Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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A jury found defendant Eric Jones guilty of multiple counts of second degree burglary of a vehicle and additional offenses arising from a series of car break-ins throughout San Francisco that occurred over a 17-month period. The trial court instructed the jury that if it found Jones committed one or more of the charged auto burglaries (along with one uncharged auto burglary) by a preponderance of the evidence, it could consider that evidence in deciding identity and intent to commit theft for the other charged crimes. The instruction reminded the jury that the prosecution had to prove each charge beyond a reasonable doubt. Jones argued on appeal this instruction had the effect of lowering the prosecution’s burden of proof, and was structural error requiring automatic reversal. The Court of Appeal concluded the instruction should not have been given, but there was no structural error. Any error in giving the instruction was harmless. View "California v. Jones" on Justia Law

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In this writ proceeding, the State sought relief from a discovery order requiring them to produce certain materials related to DNA testing in a criminal action. Petitioner Florencio Dominguez was accused of conspiracy to commit murder. Pertinent here, one piece of evidence expected to be introduced at his upcoming trial was central: results from DNA testing conducted on a pair of blood-soaked gloves found near the scene of the crime. No one disputed DNA testing established the blood on the gloves' exterior to be that of victim. DNA on swabs from the gloves' interior, however, could not be tied to a single source. Rather, those swabs yielded a low template DNA mixture with multiple contributors. The San Diego Police Department Crime Lab (the lab) tested the swabs using the STRmix program. In February 2018, defense counsel informally requested discovery of materials related to the STRmix program from the State. After review, the Court of Appeal granted the state’s application and issued a writ of mandate directing the superior court to: (1) vacate its order of March 29, 2018; (2) enter a new order denying defendant's motion to compel production of the STRmix software program, the program source code, and ESR's internal validation studies; and (3) conduct further proceedings consistent with the Court’s opinion with respect to the STRmix user manual. The stay issued on May 18, 2018 would be vacated when this opinion was final as to the Court of Appeal. View "California v. Superior Court (Dominguez)" on Justia Law

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The California Coastal Act of 1976 requires local governments like defendant City of Solana Beach (the City) to develop a local coastal program (LCP). The City submitted an amended LUP (ALUP) to the Commission. The Commission approved the ALUP with suggested modifications and the City accepted those modifications. In April 2013, Beach and Bluff Conservancy (BBC) brought this action for declaratory relief and traditional mandate under Code of Civil Procedure section 1085, challenging seven specific policies of the City's ALUP as facially inconsistent with the Coastal Act and/or facially unconstitutional. The court granted BBC's motion and petition for writ of mandate as to two of the challenged policies and denied the motion and writ petition as to the other five challenged policies, and entered judgment accordingly. BBC's appeal and the cross-appeals by the City, the Commission, and Surfrider Foundation (Surfrider) centered on five of the seven policies at issue in the trial court. BBC contended the court erred in rejecting its claims that one of those policies is facially inconsistent with the Coastal Act, another was facially unconstitutional under the "unconstitutional conditions doctrine," and a third was both inconsistent with the Coastal Act and unconstitutional. In their cross-appeals, the City, the Commission, and Surfrider contended the court erred in granting BBC's motion for judgment and petition for writ of mandate as to two of the policies. The City and the Commission also raised a number of procedural challenges to the judgment. The Court of Appeal concluded BBC's exclusive remedy to challenge policies in the ALUP on the ground they were inconsistent with the Coastal Act was to file a petition for writ of administrative mandate under Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5 rather than an action for declaratory relief and traditional mandamus. And assuming, without deciding, that administrative mandamus was not the exclusive remedy for BBC's facial challenges to two policies on constitutional grounds, the Court concluded those challenges failed on the merits. View "Beach & Bluff Conservancy v. City of Solana Beach" on Justia Law

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Kevin Megown beat Michelle R., the mother of his child. After one incident where Michelle's mother, Maria R., came to aid her, Megown threatened to kill both of them as he held a gun. A jury convicted Megown of violating a domestic violence restraining order, possessing an assault weapon, and inflicting corporal injury on a cohabitant. It also found true allegations that he inflicted great bodily injury in circumstances involving domestic violence. The jury acquitted on some counts and could not reach a verdict on several others. Megown was retried on some of the unresolved counts. A second jury convicted Megown of inflicting corporal injury on a cohabitant, three counts each of criminal threats, and assault with a semiautomatic firearm. The trial court sentenced Megown to a total term of 17 years in prison. On appeal, Megown argued the trial court erred by: (1) admitting past uncharged acts of domestic violence under Evidence Code section 1109 with respect to the counts involving Maria; (2) admitting evidence of abuse that occurred more than 10 years before the charged crimes; (3) giving CALCRIM No. 875 (assault with a firearm) without modification; and (4) failing to stay the sentence on one of the criminal threats counts under Penal Code section 654. He also claimed the abstract of judgment should have been amended to accurately reflect the trial court's oral pronouncement and that the cumulative effect of the above errors require reversal. While the Court of Appeal agreed the trial court erred when it failed to stay the sentence on one of the criminal threats counts under Penal Code section 654 and that the abstract of judgment should be corrected, it rejected Megown's other arguments. The matter was remanded for the limited purpose of allowing the trial court to determine whether to strike the firearm enhancements. In all other respects, the convictions were affirmed. View "California v. Megown" on Justia Law

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A jury found defendant Andrey Yushchuk guilty of second degree "Watson" murder, misdemeanor drunk driving (DUI) and misdemeanor aggravated DUI (over 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content); it acquitted him of felony DUI-with-injury charges. The trial court sentenced defendant to prison for an unstayed term of 15 years to life. On appeal, defendant argued: (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion to acquit at the close of the State's case-in-chief; and (2) the court misinstructed the jury regarding permissive inferences. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Yushchuk" on Justia Law

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This case was Marc Endsley’s second appeal challenging the denial of his Penal Code section 1026.2 petition for conditional release from the state hospital. Endsley was committed to the state hospital in 1997 after a jury found him not guilty of the first degree murder of his father by reason of insanity (NGI). In his first appeal, he argued the trial court erred by summarily denying his petition without a hearing. In that case, the Court of Appeal agreed Endsley was entitled to a hearing, and in interpreting section 1026.2(l), the Court held the trial court had a duty to procure a recommendation from the state hospital on the appropriateness of release. The trial court obtained the recommendation, held a hearing, and again denied the petition. In this appeal, Endsley challenged the denial of his two prehearing requests, arguing the trial court violated his constitutional rights to testify at his hearing and to the assistance of an independent medical expert. Endsley argued the court erred by ruling on his request to testify remotely without first ensuring the selection of a confinement facility that could “continue [his] program of treatment,” as required by section 1026.2, subdivisions (b) and (c). He also argued the holding in California v. McKee, 47 Cal.4th 1172 (2010) that sexually violent predators (SVPs) had a due process right to the appointment of an independent expert to assist them in petitioning for conditional release from involuntary civil confinement should extend to NGIs seeking conditional release. After review, the Court of Appeal agreed with both of Endsley’s contentions, reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "California v. Endsley" on Justia Law

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Defendant Edgar Gutierrez was convicted of attempted carjacking. Defendant claimed that he merely asked the victim if he had keys and could give him a ride. He denied threatening the victim; he claimed that he spoke Spanish poorly and the victim must have misunderstood him. On appeal, he argued the trial court erred by: (1) allowing the prosecution to impeach him with the facts underlying his prior felony conviction; and (2) discouraging the jury from requesting a readback of testimony. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law

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John Doe appealed the superior court's decision denying his petition for writ of administrative mandate to compel UCSB to rescind his suspension after he was found guilty of sexual misconduct in violation of the Student Conduct Code. The Court of Appeal reversed and held that John was denied access to critical evidence; denied the opportunity to adequately cross-examine witnesses; and denied the opportunity to present evidence in his defense. The court held that the accused must be permitted to see the evidence against him and, in this case, John was not permitted access to the complete Sexual Assault Response Team report. This error was prejudicial to John. Furthermore, cumulative errors occurred at the hearing, including the exclusion of John's evidence of the side effects of Viibryd, a prescription antidepressant, that Jane Roe was taking. The court held that neither Jane nor John received a fair hearing where the lack of due process precluded a fair evaluation of the witnesses' credibility. View "Doe v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Musclewood, alleging that defendants violated his rights under the Disabled Persons Act (DPA), by allowing their guard dog to interfere with and attack plaintiff's guide dog. Plaintiff, who is blind, had been trained to use a route that passed in front of defendants' business when he traveled to the market or bus stop. Defendants' guard dog was not trained, leashed, or otherwise controlled or restrained. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred by sustaining a demurrer to his cause of action under the DPA without leave to amend where plaintiff stated a valid claim under section 54.3 of the DPA and plaintiff sufficiently alleged standing for damages. The court also reversed the trial court's order granting a motion to strike. In this case, the trial court committed reversible error by striking the first cause of action, the prayer for damages (including treble damages), and the prayer for attorney fees. View "Ruiz v. Musclewood Investment Properties" on Justia Law

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Concord police officer Wilson was dispatched to a parking lot where a truck was seen “doing a burn-out.” Wilson found the parked truck with Gutierrez asleep in the driver’s seat. Gutierrez produced a Mexican consular identification card. Gutierrez had no valid California driver’s license. Wilson smelled alcohol on Gutierrez’s breath and noticed watery eyes and a slight slur to his speech. Gutierrez admitted to drinking several beers. With the aid of a Spanish-speaking police officer to translate, Wilson administered field sobriety tests. Concluding that Gutierrez had been driving under the influence of alcohol, Wilson placed him under arrest. The officers informed Gutierrez that the law required him to submit to a blood or breath test. Gutierrez chose the blood test. A phlebotomist arrived to draw Gutierrez’s blood. Gutierrez did not resist. Neither officer informed Gutierrez that if he refused both tests, he could face penalties under California’s implied consent laws. Gutierrez was charged with misdemeanor driving under the influence of an alcoholic beverage and driving a motor vehicle without a valid license. Gutierrez successfully moved under Penal Code 1538.5 to suppress all evidence obtained from a blood draw. The court of appeal reversed, citing the exception to the warrant requirement for a search incident to arrest. The element of choice is dispositive; if a DUI suspect freely and voluntarily chooses a blood test over a breath test then the arresting officer does not need a warrant to have the suspect’s blood drawn. View "People v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law