempted premeditated murder, burglary, robbery, street terrorism, and firearm possession. The jury also returned true findings on associated weapon and street gang allegations. In bifurcated proceedings, the trial court made true findings on prior conviction allegations. Mejia contended the court improperly instructed the jury on premeditated attempted murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine. Mejia also raised sentencing issues, which the Attorney General conceded. The Court of Appeal agreed the premeditation and deliberation special finding had to be reversed. With respect to sentencing, the Court first agreed with the parties that the trial court erred in imposing the full 10-year sentence for the gun-use enhancement. Second, the Court acknowledged and agreed with the parties that a recent change in the law required this case be remanded to allow the trial court to exercise its discretion to strike the five-year prior conviction enhancement imposed pursuant to Penal Code section 667(a)(1). Finally, the Court ordered the trial court to correct numerous clerical errors on the abstract of judgment and minute order (brought to our attention by the Attorney General). In all other respects, the Court affirmed judgment. View "California v. Mejia" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Ricky Lee Cobbs was convicted of first degree murder, predicated on felony murder based on attempted robbery, and murder as the natural and probable consequence of assault and battery. Petitioner contended the second theory was made invalid under California v. Chiu, 59 Cal.4th 155 (2014) and In re Martinez, 3 Cal.5th 1216 (2017), and both theories were invalid following changes enacted under Senate Bill No. 1437 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.) (Stats. 2018, ch. 1015, sec. 2 (SB 1437).) He contended the Court of Appeal should vacate his conviction and direct the trial court to conduct further proceedings consistent with California Penal Code sections 188 and 189. The Attorney General agreed the first degree murder conviction was invalid under Chiu and Martinez, but did not address SB 1437. The Attorney General thus asserted the remedy should be that provided for in Chiu and Martinez: reverse the first degree murder conviction, and have the State the option of retrying the first degree murder count or reducing the conviction to second degree murder. The Court of Appeal agreed with the parties that the first degree murder conviction could not stand in light of Chiu and Martinez, but disagreed on the remedy. “While SB 1437 changes the law underlying both theories of guilt, it provides a procedure for those who seek retroactive application, section 1170.95. That procedure is the sole means by which a person may obtain relief for a conviction that becomes final before the effective date of SB 1437. Accordingly, we shall vacate the first degree murder conviction and order additional proceedings in the trial court.” View "In re Cobbs" on Justia Law

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Damian Richard appealed an order denying in part his special motion to strike Alan Hicks's complaint for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Hicks was a principal of a Catholic elementary and middle school; Richard was the husband of one the school's teachers and a parent of children who attended the school. The complaint arose from Richard's role in prompting the Diocese of San Diego (Diocese) to remove Hicks from his school principal position. According to Richard, Hicks asked Richard to serve on the school's advisory board. At an advisory board meeting in the fall of the 2015-2016 school year, Hicks informed the advisory board he wanted to allow the producers of a television show to film the show on the school's campus. Richard expressed his belief the school should not be affiliated with the show because the show was intended for mature audiences due to its sexual nature and conduct. At a fundraiser in the spring of that same school year, Hicks revisited the topic with Richard. During their discussion, Hicks said he had previously permitted a motorcycle dealership to use the school's campus for a photoshoot and had received complaints because of the pornographic nature of the photographs taken. Later in the summer, Hicks asked Richard to serve as the chair of the advisory board for the 2016-2017 school year and Richard accepted the post. In that role and during that school year, Richard received complaints from parents, teachers, and other board members about Hicks. The complaints included concerns about Hicks's poor leadership, mismanagement of the school, frequent inappropriate comments to and about students and female staff, and advocacy for a curriculum Richard and other parents did not believe was in the best interest of the students or the school. In the winter of the 2016-2017 school year, the advisory board investigated complaints, which were corroborated by employees and parents. Richard and the other parents then sent a letter to the bishop of the Diocese. Richard contended the Court of Appeal had to reverse that part of the trial court's order denying his anti-SLAPP motion because, among other reasons, the court erred in deciding the common interest privilege did not apply to bar Hicks's claims. The Court agreed with this contention, and reversed. The matter was remanded back to the trial court with directions to vacate the order, to enter a new order granting the motion and striking Hicks's complaint, and to determine the amount of attorney fees and costs to award Richard under California Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16(c)(1). View "Hicks v. Richard" on Justia Law

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Financial Casualty & Surety, Inc. (Surety) posted a bail bond on behalf of criminal defendant Abdul Karim Juma. Surety appealed following the trial court's denial of its motion to vacate the trial court's forfeiture of the bail bond and to exonerate the bail bond following Juma's failure to appear. On June 23, 2016, Juma was arraigned on charges of mayhem, assault with a deadly weapon, and assault likely to produce great bodily injury. Bail was set at $100,000. Surety posted a $100,000 bail bond for Juma's release from custody. According to the minute orders in the appellate record, Juma appeared for hearings on July 1 and 15 and August 24, 2016. However, for a hearing held on August 5, 2016, the clerk who filled out the minute order neglected to check the box indicating whether Juma was present, and no reporter's transcript exists for that hearing. The only indication that Juma may have been present in court on August 5 was a minute order statement that "distribution" of the order to defense counsel and Juma took place on the date of the hearing. After having appeared on August 24, Juma failed to appear for a September 29, hearing, and the trial court entered an order forfeiting bail. Surety twice moved the trial court to set aside the forfeiture and exonerate the bail bond, or in the alternative to further extend the period to seek such relief based on the fact that Surety's investigator had located Juma in Kenya and the District Attorney was in the process of deciding whether to extradite Juma. The District Attorney filed an opposition, in which it argued that Surety had not fulfilled all of the requirements for exonerating bail by merely locating Juma in Kenya. At a hearing in February 2018, the trial court concluded Surety had not established Juma failed to appear on August 5, 2016, and thus had not established the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the bail bond by failing to order bail forfeited on that date. The Court ultimately ordered summary judgment on the bail bond forfeiture. Surety contended on appeal that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to forfeit the bond because: (1) it failed to enter an order forfeiting the bond at an earlier hearing at which Juma may not have been present; and (2) on several grounds, the bail agreement was rendered void and was exonerated when the trial court required that Juma waive his Fourth Amendment right against warrantless searches. The Court of Appeal determined Surety's arguments lacked merit, and accordingly, affirmed judgment. View "California v. Financial Casualty & Surety, Inc." on Justia Law

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A warrant issued for the search of Klugman’s residence and his dental practice, authorizing the seizure evidence of child pornography. Officers seized extensive electronic evidence contained on multiple devices. Klugman was charged with knowingly possessing images of minors engaging in or simulating sexual conduct. In a motion to suppress, Klugman cited the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, sections 1538.5 and 1546.4(a), asserting that the warrant lacked particularity and probable cause and “contained no limiting time periods, specific accounts, precise descriptions of the types of information, or particular electronic devices that could be seized. Nor did it contain any safeguards such as sealing or the appointment of a referee to preserve the privacy of seized information unrelated to the purpose of the warrant. Instead, it authorized a ‘complete dump’ of all electronic devices ... including thousands of patient records.” The court of appeal affirmed. Even disregarding timeliness issues, the trial court did not err. The reports based on information derived from third parties were not conclusory, were not stale, and were reliable and corroborative; inferences from tips were reinforced by the opinion of the affiant, a 20-year veteran who relied on his training, experience, and conversations with other officers and with the computer forensics expert. While the warrant for Klugman’s equipment did not dictate that medical information about Klugman’s patients be sealed in compliance with HIPAA, investigating officers previewed material at the scene, “thus addressing the issue noted in the statute.” View "Klugman v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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A.W. committed five counts of felony vandalism. The court declared minor a ward of the state and ordered him to serve 37 days in juvenile hall. The sole question on appeal was whether the evidence supported a finding that, for each count, “the amount of defacement, damage, or destruction [was] four hundred dollars ($400) or more,” as required to elevate the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony. The Court of Appeal determined the only competent testimony on that issue came from an employee of the City of Palmdale who helped prepare an analysis of the average cost to clean up an instance of graffiti. The Court determined: (1) use of an average, by itself, was not enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the amount of damage inflicted by minor was equal to the average cleanup cost, rather than some other number; (2) the calculation included the cost of law enforcement, which, though proper in certain restitution settings, was not a proper consideration in assessing the damage minor inflicted under the applicable statute; and (3) Palmdale’s methodology for calculating the average cost is flawed. The Court reversed adjudication in part with direction to reduce the felony counts to misdemeanors. View "In re A.W." on Justia Law

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After defendant was convicted of violent felonies in three different cases, he received a 51 year aggregate sentence in 2005 pursuant to a plea agreement. After his petition for habeas corpus was granted in 2017, he was resentenced to an aggregate sentence of 45 years and eight months. Defendant argued that his two consecutive one year sentences imposed as part of the resentencing should be vacated because they were unlawful under California Rules of Court, rule 4.452. The Court of Appeal held that the habeas order was not void, because defendant was entitled to petition the superior court for a writ of habeas corpus without first obtaining a certificate of probable cause, the superior court could change an unlawful sentence at any time, and the court could reconsider the sentence upon notice from California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation of its possible illegality. The court also held that defendant may raise his Rule 4.452 claim without a certificate of probable cause, and the two sentences he challenged must be vacated as unlawful. The court agreed with the People that remand regarding the firearm sentencing enhancements would be futile and therefore affirmed those sentences. View "People v. Allison" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, who is blind and uses a screen reader, filed suit alleging that defendant violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act by violating the federal American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Plaintiff's claims stemmed from her being unable to access defendant's restaurant website with her screen reader. The Court of Appeal held that Title III of the ADA applies to defendant's website; at a minimum, Title III covers a website with a nexus to a physical place of public accommodation; and the undisputed facts show a sufficient nexus between defendant's website and its restaurant. The court also held that plaintiff's and the trial court's references to nongovernmental guidelines did not violate defendant's due process rights; the trial court could and did disregard surplus comments plaintiff made about the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0; and the specification of WCAG 2.0 guidelines in the injunction did not support or show a due process violation. Finally, the court held that whether defendant's alternative means of communication would be effective was not a triable issue of fact; plaintiff had standing to obtain an injunction; and the injunction mandating compliance with WCAG 2.0 was not overbroad or uncertain. View "Thurston v. Midvale Corp." on Justia Law

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Sagin was sentenced to life without parole for a 1985 stabbing murder. After the murder, two Monterey County Jail inmates separately reported that Sagin (housed at the jail awaiting trial on other charges) confessed to the killing. More than 20 years later, the Northern California Innocence Project identified evidence that could be tested for DNA and obtained an order allowing that testing. (Pen. Code 1405). The victim’s bathrobe contained DNA from the man the victim was dating at the time and from an ex-boyfriend. Hair found on her couch was the ex-boyfriend’s. Towels contained DNA from the victim’s coworker and the ex-boyfriend. Fingernail scrapings contained DNA from an unknown male. Sagin sought habeas corpus relief, based on the newly-available DNA evidence. The court of appeal vacated the conviction The fingernail DNA does not, alone, prove someone other than Sagin committed the crime. The court employed the revised standard, requiring only that the new evidence would likely have changed the trial outcome. A jury would have considered the DNA results with the rest of the evidence, including the testimony of four alibi witnesses that, if credited, establishes Sagin is not the perpetrator. It was more likely than not the new evidence would have changed the outcome of Sagin’s trial. View "In re: Sagin" on Justia Law

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Appellant Steven Force was adjudged a sexually violent predator, and received treatment at a state mental hospital for pedophilia and exhibitionism. He challenged the trial court’s order denying his petition to be placed in the conditional release program known as CONREP. According to appellant, he was denied a fair trial because the prosecutor interfered with his right to testify, and the trial court erroneously refused to admit his release plan into evidence. The Court of Appeal agreed, after review of the trial court record, with both contentions, “Successful prosecution is defined not by the result, but by the process. . . . The prosecutor here took his eyes off the prize just long enough to commit misconduct in a way that requires reversal. We publish that reversal not to pillory him, but as a reminder of the unrelenting vigilance and ethical clarity required daily of prosecutors if they are to fulfill our nation’s promise of a fair trial.” The matter was remanded for a new trial. View "California v. Force" on Justia Law