Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Police arrested 18-year-old high school student Ismael Avalos on a murder charge and questioned him in an interrogation room at a police station. During the interview, a forensic technician removed his shirt, pants, socks, and shoes. The technician gave him a paper gown to wear. After about five hours of questioning by police, Avalos said, “I wanna talk to a lawyer.” After some further dialog, a detective said, “I respect your decision that you wanna talk to a lawyer, but if for some reason you want to change your mind and you wanna talk to me, you can, just ask for me. I don’t care if it’s 2:00, 3:00 in the morning I’ll come back. Okay? Because I care about you getting your story the right way out. Okay?” After spending the night in a holding cell, Avalos told one of the jailers he wanted to speak to the detectives again. Avalos was brought back to the same interrogation room for a second interview, still apparently wearing the same paper gown from the day before. Avalos asked, “Whatever I tell my lawyer, he’s going to tell you the same thing, right?” After waiving his Miranda rights, Avalos admitted shooting the murder victim, stating: “I, I self-defended myself, you know?” Avalos was convicted of murder with a firearm enhancement and a substantive gang crime. On appeal, Avalos contends the trial court erred by admitting the second interview into evidence over his objection. Avalos also argues that due to a recent change in the law, his substantive gang conviction must be reversed. The Court of Appeal concluded after review of the trial court record that Avalos did not make a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent Miranda waiver prior to the second interview. The Court further found the admission of the interview into evidence was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The Attorney General conceded Avalos’ substantive gang conviction should have been reversed and the Court of Appeal agreed. Thus, it reversed the judgment. View "California v. Avalos" on Justia Law

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This is an appeal from an order denying Defendant’s to strike Plaintiff’s causes of action against him pursuant to the anti-SLAPP statute. The Second Appellate District reversed the trial court’s order and remanded to the trial court with instructions to grant Defendant’s motion to strike Plaintiff’s causes of action against him for civil extortion and violation of the Ralph Act.   The court wrote that there is no dispute that Defendant’s underlying conduct was in furtherance of petitioning activity within the meaning of section 425.16, subdivision (b)(1). But the trial court concluded Defendant’s prelitigation letter responsive to a demand from Plaintiff’s counsel amounted to extortion as a matter of law so as to deprive it of section 425.16 protection under Flatley v. Mauro (2006). The court explained that even though the trial court declined to reach it, the court decided to exercise our discretion to consider the second prong of the anti-SLAPP analysis and conclude that Plaintiff failed to meet his burden to show a probability of prevailing on his causes of action. The sole cause of action that Plaintiff defends on appeal is for civil extortion. The court agreed with Defendant that the litigation privilege defeats this cause of action. View "Flickinger v. Finwall" on Justia Law

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Mother appealed from the juvenile court’s jurisdictional finding and dispositional order as to her minor child, G.Z. First, Mother contends the evidence was insufficient to support the court’s finding that her minor son’s subdural hematomas were the result of her neglectful acts. Second, Mother argues her due process rights were violated when the juvenile court relied on Welfare and Institutions Code section 355.1’s rebuttable presumption in finding neglect by Mother when it “never notified its intent to do so until all parties had argued and submitted the case.”   The Second Appellate District vacated the court’s factual findings, and directed the juvenile court upon remand to dismiss the petition. The court reversed the juvenile court’s order given the lack of substantial evidence. The court explained that here, as set forth in the preceding section, Mother presented evidence that G.Z.’s subdural hematomas were not the result of abuse or negligence by her, rebutting the presumption of section 355.1, subdivision (a). Mother’s family members who were interviewed all told the CSW they have no concerns of neglect or physical abuse by Mother. Because Mother provided rebuttal evidence, the burden shifted back to DCFS to prove the petition’s allegations. Here, substantial evidence does not support the juvenile court’s jurisdictional findings. View "In re G.Z." on Justia Law

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In 2010, Cannon pled guilty to assault with intent to commit rape and dissuading a witness. Cannon was sentenced to a term of seven years. In 2016, the district attorney filed a petition to commit Cannon under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA) (Welf. & Inst. Code, 6600). Cannon’s SVPA trial was continued several times. Updated evaluations were prepared in 2018, revealing a split in opinion among the experts as to whether Cannon qualified as an SVP. At a pretrial conference unattended by Cannon, his counsel waived his right to a jury trial. Cannon’s bench trial began in 2020. There was testimony that Cannon suffered a traumatic injury to the prefrontal lobes of his brain and subsequently became obsessed with sex and began consuming large amounts of pornography. He was aggressive toward teenage girls. Family members became overwhelmed with Cannon’s sexual disinhibition.The court of appeal remanded the resulting commitment order for a determination of whether Cannon’s constitutional right to equal protection was violated by the court’s failure to advise him of his right to a jury trial and to obtain his personal waiver of that right. The court otherwise affirmed, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence and to expert witness testimony that included case-specific hearsay. View "People v. Cannon" on Justia Law

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A 49-year-old jiu-jitsu student injured during a sparring match sued the studio where he was taking lessons as well as the national jiu-jitsu association under whose auspices the studio’s students could compete. The trial court granted summary judgment for the national association (as well as the association’s founder) on the ground that the association was not liable for the student’s injury because it had no actual control over the studio’s sparring practices and the association’s conduct did not give rise to a reasonable belief in the student that it had such control. The student appealed. His appeal raises two questions, one procedural and one substantive.   The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court found that the trial court did not violate the student’s right to due process by granting summary judgment on the issue of lack of control, when it was the student who first explicitly raised and briefed that issue in his opposition to summary judgment. Further, the court found that the student’s belief that the association had control over the studio’s sparring practices was not “reasonable” by virtue of the franchise-type relationship between the association and studio. View "Pereda v. Atos Jiu Jitsu LLC" on Justia Law

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The California Legislature has required school children to be vaccinated for 10 diseases; COVID-19 was not yet among them. The issue here was whether a school district could require students to be vaccinated for COVID-19 as a condition for both: (1) attending in-person class; and (2) participating in extracurricular activities. The superior court determined there was a “statewide standard for school vaccination,” leaving “no room for each of the over 1,000 individual school districts to impose a patchwork of additional vaccine mandates.” On independent review, the Court of Appeal reached the same conclusion and affirmed the judgment. View "Let Them Choose v. San Diego Unified School Dist." on Justia Law

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Kowalczyk was charged with felony vandalism, three felony counts of identity theft, misdemeanor petty theft of lost property, and one misdemeanor count of identity theft. The court set bail at $75,000 and denied a motion seeking release on his own recognizance with drug conditions and electronic monitoring. Kowalczyk was on probation and had 64 prior offenses, across several states. The court viewed Kowalczyk’s property crimes as a significant public safety issue. He received the maximum score of 14 on the Virginia Pretrial Risk Assessment Instrument, and the pretrial services report indicated he failed to abide by conditions of supervision in the last five years. Kowalczyk was unhoused and unemployed. Different judges later denied additional motions to reduce bail.Kowalczyk filed a habeas petition. On remand from the California Supreme Court, the court of appeal addressed the state constitutional provisions governing bail in noncapital cases—Article I, section 12(b), (c); Article I, section 28(f)(3) and concluded that the provisions can be reconciled. Section 12’s general right to bail in noncapital cases remains intact, while full effect must be given to section 28(f)(3)’s mandate that the rights of crime victims be respected in bail and release determinations. Section 12 does not guarantee an unqualified right to pretrial release or necessarily require courts to set bail at an amount a defendant can afford. View "In re Kowalczyk" on Justia Law

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This appeal centered whether Section 6 of the California Constitution required the state to reimburse the defendant local governments (collectively permittees or copermittees) for costs they incurred to satisfy conditions which the state imposed on their stormwater discharge permit. Defendant-respondent Commission on State Mandates (the Commission) determined that six of the eight permit conditions challenged in this action were reimbursable state mandates. They required permittees to provide a new program. Permittees also did not have sufficient legal authority to levy a fee for those conditions because doing so required preapproval by the voters. The Commission also determined that the other two conditions requiring the development and implementation of environmental mitigation plans for certain new development were not reimbursable state mandates. Permittees had authority to levy a fee for those conditions. On petitions for writ of administrative mandate, the trial court upheld the Commission’s decision in its entirety and denied the petitions. Plaintiffs, cross-defendants and appellants State Department of Finance, the State Water Resources Board, and the Regional Water Quality Board, San Diego Region (collectively the State) appealed, contending the six permit conditions found to be reimbursable state mandates were not mandates because the permit did not require permittees to provide a new program and permittees had authority to levy fees for those conditions without obtaining voter approval. Except to hold that the street sweeping condition was not a reimburseable mandate, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Dept. of Finance v. Commission on State Mandates" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Pacific Grove authorized “transient use of residential property for remuneration,” subject to licensing. One-year “STR” Licenses were subject to revocation for cause. In 2016, the city capped the number of short-term rental licenses citywide at 250 and established a density cap of “15 [percent] per block.” In 2017, the city prohibited more than one license per parcel and required a 55-foot buffer zone between licensed properties. The changes provided that a license could be withdrawn, suspended, or revoked for any reason and that renewal was not guaranteed. The city resolved to “sunset” certain licenses using a random lottery. In 2018, Pacific Grove voters approved Measure M, to prohibit and phase out, over an 18-month sunset period, all existing short-term rentals in residential districts, except in the “Coastal Zone,” as defined by the California Coastal Act. Measure M did not restrict short-term rentals in nonresidential districts or otherwise modify existing rules.The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of a suit by licensees. The Plaintiffs’ economic interest in renting their homes for transient visitors was not an entitlement subject to state or federal constitutional protection. The curtailment of short-term rental licenses is related to legitimate state interests. View "Hobbs v. City of Pacific Grove" on Justia Law

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Eight years after defendant-appellant Raymond Griffin was convicted on two murder counts, he petitioned the trial court for resentencing pursuant to California Penal Code section 1172.6. The court summarily denied his petition, and defendant appealed. The Court of Appeal found defendant’s appointed appellate counsel filed an opening brief that did not raise any issues. Counsel acknowledged this was not defendant’s first appeal of right so the Court of Appeal was not required to conduct an independent review of the record to determine if it contained any arguable issues, but he requested the Court exercise its discretion to do so. The Court granted that request and found no issue. Accordingly, the trial court’s denial of defendant’s petition was affirmed. View "California v. Griffin" on Justia Law