Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of defendant's motion to dismiss a petition to have him civilly committed under the Sexually Violent Predators Act (SVPA), because he was deprived of his due process right to a speedy trial.Applying the four factors in the Barker analysis, the court held that neither the length of the delay, the assertion of the right, the reasons for the delay, or prejudice is a necessary or sufficient condition to the finding of a deprivation of the right of speedy trial. Rather, the court held that they are related factors and must be considered together with such other circumstances as may be relevant. In this case, the trial court engaged in that balancing process and concluded that the state had failed defendant. Whether the court reviewed this determination under the abuse of discretion standard or, as the People assert, under a de novo standard, the court found no error based on the analysis. The court also held that, under the Mathews analysis, defendant's right to be free from government restraint without due process of law has been violated. The court rejected the People's cursory contention that the case should be ordered to trial and held that the trial court did not err in dismissing the petition. View "People v. DeCasas" on Justia Law

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In October 2019, Christopher Frezier was found not guilty by reason of insanity of a felony offense. The trial court committed him to a state hospital pursuant to Penal Code section 1026. At the time of the commitment, the trial court calculated Frezier’s maximum term of commitment as three years with credits for 829 days, consisting of credits for both the actual time served in custody prior to his commitment and conduct credits pursuant to section 4019 for the time spent in county jail. Despite his commitment to a state hospital to receive treatment, Frezier was never transported to a hospital and instead, was left in the county jail for unknown reasons. After spending almost one year in jail after his commitment, Frezier filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus asserting that he was entitled to immediate release because he had served his maximum term of commitment, after accounting for his precommitment custody and conduct credits combined with the additional time served in the county jail postcommitment. The trial court agreed and granted relief, ordering that Frezier be released. The District Attorney sought extraordinary relief and an immediate stay to prevent Frezier’s release by petitioning for a writ of mandate. The District Attorney argued Frezier was not entitled to section 4019 conduct credits under the relevant statutes. The Court of Appeal concluded that under the plain language of the relevant statutes, Frezier served more than his maximum term of commitment and the District Attorney failed to demonstrate any error warranting extraordinary relief. The Court, therefore, denied the District Attorney’s writ petition. View "California v. Superior Court (Frezier)" on Justia Law

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In 1996, a jury found defendant Vincent Lombardo guilty of second degree murder. In 2019, defendant filed a petition for resentencing under newly enacted Penal Code section 1170.95, which was enacted as part of Senate Bill No. 1437 (Stats. 2018, ch. 1015). The superior court denied the petition because, in its view, Senate Bill 1437 impermissibly amended Proposition 7 (Ballot Pamp., Gen. Elec. (Nov. 7, 1978) text of Prop. 7) and Proposition 115 (Ballot Pamp., Primary Elec. (June 5, 1990) text of Prop. 115). The Court of Appeal disagreed with the superior court and agreed with the unanimous conclusion of other appellate courts that have addressed the issue: Senate Bill 1437 was not an invalid amendment of either Propositions 7 or 115. Though the superior court did not clearly rule on the issue, the parties also asked the Court of Appeal to determine whether Senate Bill 1437 violated Marsy’s Law (Ballot Pamp., Gen. Elec. (Nov. 4, 2008) text of Prop. 9). To this, the Court concluded it did not, thereby agreeing with the unanimous conclusion of other appellate courts on this issue too. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "California v. Lombardo" on Justia Law

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The underlying Government Code section 12974 civil action was initiated by DFEH in December 2017 by a petition seeking provisional relief to temporarily enjoin Tastries from refusing to sell wedding cakes to same-sex couples. The trial court denied DFEH's requests for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction.The Court of Appeal granted DFEH's petition for writ of mandate, holding that the trial court's interpretation of a section 12974 civil action as the equivalent of a section 12965 action was incorrect, and its order on the preliminary injunction requested under section 12974 was not a merits-based determination of the merits of the DFEH's Unruh Civil Rights Act (UCRA) claim to be presented in a civil action under section 12965. Furthermore, regardless of the procedural context of the preliminary injunction request, the court held that the trial court's decision on it could not constitute a merits-based adjudication of the UCRA claim: the trial court's order related to an issue of law that was decided with reference to extrinsic factual evidence that had not been fully investigated at the administrative level or fully pleaded in a claim for permanent relief. The court finally held that the trial court's incorrect construction of its preliminary injunction order as a final, merits-based determination of the DFEH's UCRA claim in its order on the motion to enforce the judgment led the trial court to circumscribe DFEH's statutory duties in a manner that violated the separation of powers doctrine. View "Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. Superior Court of Kern County" on Justia Law

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Pursuant to a plea bargain, minor K.W. admitted one count of robbery; counts alleging kidnapping, brandishing, and vandalism were dismissed. After he completed probation, he moved to seal the record under Welfare and Institutions Code section 786. He was not eligible for sealing, because robbery was one of the crimes listed in section 707(b). The trial court reduced the adjudication to the lesser included offense of grand theft, which was not a section 707(b) offense. The court then granted the motion to seal. The State appealed, contending: (1) the juvenile court lacked the authority to reduce the adjudication; and (2) reducing the adjudication violated the plea bargain. The Court of Appeal determined the statutes the juvenile court cited did not give it authority to reduce the conviction. Further, the Court held Welfare and Institutions Code section 782, which would allow the juvenile court to “set aside the findings and dismiss the petition” in the interest of justice, did not authorize the juvenile court to reduce an adjudication, at least when doing so would violate a plea bargain, as it would have here. Judgment was therefore reversed. View "In re K.W." on Justia Law

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Defendant Hashmatullah Zaheer was tried twice for sexual battery by restraint. He denied any wrongdoing. The case hinged entirely on the credibility of the victim, Martha M. In the first trial, Zaheer was nearly acquitted of the two felonies with which he was charged, with the jury voting 11‒1 in his favor on both counts. In the second trial, however, he was convicted of both felonies. A key aspect of the defense attack on Martha’s credibility involved the condition of the electronic door lock system in Zaheer’s car. In both trials, Martha testified in some detail about how Zaheer locked her inside the car by pressing a button on the driver’s side door. The defense countered that with evidence that the electronic locking mechanism in Zaheer’s car had not worked in years. In the second trial, however, defense counsel simply failed to establish the necessary predicate fact that Martha was in Zaheer’s Honda on the night in question. And despite having knowledge to the contrary, the prosecutor seized on this oversight to suggest for the first time during her closing argument that Zaheer might have been driving a company car. In a case that hinged entirely on whether the jury believed Martha, and with a jury in the first trial that largely did not, the Court of Appeal felt compelled to conclude that defense counsel’s error, compounded by the prosecutor’s comment, was prejudicial. Judgment was therefore reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "California v. Zaheer" on Justia Law

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In this case, a trial court summarily denied defendant Alberto Flores' postjudgment petition for resentencing under Penal Code section 1170.95. Appointed counsel found no arguable issues to raise on appeal, filing a "Wende brief" asserting the Court of Appeal had to independently review the record. Defendant did not file a brief on his own behalf. The Court determined this case was not not defendant’s first appeal as a matter of right; therefore, the Court was not required to independently review the record. However, the Court found no legal authority that prohibited it from conducting such an independent review in the interests of justice. Reviewing the entire record on appeal, the Court found no arguable issues. Thus, it affirmed the order denying defendant’s section 1170.95 petition. View "California v. Flores" on Justia Law

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Herman regularly attends Los Angeles and Pasadena city meetings and has been removed more than 100 times. Herman At a public hearing on April 17, 2019, Herman said, “Fuck" Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Fauble and gave Fauble’s address. At an April 29 meeting, Herman, in a threatening manner, again disclosed Fauble’s Pasadena address. Herman also submitted speaker cards; one had a swastika drawn on it, another had a drawing of a Ku Klux Klan hood with figures that were either an “SS” or lightning bolts above Fauble’s name. On May 1, Herman attended another meeting and stated, “I’m going back to Pasadena and fuck with you.”The city sought a workplace violence restraining order under Code of Civil Procedure 527.8, precluding Herman from harassing, threatening, contacting, or stalking Fauble or disclosing his address, and requiring Herman to stay at least 10 yards away from Fauble while attending meetings. At a hearing, Herman explained that he made the statements because he was upset about a change in the council rules and with his own homelessness. He denied intending to threaten Fauble. The court of appeal affirmed the entry of a restraining order, rejecting a First Amendment challenge. There was substantial evidence that Herman’s threatening conduct was reasonably likely to recur and that Herman’s statements would have placed a reasonable person in fear for his safety, regardless of Herman’s subjective intent. The credible threats of violence were not constitutionally protected. View "City of Los Angeles v. Herman" on Justia Law

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Mark Hartland was convicted by jury of one count each of kidnapping, assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury, and domestic violence resulting in a traumatic condition. In a bifurcated proceeding, the trial court found a prior conviction allegation true as both a prior strike, ad a prior serious felony. Hartland received a 21 year sentence in state prison. Relying on California v. Oliver, 55 Cal.2d 761 (1961) and In re Michele D.,29 Cal.4th 600 (2002), Hartland argued the trial court prejudicially erred by failing to instruct the jury that if the kidnapping victim was so intoxicated as to lack the capacity to consent, then Hartland could not be found guilty of kidnapping unless he acted with illegal purpose or illegal intent. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal rejected Hartland’s argument because the Court declined to extend the doctrine of Oliver and Michele D. to the kidnapping of an intoxicated, resisting, adult victim. In the unpublished portion of its opinion, the Court addressed issues concerning sentencing and custody credits. The matter was remanded for the trial court to exercise its newly gained discretion to dismiss or strike the prior serious felony conviction. Furthermore, the Court ordered the correction of clerical errors in the abstract of judgment and the sentencing minute order. Otherwise, judgment was affirmed. View "California v. Hartland" on Justia Law

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Defendant Stephen Belche admitted violating probation in exchange for an agreed-upon sentence of three years on the original conviction. The trial court approved the admission agreement, formally revoked defendant’s probation, and ordered that probation would not be reinstated. While defendant was awaiting sentencing on the original conviction, he exposed himself to a jail nurse. The probation department filed a new petition to revoke probation based on the indecent exposure. The trial court found the new allegation true, again revoked defendant’s probation, and sentenced him to six years in state prison. On appeal of that sentence, defendant argued: (1) the trial court did not have jurisdiction to find he violated probation based on his indecent exposure after the trial court formally revoked his probation and ordered that it not be reinstated; and (2) the trial court erred in sentencing him to six years in state prison because he only agreed to a sentence of three years when he admitted the probation violation. After review, the Court of Appeal determined: (1) the trial court did not have jurisdiction to find defendant violated probation based on his indecent exposure because defendant’s probation had been formally revoked and not reinstated, terminating probation; and (2) the Court had to vacate the six-year prison term and remand for the trial court either to impose a three-year term or allow defendant to withdraw his admission made under the agreement. View "California v. Belche" on Justia Law