Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Defendant Alan Bueno, an inmate at the time of the offense at issue, arranged with a prison employee codefendant to obtain a cellular telephone. Bueno pleaded no contest to one felony count of conspiracy to violate California Penal Code section 4576(a), which barred possession with the intent to deliver or the actual delivery of a cellular telephone to a prison inmate. On appeal, Bueno contended he could not be convicted of conspiracy to deliver a cellular telephone to an inmate because he was the inmate to whom the cellular telephone was delivered. Bueno analogized the scenario in this case to cases involving drug sales, in which the “buyer-seller rule” precluded the purchaser from being held criminally liable for a conspiracy to sell drugs to himself. According to Bueno, this principle applied to preclude an inmate recipient of a cellular telephone from being held criminally liable for conspiring to commit the substantive offense of section 4576 (a). Alternatively, Bueno contended that the statutory scheme set out a tiered system of punishment for the different roles that an individual might play in a scheme to deliver/have delivered a cellular telephone to an inmate, and that this scheme evinced a legislative intent that the inmate who participates in such a scheme be punished by a loss of credits only, and not criminally prosecuted. The Court of Appeal concluded Bueno’s argument that he could not be convicted of conspiracy to violate section 4576 (a) was without merit. The Court therefore affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Bueno" on Justia Law

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Detective Nava obtained a search warrant for Rowland’s residence. Nava had investigated a report from Sergeant Dahl, a member of the Silicon Valley Internet Crimes Against ChildrenTask Force. Dahl was investigating Cybertips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which had received anonymous Cybertips from a Microsoft Online Operation employee who viewed files of apparent child pornography, which were uploaded from a particular IP address. The Child Victim Identification Program confirmed that the person from Cybertip 1 had been identified and was underage at the time the photograph was taken. Dahl learned the IP address was assigned to AT&T, obtained a search warrant, and learned the subscriber was Rowland. Charged with possessing or controlling matter depicting a person under 18 years of age personally engaging in or simulating sexual conduct, Rowland unsuccessfully moved to quash the search warrant that led to the seizure of his electronic devices, including a thumb drive that contained about 1,000 images and 25 videos of child pornography.The court of appeal affirmed. Although the search warrant affidavit did not name the employee who submitted the cybertips to NCMEC or the person who forwarded the cybertips from NCMEC to the police, the totality of the circumstances supported a determination that the cybertips came from unbiased citizen informants who could be presumed reliable and thus did not need independent corroboration. View "People v. Rowland" on Justia Law

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In a dispute between members of a limited liability company (LLC), Plaintiff alleged that the LLC’s managing member engaged in self-dealing to the detriment of both Plaintiff and the company. After the managing member, represented by the LLC’s attorneys, cross-complained against Plaintiff, Plaintiff cross-complained against both the managing member and the attorneys for further self-dealing and breach of fiduciary duty, alleging they misappropriated funds from the LLC to finance the litigation. Cross-defendants specially moved to strike the complaint under the anti-SLAPP statute (Strategic Lawsuit Against Protected Activity; Code of Civil Procedure section 425) arguing the alleged conduct occurred as part of the litigation, which was protected activity.   The Second Appellate District affirmed the order imposing monetary sanctions. The court denied the other discovery orders deeming it a petition for extraordinary relief. The court affirmed the anti-SLAPP order striking Plaintiff’s cross-complaint. Further, the court directed the trial court to vacate its order awarding Defendant anti-SLAPP attorney fees and reconsider that order. The court explained that the trial court was in the best position to evaluate Plaintiff’s justifications for deficient responses, and as with the December 9, 2019 order, the court explained it cannot conclude that the trial court’s findings and decision on April 6, 2021, to impose additional monetary sanctions constituted a manifest abuse exceeding the bounds of reason. View "Manlin v. Milner" on Justia Law

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In 1993, defendant Albert Garcia physically assaulted and stole money from an 82-year-old man, who died about an hour later from lethal cardiac arrhythmia. A jury found defendant guilty of first degree murder and robbery. The trial court sentenced him to an aggregate term of 27 years to life in prison, and the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in an unpublished opinion. In affirming defendant’s murder conviction, the Court noted that the prosecution’s theory was felony murder, and concluded that the felony-murder rule applied to the facts of this case because there was substantial evidence the robbery, either the physical altercation or the emotional stress, caused the victim’s death. In 2019, after the passage of California Senate Bill No. 1437 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.), which narrowed the class of persons liable for felony murder, defendant petitioned for resentencing under Penal Code section 1172.6 (former § 1170.95). The trial court denied the petition in August 2020, finding defendant was ineligible for resentencing as a matter of law because he was the “actual killer,” a felony-murder theory that remained valid after the passage of the Senate Bill. Defendant appealed, arguing: (1) the trial court improperly evaluated the validity of his murder conviction under the “actual killer” provision of Penal Code section 189 (e)(1), as there was no “actual killer” within the meaning of the revised felony-murder rule when death results from a preexisting medical condition aggravated by the stress of the underlying felony; and (2) the trial court erroneously relied upon a sufficiency of the evidence standard in denying his petition for resentencing rather than determining whether the prosecution had met its burden to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he is guilty of murder under current law. The Court of Appeal disagreed with defendant on his first contention, thus it did not reach his second. Here, the Court found defendant was the actual killer; accordingly, the order denying his petition for resentencing was affirmed. View "California v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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Over ten years ago, Prince Kurtiss Cheatham fled criminal custody after he heard nonexistent voices that led him to believe his life was in danger. After being returned to custody, he again attempted to escape after again hearing nonexistent voices because of untreated schizoaffective disorder. He was charged based on these events and, after being found not guilty by reason of insanity, was committed to a state hospital. Since that time, Cheatham took medications that largely subdued his mental health symptoms but have not resolved his symptoms entirely. Shortly before Cheatham’s anticipated release from hospital custody, the local district attorney sought to extend his commitment under Penal Code section 1026.5. After two psychologists testified at trial that Cheatham met the statute's criteria, a jury found the district attorney had proved the facts necessary to extend Cheatham’s commitment. On appeal, Cheatham argued: (1) the evidence at trial was insufficient to support the jury’s findings; and (2) the district attorney should be barred from trying the matter again under double jeopardy principles. Although he acknowledged these principles generally applied only in criminal matters, he contended they also applied in proceedings to extend a section 1026.5 commitment per 1026.5(b)(7). After review, the Court of Appeal agreed with Cheatham on both points: because of the lack of evidence supporting the required showing, the Court found the evidence insufficient to support a commitment extension under section 1026.5. Further, the Court found that, on remand, the district attorney could not again attempt to extend Cheatham’s commitment. The trial court’s order extending Cheatham’s commitment was reversed and the trial court directed to dismiss the petition to extend the commitment. View "California v. Cheatham" on Justia Law

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Father appealed the juvenile court’s order terminating his and Mother’s parental rights and finding that the child, J.R., was adoptable. The Second Appellate District conditionally reversed that order because the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS or the agency) violated Mother’s due process rights.The court explained that the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “[n]o State shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . . .” (U.S. Const., 14th Amend., Section 1.) Except in emergent circumstances, this provision guarantees reasonable notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard before the state may deprive a person of a protected liberty or property interest. Because parents have a fundamental liberty interest in the companionship, care, custody, and management of their children, the due process clause requires child welfare agencies to exercise reasonable diligence in attempting to locate and notify them of dependency proceedings.   The court explained that this case presents a textbook example of a due process violation. DCFS initiated dependency proceedings concerning J.R. on the ground that his father physically abused him. Even though Father told the agency at the outset of the proceedings that Mother resided in El Salvador, the record does not show that DCFS made any attempt to ascertain Mother’s location in that country. The court concluded that Father has standing to assert DCFS’s violation of Mother’s due process rights. View "In re J.R." on Justia Law

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Toren Nieber was convicted in 2017 for his role in the commission of a 2016 burglary and robbery during which one of the victims was shot and killed. At the preliminary hearing, the magistrate found insufficient evidence to hold Nieber over on a special circumstance allegation, and the matter proceeded to trial without that charge. Nieber appealed his conviction, arguing he should be resentenced pursuant to California Penal Code Section 1172.6 (d)(2) because the court’s decision at the preliminary hearing constituted a “prior finding by a court” that he was not a major participant in the underlying crime. The trial court, which had presided over the preliminary hearing as well as the trial, ordered an evidentiary hearing and followed the procedures outlined in subdivision (d)(3). It concluded the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Nieber was a major participant who acted with a reckless indifference to human life and was therefore ineligible for resentencing. It thus denied the petition. On appeal to the Court of Appeal, Nieber argued: (1) the court improperly held an evidentiary hearing pursuant to section 1172.6 (d)(3) because the court’s finding at the preliminary hearing required it to resentence him under subdivision (d)(2); collateral estoppel likewise meant the court was required to follow the procedure detailed in subdivision (d)(2); and (3) the court’s conclusion that he was a major participant and acted with reckless indifference to human life was not supported by sufficient evidence. The Court of Appeal found his contentions without merit, and affirmed. View "California v. Nieber" on Justia Law

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Victor Salgado appealed a recall and resentencing under former Penal Code section 1170 (d)(1). After Salgado shot at a rival gang member but killed another, he was charged with: one count of first degree murder; one count of attempted premeditated murder; two counts of assault with a semiautomatic firearm; one count of possession of a firearm while on probation; and one count of street terrorism (active gang participation). Salgado argued the trial court erred in imposing a one-year determinate sentence on a gang enhancement, improperly calculated his custody credit, and requests this court correct clerical errors in the sentencing minute order and the abstract of judgment. The Attorney General conceded these errors, but argued the sentencing court should have imposed higher, statutorily prescribed terms on the enhancements. While this appeal was pending, Assembly Bill No. 333 (2021-2022 Reg. Sess.) (Stats. 2021, ch. 699, § 3) came into effect on January 1, 2022. Assem. Bill 333 “amended section 186.22 to impose new substantive and procedural requirements for gang allegations.” Additionally, on the same day, Assembly Bill No. 1540 (2021-2022 Reg. Sess.) (Stats. 2021, ch. 719, §§ 1-7) came into effect, and moved the recall and resentencing provisions of former section 1170(d), to new section 1170.03. Assem. Bill 1540 also clarified the Legislature’s intent that the resentencing court would “apply ameliorative laws . . . that reduce sentences or provide for judicial discretion, regardless of the date of the offense of conviction.” The Court of Appeal concluded Salgado was entitled to the benefit of Assem. Bill 333 because his criminal judgment was no longer final following the recall and resentencing. Accordingly, the Court reversed the gang offense conviction and vacated the jury’s true findings on the gang enhancement allegations. The Court remanded the matter to afford the prosecution an opportunity to retry the gang crime and related enhancements. View "California v. Salgado" on Justia Law

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Appellant Jesse Orosco appeals his conviction for one count of assault on a peace officer by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury. He argued: (1) there was no substantial evidence the victim was a peace officer; (2) the trial court erroneously denied his request to represent himself under Faretta v. California 422 U.S. 806 (1975); (3) the trial court erroneously instructed the jury on the definition of a peace officer and his duties; and (4) the abstract of judgment should be corrected. The Court of Appeal found as a matter of law based on the undisputed evidence that the victim was working as a peace officer at the time of the incident. The Court concluded, however, that the trial court violated Orosco’s Sixth Amendment rights by denying his Faretta request for self-representation based on a finding that he was “unable to sufficiently represent himself.” There was no substantial evidence that Orosco was mentally incompetent to represent himself under the applicable legal standard. Because the error was reversible per se, the Court reversed the judgment and did not decide the other issues raised. View "California v. Orosco" on Justia Law

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In 2020, California and Santa Clara County issued public health orders intended to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, including orders restricting indoor gatherings and requiring face coverings, social distancing, and submission of a social distancing protocol by businesses, including churches. Calvary Chapel failed to comply with those orders. On November 2, 2020, the trial court issued a temporary restraining order, followed by a November 24 modified TRO, and a preliminary injunction that enjoined Calvary from holding indoor gatherings that did not comply with the restrictions on indoor gatherings and requirements that participants wear face coverings and social distance. Calvary was also enjoined from operating without submitting a social distancing protocol. Calvary violated the orders, failing to comply with any of the public health orders.The government sought an order of contempt, which the trial court issued on December 17, 2020, ordering Calvary and its pastors to pay monetary sanctions (Code of Civil Procedure sections 177.51 and 1218(a)). The court of appeal annulled the contempt orders and reversed the sanctions. The temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions are facially unconstitutional under the recent guidance of the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion in the context of public health orders that impact religious practice. View "People v. Calvary Chapel San Jose" on Justia Law