Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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Pedro Rodriguez met Rebecca on an online dating application when he was 41 and she was 16 years old. Rodriguez arranged an in-person meeting with Rebecca a few weeks later and, on numerous occasions over the next several months, engaged in various sexual acts with her in hotel rooms he had rented. A jury convicted Rodriguez of 11 offenses involving unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, one count of burglary and one count of attempting to dissuade a witness from reporting a crime. Rodriguez contended on appeal there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction for burglary because Penal Code section 459 required an invasion of a possessory interest in the subject room or building and, much like the lessee of an apartment, he had an unconditional possessory interest in the hotel room he rented. He argued the trial court should have either dismissed the charge or provided the jury with a pinpoint instruction regarding the significance of any such possessory interest. To the extent the Court of Appeal concluded there was a relevant distinction between a possessory interest in the hotel room and a homeowner or lessee's possessory interest in a home or apartment, Rodriguez argued the result would be a violation of his constitutional right to equal protection. In addition, Rodriguez contended there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction for attempting to dissuade a witness pursuant to Penal Code section 136.1 (b)(1) because any attempt he made to dissuade Rebecca occurred only after she made an initial report to the police. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded there was sufficient evidence to support both of Rodriguez' convictions, the jury did not err in refusing to dismiss the burglary charge or its instruction to the jury concerning burglary, and that the equal protection clause was not applicable because individuals renting hotel rooms are not similarly situated to those owning or leasing a residence. View "California v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted James Webb of first degree murder, and found true the special allegation of using a knife in the commission of the offense. On appeal, Webb argued the trial court had a sua sponte duty to instruct the jury on the defense of duress (CALCRIM No. 3402). He also claimed CALCRIM No. 548 erroneously instructed the jury it did not need to agree on the theory of murder when the two theories corresponded to different degrees. The Court of Appeal found after review of the record that "Webb repeatedly lied, kept changing his story, and could not paint a coherent picture linking any threats to his admitted conduct. ... even if some jury could believe he acted under duress, it is clear this jury didn't. Webb consistently denied carrying a knife or having anything to do with the actual killing. By finding that he had personally used a knife during the commission of the crime, the jury rejected his versions of events, including any possible theory of duress." Therefore, the Court determined the trial court did not have a duty to instruct the jury on the defense of duress. The Court also determined that to the extent CALCRIM No. 548 could be read to suggest unanimity was not required as to the degree of murder, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Remand was required solely for a restitution hearing, but in all other respects the Court affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Webb" on Justia Law

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Defendant Tom Phung was 17 years old when he and fellow Tiny Rascal Gang (TRG) members, riding in about five cars, chased a fleeing vehicle containing eight rival gang members. A TRG member two cars ahead shot and killed one rival and seriously wounded a second. A jury convicted defendant, as an aider and abettor, of the lesser included crime of second degree murder (count 1), attempted murder (count 2), shooting at an occupied motor vehicle (count 3), and street terrorism (count 4). With respect to the first three crimes, the jury found true the allegations that defendant committed them for the benefit of a criminal street gang, and vicariously discharged a firearm causing great bodily injury and death. Defendant was sentenced to an aggregate state prison term of 40 years to life. While defendant's appeal was pending, the electorate passed Proposition 57, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, which went into effect in November 2016. In March 2017, the Court of Appeal issued an opinion affirming the judgment against defendant. Defendant petitioned for review before the California Supreme Court. While that petition was pending, another panel of the Court of Appeal issued an opinion holding Proposition 57 operated retroactively under the rule announced in In re Estrada, 63 Cal.2d 740 (1965). Defendant’s counsel, however, was unaware of the filing of the concurrent appellate opinion, and did not raise the issue before the California Supreme Court. The Supreme Court denied review, following which the Court of Appeal issued a remittitur. Defendant moved to recall the remittitur on the ground that his counsel had provided ineffective assistance of counsel in failing to raise the retroactivity of Proposition 57 to his own case. Defendant’s counsel admitted the error. The motion was granted, the remittitur recalled, and supplemental briefing was ordered. The Court of Appeal ultimately affirmed defendant's conviction, but concluded Proposition 57 applied retroactively to defendant. Therefore, the Court reversed and remanded this case for a transfer hearing and resentencing. View "California v. Phung" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Lamar Canady was shot to death in broad daylight in the Oak Park neighborhood of San Diego. After months of investigation by police, with the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and authorities in Kansas City, Missouri, defendants Peter Johnson and Ian Guthrie were arrested and eventually charged with murder (count 1) and assault with a semiautomatic firearm (count 2) for Canady's death. The information also alleged that Johnson intentionally and personally discharged a firearm during the commission of the murder, causing death, and that he had a strike prior and serious felony prior stemming from a 1998 murder conviction in Jamaica. The information alleged Guthrie had a strike prior and serious felony prior stemming from a 1997 manslaughter conviction in New York. The investigation into Canady's death revealed Johnson and Guthrie were participants in a conspiracy to kill Canady led by drug kingpin Omar Grant. After a joint trial but with separate juries, Johnson and Guthrie were both convicted of first degree murder. Johnson's jury also found true the allegation that Johnson personally discharged a firearm resulting in Canady's death. Johnson and Guthrie appealed their convictions on various grounds. Guthrie asserted: (1) the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress statements made to police after he invoked his right to counsel during his postarrest interview; (2) insufficient evidence supported the prosecution's theory that he aided and abetted Canady's murder; (3) the trial court abused its discretion by admitting into evidence a rap song recorded by Canady prior to his death; (4) that even if the errors individually do not require reversal, cumulatively they do; and (5) that the trial court abused its discretion by denying the defendants' motion to continue the sentencing hearing to allow additional discovery concerning police use of a cell site simulator to locate him. Johnson asserted the trial court erred by failing to instruct on the lesser included offenses of second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter, and that the use of his Jamaican conviction as a prior strike and prior serious felony ran afoul of his right to equal protection under the California and United States Constitutions. Both men also contended the trial court abused its discretion by admitting into evidence testimony and documents concerning their illegal entry into the United States. The Court of Appeal concluded these claims lacked merit, and accordingly affirmed both men's convictions. View "California v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The superior court denied Jackson’s motion to dismiss an indictment issued by a grand jury charging him with special circumstances murder, kidnapping, and rape. The motion, based on Penal Code section 9951 and on nonstatutory grounds, alleged that the deputy district attorney’s excusal of a juror for cause, in the presence of the remaining grand jurors, substantially impaired the independence and impartiality of the grand jury, deprived Jackson of a substantial right, and violated his right to due process. The California Supreme Court is currently considering whether a prosecutor’s improper dismissal of a grand juror denied a defendant a “substantial right.” The court of appeal concluded that while the prosecutor’s dismissal of the grand juror was improper and violated section 939.5, it did not rise to the level of a violation of due process rights. The record shows that, if anything, the excused grand juror was arguably unfavorable to the defense, since he had met the victim several times and had read newspaper accounts of her rape and murder. While the prosecutor excused the prospective juror in the presence of the other grand jurors, he did so with the stated objective—communicated to the entire grand jury—of ensuring a fair and impartial proceeding: “ View "Jackson v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Defendant Ryan Booth was convicted of: five counts of sexual penetration of a child 10 years old or younger (counts 2, 3, 5, 7, & 10); three counts of oral copulation of a child 10 years old or younger (counts 1, 4, & 6); five counts of preparing pornographic images of a minor (counts 8, 11, 12, 13, & 14); one count of possessing child pornography (count 9); and one count of sexual exploitation of a child (count 15). As to count 9, the jury found it to be true that defendant possessed more than 600 images and 10 or more images involving a prepubescent minor or a minor under 12 years old. Defendant was sentenced to a determinant term of 8 years 4 months, plus an indeterminate term of 120 years to life. Defendant raised two issues on appeal: (1) the trial court erroneously believed it had no discretion to run the section 288.7 (sexual penetration and oral copulation) sentences concurrently; and (2) section 311.4 did not apply to what he did. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "California v. Booth" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed an order granting the petition of the Public Guardian of the County of San Luis Obispo for reappointment as the conservator of S.A. In this case, the jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that S.A. continued to be gravely disabled as a result of a mental disorder. The court held that the Public Guardian was authorized to offer S.A.'s records to prove the historical course of her mental disorder, and the manner of production and use of the records did not violate S.A.'s statutory or constitutional rights. View "Conservatorship of S.A." on Justia Law

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Defendant Brian Koback walked into a rental car company office and stole a set of car keys. Defendant would ultimately be charged with and convicted of robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, and resisting arrest. Defendant admitted he had suffered a strike conviction, and the trial court sentenced him to state prison for 14 years four months. On appeal, defendant argued: (1) his conviction for assault with a deadly weapon was not supported by substantial evidence because there was no evidence he used the car keys in a manner that was capable of inflicting and likely to cause great bodily injury; (2) the trial court abused its discretion by imposing consecutive sentences on the robbery and resisting arrest counts, under the mistaken belief that it could only impose concurrent sentences if it struck defendant’s strike prior; (3) the minutes of sentencing and abstract of judgment did not accurately reflect the oral pronouncement of sentence with respect to restitution and parole revocation fines; and (4) the minutes of sentencing contained a clerical error, in that they reflected that defendant admitted two strike priors instead of one. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal concluded defendant’s conviction for assault with a deadly weapon was supported by substantial evidence: "a car key is not an inherently deadly or dangerous weapon, but if wielded as a makeshift weapon with sufficient force at close range, as defendant did here, a key is capable of puncturing skin and causing serious bodily injury." In the unpublished portion of this opinion, the Court concluded the trial court erred when it concluded the only way it could impose concurrent sentences on defendant’s robbery and resisting arrest convictions was if it first struck defendant’s admitted strike prior. The Court therefore reversed the sentence and remanded for the trial court to resentence defendant and to consider in the first instance whether concurrent sentencing was appropriate in this case. View "California v. Koback" on Justia Law

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Petitioners sought a writ of mandate directing the superior court to vacate its order denying their motion for summary judgment and issue an order granting the motion. The Court of Appeal issued a stay pending this court's resolution of the petition and an order to show cause why a writ of mandate should not issue. In this case, real party in interest's complaint alleged that petitioners' breakfast cereals were required by California's Proposition 65 to display cancer and reproductive harm warnings because they contain acrylamide. The court held that the Proposition 65 claim was preempted by federal law and granted the petition. The court directed the superior court to vacate its order denying petitioners' motion and enter a new and different order granting the motion. View "Post Foods, LLC v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment against plaintiff in an action alleging that Hughes violated the California Disabled Persons Act (DPA). Plaintiff alleged that under the DPA, the store was obliged to designate an accessible path of travel from the street to the store’s entrance that did not require wheelchair-bound patrons to travel behind parked vehicles. The court found no error in the trial court's conclusion that the 2013 CBSC standards applied to all the incidents identified in the first amended complaint; under the 2013 CBSC standards, Hughes was not required to provide an accessible route that did not pass behind parked cars for persons using wheelchairs; and the trial court did not err by determining that plaintiff failed to plead a signage-based claim. View "Baskin v. Hughes Realty, Inc." on Justia Law