Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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Petitioner, J.N., 17 years old at the time of the alleged offenses, was charged with murder. The evidence presented at the hearing in juvenile court established he did not kill anyone. The murder was committed while J.N. and two other minors, including the killer, were tagging (making graffiti) in a rival gang’s claimed territory. The killing occurred when the three minors were surprised by an adult rival gang member. The rival approached S.C., who pulled out a gun to scare the man. Undeterred, the man grabbed the gun in S.C.’s hand and a struggle ensued. Shots were fired as they wrestled over the gun. J.N. and the other minor stood frozen nearby. After the passage of Proposition 57, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, the superior court suspended criminal proceedings and certified J.N. to the juvenile court to determine whether he should be treated in the juvenile court system or prosecuted as an adult. The juvenile court determined J.N. was not suitable for treatment in the juvenile court. J.N. filed a petition for a writ of mandate/prohibition, arguing the court abused its discretion in applying Welfare and Institutions Code section 707. The Court of Appeal determined a trial court must consider five statutory factors in making its decision whether the minor should be tried as an adult. Relevant here were two : (1) the circumstances and gravity of the charged offense; and (2) whether the minor could be rehabilitated prior to the expiration of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal found the juvenile court’s determination J.N. was not suitable for treatment in the juvenile court was not supported by substantial evidence and was, therefore, an abuse of discretion. View "J.N. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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After Peter Balov was arrested for suspected drunk driving, the arresting officer advised Balov "that per California law he was required to submit to a chemical test, either a breath or a blood test." Balov did not object and chose a blood test, which showed his blood alcohol level was above the legal limit. Balov was charged with misdemeanor driving under the influence. Before trial, Balov moved to suppress the results of the blood test, arguing primarily that his consent to the test was coerced. The court denied the motion, the appellate division affirmed. Balov brought the same argument to the Court of Appeal, which found no error in the lower court's judgment, and affirmed. View "California v. Balov" on Justia Law

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Meza, with his girlfriend as a passenger was driving at least 90 mph. As he applied the brakes, he lost control. The car catapulted across the median and oncoming traffic and fell down an embankment. A California Highway Patrol sergeant saw the crash and saw Meza emerge from the driver’s side of the car. Concord police officers arrived. Officer Cruz had a brief conversation with Meza while Meza was waiting for treatment by emergency medical personnel. She noted “a moderate odor of alcoholic beverage coming from his mouth,” and blood-shot and watery eyes. Because Meza was complaining of pain, Cruz did not request field sobriety tests. She concluded that he should be arrested for driving under the influence and followed the ambulance to the hospital. The hospital drew blood, as they do for all trauma patients, and measured Meza’s blood alcohol content (BAC) at 0.148 percent. Two hours after the accident, a second phlebotomist, summoned by Cruz, drew Meza’s blood and measured its BAC at 0.11. Cruz never attempted to get a warrant because Meza did not refuse to have his blood drawn. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of a motion to suppress. The blood draw was inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment because exigent circumstances did not prevent officers from obtaining a warrant but the error was harmless, in light of the evidence of the hospital’s testing. View "People v. Meza" on Justia Law

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Nicandro Galaviz was committed to a state mental health institution for a term of 60 years to life after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity of possession of methamphetamine and assault with a deadly weapon. In July 2017, Galaviz filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging the commitment order. Galaviz previously filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus with the trial court. After holding an evidentiary hearing, the court referred to the hearing as something “akin to a retrospective competency hearing” and denied Galaviz’s petition on the ground Galaviz failed to prove he was incompetent at the time of trial. The petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed with the Court of Appeal was granted; the Court found the trial court erred in 1996 by failing to hold a hearing to determine Galaviz’s competence at the time of trial. "Reports filed by mental health professionals in the months preceding trial raised serious doubt about Galaviz’s competence to stand trial. This error constitutes reversible error unless it is feasible to conduct a retrospective competency hearing to now determine whether Galaviz had been competent to stand trial in 1996. The prosecution failed to carry its burden of showing that conducting such a retrospective competency hearing is feasible based on a totality of the circumstances in this case." View "In re Galaviz" on Justia Law

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Defendants Peter Holt, Holt Law Firm, and Bethany Holt (collectively Holt) appealed the denial of their special motion to strike (also known as an anti-SLAPP--Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation--motion). Peter Holt and his law firm briefly represented Charles and Victoria Yeager and successfully sued Victoria Yeager to obtain his fees in an action known as Holt v. Yeager (Super. Ct. Nevada County, No. L76533). Yeager then sued Holt, alleging professional negligence, misappropriation of name, and other claims. Holt moved to declare Yeager’s suit to be a SLAPP suit. The trial court found this suit did not chill protected expressive conduct or free speech on an issue of public interest. The Court of Appeal agreed and affirmed. View "Yeager v. Holt" on Justia Law

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Defendant Michael Williams stabbed his wife, victim Tanganyika Hoover Williams, twice in the neck, and she bled to death. The trial court permitted the State to introduce evidence at trial of defendant’s then 23-year-old Oklahoma conviction for shooting with intent to kill, and circumstances leading to that charge. Defendant’s jury found him guilty of first degree murder with personal use of a deadly weapon. The jury then found defendant sane, and the trial court found he had a prior serious felony conviction and prior strike (the Oklahoma conviction). The court sentenced defendant to prison for 50 years to life plus six years. Defendant claimed on appeal, in part, that the trial court abused its discretion when it permitted the State to introduce evidence underlying his Oklahoma conviction. The California Court of Appeal agreed this evidence had scant relevance to this case, and any relevance it did have was vastly outweighed by its potential for unfair prejudice. "This evidence was heavily relied on by the prosecutor in arguing for premeditation and deliberation in what was otherwise not a strong case for first degree murder, thus the error was prejudicial." However, because sufficient evidence (apart from the prior acts evidence) was presented in the case-in-chief to support first degree murder, the Court rejected defendant’s claims that trial counsel should have moved to acquit and that no substantial evidence supported the verdict. Therefore, a retrial on the first degree murder charge was not precluded. View "California v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Alysia Webb filed a verified petition for mandamus relief with the superior court, alleging the City of Riverside (Riverside) violated Propositions 26 and 218 when it began transferring additional revenue from electric utility reserve fund accounts into the general fund without approval by the electorate. Webb contended the court improperly dismissed her case without leave to amend on a demurrer because the 120-day statute of limitations arising under Public Utilities Code section 10004.52 did not apply to her challenge of Riverside's change in calculation of its electric general fund transfer. She further argued the fund transfers constituted a tax increase because they altered the methodology used to calculate the amount of money Riverside transfers from the electric utility reserve to the general fund. After review, the Court of Appeal disagreed and affirmed the superior court. View "Webb v. City of Riverside" on Justia Law

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Appellant Han Jing Huang filed requests for civil harassment restraining orders against thirty-one defendants who were prominent entertainment personalities, business leaders, poloticians and religious leaders. Finding appellant’s claims to be “patently frivolous,” “patently frivolous on petition[’s] face,” or “frivolous on petition’s face,” the trial court denied with prejudice the applications for permanent injunctions prohibiting harassment. The Court of Appeal consolidated the 31 appeals for disposition. Appellant alleged defendants were “a lot of people with Hollywood background or Scientology background . . . or political background,” who “control[ a] mental department in Texas,” by which “they falsely accuse[ him] and use[] technology from mental department (mind reading) [to] attack[ him] secretly[,] . . . ask[ing] some adults to keep on stalking [him] and harass[ing] and threaten[ing him] by nano probes.” In dismissing the cases, the trial court cited no legal precedent or statute, but relied on its “inherent power” to control its proceedings. As best as could be surmised, the Court of Appeal found appellant raised three challenges to the trial court’s orders dismissing the applications for permanent injunctions prohibiting harassment: (1) that the trial court thrice refused to allow appellant to present evidence; (2) that the trial court interrupted the interpreter and the interpreter was not “professional;” and (3) that the trial judge was not impartial. The Court found no reversible error and affirmed the trial court. View "Huang v. Hanks" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeals’ review centered on the trial court’s partial denial of a special motion to strike pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute, directed at causes of action arising out of the manner in which defendants, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and Robert Barton, in his capacity as Inspector General, conducted interviews with five correctional officers who previously worked at High Desert State Prison. The interviews were conducted as part of an investigation into that institution’s “practices . . . with respect to (1) excessive use of force against inmates, (2) internal reviews of incidents involving the excessive use of force against inmates, and (3) protection of inmates from assault and harm by others.” As relevant here, these officers and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) alleged in their first and second causes of action that defendants violated Penal Code section 6126.5 and Government Code section 3300 et seq. (the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights or the Act) by refusing the officers’ requests to be represented during the interviews. The trial court denied the anti-SLAPP motion as to these causes of action, concluding: (1) defendants carried their threshold burden of demonstrating the gravamen of these causes of action arose from protected activity; but (2) plaintiffs established a probability of prevailing on the merits of these claims. The Court of Appeal agreed defendants carried their burden on the threshold issue, but concluded plaintiffs failed to establish a probability of prevailing on the merits of these causes of action. The Court therefore reversed the portion of the trial court’s order denying the anti-SLAPP motion with respect to the first and second causes of action and remanded the matter to the trial court with directions to enter a new order granting the motion in its entirety and dismissing the complaint. View "Blue v. Cal. Office of the Inspector General" on Justia Law

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R.W. appeals a judgment of dissolution of his marriage with his former husband, respondent, G.C. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal addressed two of many claims R.W. raised. In particular, R.W. claimed the trial court erred in determining that the parties' date of union was in 2009 when the parties married, rather than in 2004, when they entered into a domestic partnership under New Jersey law. R.W. contended the parties' New Jersey domestic partnership was "substantially equivalent" (Fam. Code, sec. 299.2) to a California domestic partnership such that it could be dissolved pursuant to section 299, and thus, that the court should have considered the date of the parties' domestic partnership to be the date of union for purposes of the dissolution. After interpreting the meaning of "substantially equivalent" in section 299.2 as a matter of first impression, the Court of Appeal concluded that in light of the limited nature of the rights and obligations that the parties obtained in entering into a domestic partnership under New Jersey law, the trial court properly determined that the parties' 2004 New Jersey domestic partnership was not "substantially equivalent" to a California domestic partnership under section 299.2 so as to permit its dissolution under California law. Second, R.W. claimed the trial court erred in failing to divide equally the appreciation of the value of certain real property that the parties acquired as joint tenants during their marriage, as a community asset. Specifically, R.W. argued the trial court erred in applying a formula for apportioning separate and community property interests in the value of the appreciation because the joint title community property presumption contained in section 2581 applied to the property, and the appreciation therefore belonged entirely to the community. To this point, the Court of Appeal agreed with R.W. and concluded the trial court erred in failing to divide the appreciation in value of the marital residence equally. The Court rejected the remainder of R.W.'s claims in the unpublished portions of the opinion. View "Marriage of G.C. and R.W." on Justia Law