Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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Edward Benjamin Button was tried by jury and convicted on one count of corporal injury to a spouse or roommate, and one count of assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury. The trial court imposed a sentence of 240 days in the custody of the Sheriff, stayed execution of the portion of the sentence that Button had not yet served (220 days), and placed Button on formal probation for three years. On appeal, Button claimed the State failed to present sufficient evidence that he was not acting in self-defense when he punched the victim in the face, breaking her nose and causing her to suffer a concussion. In the unpublished portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal concluded there was plainly evidence upon which the jury could have reasonably found that Button did not act in self-defense. Button also claimed the jury's true findings on the serious felony allegations had to be reversed because the findings were premised on an invalid stipulation entered into between the State and the defense pursuant to which Button effectively admitted the truth of the allegations. Button contended the stipulation was invalid because the trial court failed to admonish with respect to the constitutional rights that he was foregoing by entering into the stipulation, and also failed to advise him of the penal consequences of the stipulation. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court was not required to provide the admonishments. View "California v. Button" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and his wife filed suit against his employer, the school district, and two of his supervisors, alleging discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. The trial court granted defendants' special motion to strike the complaint pursuant to section 425.16 of the Code of Civil Procedure (the anti-SLAPP statute). Defendants argued that the gravaman of the complaint was based on protected activity—speech or communicative conduct either made as part of or as a precursor to the internal investigation that the school district undertook in response to a molestation allegation made against plaintiff. The Court of Appeal affirmed and held that, on balance, plaintiffs' claims at issue were based on protected activity because they arose from statements for communicative conduct that were protected and were integral, not incidental, to plaintiffs' claims. The court also held that plaintiffs did not show a probability of prevailing on their race and national origin discrimination claim; plaintiffs' failure to prevent discrimination claim necessarily failed as well; plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a likelihood of prevailing on their emotional distress claim, harassment claim, and federal civil rights claim; and plaintiffs forfeited their argument about the trial court's evidentiary hearings. View "Okorie v. Los Angeles Unified School District" on Justia Law

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Litigation under the Public Records Act (PRA) (Gov. Code, sec. 6250 et seq.) is one of the rare instances where a losing party may still be deemed a prevailing party entitled to an attorney fee award. Ponani Sukumar appeals an order denying his motion for prevailing party attorney fees against the City of San Diego (City). Sukumar owns a home in San Diego (the Property). In about 1992, Sukumar's neighbors began complaining to the City about Sukumar's use of the Property. These complaints mostly involved parking issues and noise. In 2006 the City ordered Sukumar to take "immediate action to correct" municipal code violations occurring on the Property that constituted "a public nuisance." However, the City decided to not pursue the matter absent additional neighbor complaints. In 2015, Sukumar's attorney delivered a request to the City for "production of documents and information" under the PRA. The request sought 54 separate categories of documents, all relating to any neighbor's complaints about Sukumar. Twenty-four days after the request, the City wrote to Sukumar's attorney, stating that some potentially responsive documents were exempt from disclosure, and responsive, nonexempt records would be made available for Sukumar's review. Sukumar's attorney remained unconvinced that the City had produced all documents responsive to its request, and sought a writ of mandate or used other mechanisms to compel the documents' production. Though every time the City offered to certify it produced "everything," it would release additional documents. The trial court ultimately denied Sukumar's writ petition, finding that by 2016, the City had "in some fashion" produced all responsive documents. After stating Sukumar's writ petition was "moot" because all responsive documents had now been produced, the court stated, "Now, you might argue that you're the prevailing party, because the City didn't comply until after the lawsuit was filed. That's another issue." Asserting the litigation "motivated productions of a substantial amount of responsive public documents, even after the City represented to this [c]ourt there was nothing left to produce," Sukumar sought $93,695 in fees (plus $5,390 incurred in preparing the fee motion). Sukumar appealed the order denying his motion for prevailing party attorney fees against the City. The Court of Appeal reversed because the undisputed evidence established the City produced, among other things, five photographs of Sukumar's property and 146 pages of e-mails directly as a result of court-ordered depositions in this litigation. The Court remanded for the trial court to determine the amount of attorney fees to which Sukumar is entitled. View "Sukumar v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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A jury found defendant Armando Pineda, Jr. guilty of second degree murder for shooting the patriarch of a neighboring family, Rogelio Islas (Rogelio). Defendant was 17 years old at the time of the crime, and the district attorney directly filed the charge against him in a court of criminal jurisdiction, rather than a juvenile court. Owing to that filing and the subsequent repeal of “direct file” procedures effected by Section 4 of the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 (Proposition 57), the issue presented for the Court of Appeal was an issue still pending on the California Supreme Court‘s docket: whether the changes worked by Section 4 applied to defendant because his conviction was not yet final. In the unpublished portion of its opinion, the Court also considered defendant‘s additional arguments on appeal: (1) that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion to continue the trial; (2) the court should have instructed the jury on third party flight as consciousness of guilt (both defendant and his father fled the scene of the crime, and the defense at trial was that the father was the shooter); and (3) the court should have given defendant‘s proposed pinpoint instruction on provocation as relevant to voluntary manslaughter. The judgment was conditionally reversed and remanded for the juvenile court to conduct a fitness hearing under Welfare and Institutions Code section 707. If, after a fitness hearing, the juvenile court determined that it would have transferred defendant to a court of criminal jurisdiction, the judgment of conviction would be reinstated as of the date of that determination. If no motion for a fitness hearing is filed, or if a fitness hearing is held and the juvenile court determined that it would not have transferred defendant to a court of criminal jurisdiction, defendant‘s criminal conviction, including the true findings on the alleged enhancements, would be deemed to be juvenile adjudications as of the date of the juvenile court‘s determination. In the event the conviction was deemed a juvenile adjudication, the juvenile court was ordered to conduct a dispositional hearing and impose an appropriate disposition within the court‘s discretion. View "California v. Pineda" on Justia Law

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Trever P. was found by the juvenile court to have committed acts of sexual molestation against his four-year-old cousin while babysitting him one day. Trever was twelve-years-old at the time of the offenses. The court committed Trever to the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Trever argued on appeal that the primary evidence against him, an audio recording, surreptitiously made by the victim’s mother, of the conversation Trever and the victim had during the offenses, was inadmissible under Penal Code section 632.1, a part of the Invasion of Privacy Act. Trever also argued the trial court abused its discretion by committing him to DJJ. The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court’s conclusion that the evidence was admissible under an exception in section 633.5, allowing for admission of surreptitious recordings if one party consents to being recorded for the purpose of obtaining evidence of certain specified crimes. The victim’s mother reasonably suspected such a crime when she arranged to make the recording. Finding no other error, the Court affirmed the juvenile court’s judgment. View "In re Trever P." on Justia Law

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A jury found defendant Chester Brown guilty of two counts of human trafficking involving two different victims. During the trial, the jury heard evidence that defendant was essentially pimping minors, in at least one instance against their will. Proposition 35, the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act (the “CASE” Act), was designed in part to protect trafficked minors by treating them as victims, not criminals, and ensuring they receive services to protect them from exploitation. Defendant’s claims made on appeal concerned the application and certain aspects of this law. D. Doe (D.), the named victim in count two, was treated as his coconspirator for the purpose of introducing hearsay evidence. B. Doe (B.), the named victim in count one, was recruited by D to work for defendant. Defendant argued that because D. was immune from prosecution for trafficking under Proposition 35, she could not have been his coconspirator, and her out-of-court statements therefore constituted inadmissible hearsay. The Court of Appeal concluded D. was properly deemed an uncharged coconspirator for purposes of Evidence Code section 1223, and that Proposition 35 did not compel a ruling to the contrary. The Court rejected other arguments made on appeal and affirmed defendant’s convictions. View "California v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging claims for damages against various defendants arising from his contraction of coccidioidomycosis (commonly known as valley fever) while incarcerated in the Kern Valley State Prison. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment on the pleadings against plaintiff on his Bane Act cause of action based on the ground that the State was immune from liability under Government Code section 844.6. The court held that the Bane Act did not create any exception to section 844.6, where a public entity is not liable for an injury to any prisoner. Regardless of the merits of plaintiff's claim, he may not assert it against the state. View "Towery v. State of California" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Homer Harris sought a writ of mandate after the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of San Joaquin County summarily denied the appointment of counsel to represent him in his appeal of a restitution order in connection with a misdemeanor conviction. The Court of Appeal concluded that appellate counsel should be appointed to represent petitioner on appeal. In doing so, the Court concluded an order requiring the payment of restitution was a “significant adverse collateral consequence” within the meaning of California Rules of Court, rule 8.851(a)(1)(A), requiring the appointment of counsel for an indigent defendant on appeal in a misdemeanor case. View "Harris v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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A jury found defendant-appellant Moses Echavarria guilty of first degree murder and assault with a firearm. The jury found true the allegations that, during the murder, defendant personally and intentionally discharged a firearm causing death, and personally used a firearm. The jury also found true the allegation that, during the assault, defendant personally used a firearm. Defendant moved the trial court for a new trial due to alleged juror misconduct. The trial court denied defendant’s motion. The court sentenced defendant to prison for a determinate term of two years six months, and an indeterminate term of 50 years to life. Defendant raised four issues on appeal: (1) the trial court erred by denying his motion for a new trial; (2) the prosecutor erred by arguing the intent required for premeditated first degree murder is akin to choosing a beverage or a meal; (3) in the alternative, his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the prosecutor’s argument about intent; and (4) the trial court erred when it concluded the assault sentence must be served consecutive to the murder sentence. The People concede there was juror misconduct. The Court of Appeal found the People failed to rebut the presumption of prejudice, and that the prejudice was substantial because it was inherent and reflected actual bias. Accordingly, the trial court erred by denying defendant’s motion for a new trial. Due to the jury misconduct, all of defendant’s convictions and enhancements were reversed. View "California v. Echavarria" on Justia Law

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San Francisco officers, responding to a broadcast that someone in the area might have a firearm, saw individuals, known to have gang associations, on the corner in a rival gang area. Concerned that they might be trying to attract violence, the officers contacted them. Officer Solares smelled marijuana on D.W.’s clothes and breath. D.W. admitted he had just smoked some. Officer Ochoa told D.W. to put his hands on his head, and D.W. “tried to pull away . . . he didn’t want me to search him.” Ochoa put his hand underneath D.W.’s backpack, and felt a revolver. Officers handcuffed D.W. and retrieved the revolver. D.W. was 17 years old. The court denied D.W.’s motion to suppress, stating: there’s a big distinction [between probable cause] to arrest and [probable cause] to search. . . a strong smell can establish probable cause to believe contraband is present and the search is allowable and legal. The court of appeal affirmed a judgment declaring D.W. a ward of the court but, after remand by the California Supreme Court, reversed. Even if the officers could reasonably conclude that the smell of marijuana and D.W.’s admission that he just smoked some meant he had more, it would have been mere conjecture to conclude that he possessed enough to constitute a jailable offense. View "In re D.W." on Justia Law