Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Plaintiffs filed suit against the Lunada Bay Boys, alleging that defendants, sometimes with the tacit approval of city officials who did nothing to stop them, engaged in what is known as "localism" – a practice of keeping outsiders away from the surf site through threats and violence. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of Defendant Thiel and Mowat's anti-SLAPP motions, holding that defendants failed to establish that the cause of action arose from protected activity. In this case, the causes of action against Thiel and Mowat are pursued on a theory of conspiracy – conspiracy being a doctrine of liability and not a cause of action itself. The court focused on the tortious acts in which defendants are alleged to have conspired – the harassment of non-locals, the trail-obstructing, the rock-throwing, the running over with surfboards, the punching, the theft, the vandalism, the sexual harassment, the threats, and the intimidation. The court concluded that none of the actions are protected speech or petitioning activity. View "Spencer v. Mowat" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Gloria Mitchell was convicted by a jury of several offenses involving three minor victims, John Doe 1, John Doe 2 and Jane Doe. With respect to John Doe 1, defendant was convicted of torture (count 1) and mayhem (count 2). With respect to John Doe 2 and Jane Doe, defendant was convicted of misdemeanor child abuse. She was sentenced to prison for: seven years to life on count 1; the middle term of four years on count 2; 180 days in county jail on count 4; and another 180 days in county jail on count 5. However, the trial court stayed the sentence on count 2 pursuant to Penal Code section 654 and deemed the sentence on counts 4 and 5 satisfied based on credit for time already in custody. The trial court also imposed a restitution fine in the amount of $300; a court operation assessment in the amount of $160; and a criminal conviction assessment of $120. Defendant appealed her convictions and sentences, and argued the fines should have been stricken as unconstitutional under California v. Duenas, 30 Cal.App.5th 1157 (2019). Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed defendant's convictions and sentences. View "California v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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The City of Redondo Beach challenged the Voter Participation Rights Act (VPRA) on the ground it improperly infringed the plenary authority conferred on charter cities by article XI, section 5, of the California Constitution to schedule their own elections for local offices. The superior court upheld the City's challenge, issued a writ of mandate barring the Secretary of State from enforcing the VPRA against the City, and declared it unconstitutional as applied to charter cities. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment to the extent it restrains the Secretary from enforcing the VPRA against the City on the ground that the Legislature failed to clearly provide the VPRA applies to charter cities. The court explained that courts have usually insisted on statutory language clearly including charter cities before engaging in the CalFed/Vista constitutional analysis, and legislative history of the VPRA does not indicate a clear intention to include charter cities. View "City of Redondo Beach v. Padilla" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Mario Cruz, Jr. was found by jury guilty as charged of committing several offenses against his former girlfriend, Jane Doe: stalking Jane while a restraining order prohibiting defendant from contacting Jane was in effect (count 1); vandalism of more than $400 (count 2); violating a criminal protective order, by an act or credible threat of violence, within seven years of suffering a prior conviction for violating such an order (counts 3, 6, 7, & 9); and making criminal threats (counts 5 & 8). The court found defendant had one prison prior, and sentenced defendant to an aggregate term of six years four months in prison. On appeal, defendant argued: (1) the prosecution failed to authenticate the Facebook messages as having been sent to Jane by defendant; (2) his criminal threats convictions in counts 5 and 8 should have been reversed because making a criminal threat was a lesser included offense of stalking, and a person cannot be convicted of both a greater offense and a necessarily included lesser offense; (3) the court erroneously failed to stay, under Penal Code section 654, his sentence on his criminal threats convictions in counts 5 and 8, and his convictions for violating restraining orders in counts 3, 6, 7, and 9, because these convictions arose from the same indivisible course of conduct, and were based on the same intent and objective, as his stalking conviction, namely, his threats to harm Jane and his attempts to convince Jane to resume his and Jane’s romantic relationship between April and August 2016; and (4) the judgment had to be modified to strike defendant’s one-year prison prior enhancement in light of the October 8, 2019 enactment of Senate Bill No. 136 (2019-2020 Reg. Sess.), which applied retroactively to all judgments, including defendant’s judgment, which were not final on appeal when the legislation went into effect on January 1, 2020. To the last point, the Court of Appeal concurred, the enhancement should have been stricken in light of the Bill. In all other respects, the Court affirmed judgment. View "California v. Cruz" on Justia Law

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Defendant Rogelio Solis, who had been convicted of second degree murder based on the doctrine of natural and probable consequences, filed a petition for resentencing pursuant to the newly enacted Penal Code section 1170.95, enacted as part of Senate Bill No. 1437 (Stats. 2018, ch. 1015, sec. 4) which took effect January 1, 2019. Senate Bill 1437 amended the natural and probable consequences doctrine for murder and the felony-murder rule “to ensure that murder liability is not imposed on a person who is not the actual killer, did not act with the intent to kill, or was not a major participant in the underlying felony who acted with reckless indifference to human life.” Senate Bill 1437 also provided for retroactive application of these amendments by creating a process through which qualifying defendants could have their murder convictions vacated and be resentenced. The Orange County District Attorney opposed defendant’s petition on the ground Senate Bill No. 1437 unconstitutionally amended two voter-approved initiatives. The trial court agreed and denied the petition. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding Senate Bill No. 1437 addressed the elements of the crime of murder and is directed to the mental state and conduct of those accused of murder. "It does not authorize anything the two initiatives prohibited, nor prohibit anything they authorized. Senate Bill No. 1437 neither adds any particular provision to nor subtracts any particular provision from either initiative." The trial court judgment was reversed denying Defendant’s petition, and the matter was remanded for a hearing on the petition’s merits. View "California v. Solis" on Justia Law

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Defendant Alfredo Cruz was convicted of second degree murder in 2010. In 2019, he filed a petition to vacate his murder conviction and asked for resentencing under newly enacted Penal Code section 1170.95, enacted as part of Senate Bill No. 1437 (Stats. 2018, ch. 1015, sec. 4) which took effect January 1, 2019. Senate Bill 1437 amended the natural and probable consequences doctrine for murder and the felony-murder rule “to ensure that murder liability is not imposed on a person who is not the actual killer, did not act with the intent to kill, or was not a major participant in the underlying felony who acted with reckless indifference to human life.” Senate Bill 1437 also provided for retroactive application of these amendments by creating a process through which qualifying defendants could have their murder convictions vacated and be resentenced. The trial court did not determine whether Defendant qualified for relief, but instead denied the petition on the ground that Senate Bill 1437 was unconstitutional. On appeal, Defendant argued the trial court erred by finding Senate Bill 1437 unconstitutional. The California Attorney General filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Defendant, defending the constitutionality of Senate Bill 1437 by arguing it amended neither Proposition 7 nor Proposition 115. The Orange County District Attorney (District Attorney), representing the State in this appeal, contended Senate Bill 1437 amended both propositions and was therefore an unconstitutional “intrusion into the voters” initiative powers. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the Legislature’s enactment of Senate Bill 1437 did not undo what the voters accomplished with Proposition 7 or Proposition 115 and therefore the legislation did not violate the constitution. In this opinion and in the concurrently published opinion filed in California v. Solis (Mar. 18, 2020, G057510) __ Cal.App.5th __, the Court of Appeal concluded Senate Bill 1437 was constitutional. The trial court judgment was reversed denying Defendant’s petition, and the matter was remanded for a hearing on the petition’s merits. View "California v. Cruz" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Ian Henderson and codefendant Zavier Marks of attempted murder (count 1) and shooting at an inhabited dwelling (count 2). With respect to count 1, the jury found true allegations that the attempted murder was committed by both defendants willfully and with deliberation and premeditation. It found not true allegations as to both counts that the defendants committed the offenses for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal street gang. The court dismissed allegations that as to both counts, a principal either used a firearm, discharged a firearm, or discharged a firearm causing great bodily injury. However, it found true allegations that Henderson and Marks each suffered a single conviction constituting both a serious felony prior conviction, and a prior strike conviction. The court sentenced Henderson to a 29-year-to-life prison sentence: seven years to life on count 1 doubled to 14 years to life by his strike prior, plus a consecutive middle term of five years on count 2 doubled to 10 years, and an additional consecutive five years for the serious felony prior conviction. It sentenced Marks to 19 years to life in prison: seven years to life on count 1 doubled to 14 years to life by the strike prior conviction, plus a concurrent midterm of five years on count 2 doubled to 10 years, and a five-year enhancement for the serious felony prior conviction. Both defendants appealed their respective sentences. In supplemental briefing, both Henderson and Marks asked the Court of Appeal that the matter be remanded for resentencing so that the trial court may exercise its discretion whether to impose or strike the five-year sentence for their prior serious felonies. Pointing out the court did not indicate at sentencing whether it would have stricken the five-year terms if it knew it had discretion to do so, the State conceded the matter should have been remanded so the court could exercise its discretion whether to strike those terms. The Court of Appeal agreed with the concession, vacated the sentences and remanded for resentencing. View "California v. Henderson" on Justia Law

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In December 2014, police entered a casita belonging to Skyler Smith and saw drugs in plain view. The Riverside County District Attorney filed an information charging Smith with multiple drug possession counts. The trial court subsequently denied Smith's suppression motion relating to the search of his casita. In September 2015, Smith was in an accident while riding his motorcycle. A search of the motorcycle revealed drugs. In December 2016, Smith was charged with drug possession charges. The State further alleged that Smith suffered two prison priors. During trial, the court denied a second suppression motion concerning a search of Smith's motorcycle in the second case. A jury found Smith guilty of all counts and the court found true the two prison priors. The trial court sentenced Smith to 10 years eight months in prison. Smith appealed, arguing the trial court erred in denying his suppression motions. Relying on California v. Duenas, 30 Cal.App.5th 1157 (2019), Smith also argued that the trial court could not legally impose a $10,000 restitution fine and a $300 court facilities assessment fee without first determining his ability to pay. In an opinion issued in May 2019, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. Smith petitioned the California Supreme Court for review, and transferred the matter back to the Court of Appeal with directions to vacate its decision and reconsider the cause in light of California v. Ovieda, 7 Cal.5th 1034 (2019). In the meantime, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill No. 136, which amended Penal Code section 667.5 (b) to limit one-year prior prison terms to cases where the prior was for "a sexually violent offense as defined in subdivision (b) of Section 6600 of the Welfare and Institutions Code[.]" Smith argued that the warrantless entry into his casita was objectively unreasonable because an unattended car running in a driveway did not constitute exigent circumstances or suggest a medical emergency, claiming that the officer acted upon an unparticularized suspicion devoid of articulable facts. The Court of Appeal agreed, concluding that the evidence seized during this warrantless search should have been suppressed because the State did not meet its burden to justify the search under the emergency aid or exigent circumstances exceptions, or the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule. With respect to Smith's his one-year prior prison term enhancements imposed on two prior convictions pursuant to section 667.5(b), he argued they had to be stricken in light of Senate Bill No. 136. The Attorney General concedes this issue. The Attorney General conceded to this latter issue. Therefore, the Court vacated its original opinion issued May 31, 2019, and issued a revised opinion addressing Smith's arguments in section II and newly added section V. View "California v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Defendant Sharon Darlene Lopez appealed after a trial court denied her motion to suppress evidence obtained from a warrantless blood draw. Police conducted the blood draw upon defendant’s arrest for driving under the influence of a controlled substance. The officer instructed defendant she was required to undergo a blood draw by the state’s implied consent law, but he did not relate the law’s admonitions regarding the consequences should she refuse the test. Defendant did not object or resist, and the draw was performed without a warrant. The trial court concluded defendant consented to the test. After review, the Court of Appeal determined substantial evidence supported the court’s ruling, so judgment was affirmed. View "California v. Lopez" on Justia Law

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Omar Jesus Cervantes appealed his conviction for second degree murder, arguing it had to be reversed under the recently enacted Senate Bill No. 1437 (SB 1437) and the changes the new law made to the natural and probable consequences doctrine. SB 1437 amended the murder statutes to modify the definition of murder and created a new provision, section 1170.95, which established procedures for eligible defendants to seek resentencing under the new definition. Cervantes also raised multiple challenges to his sentence. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded Cervantes could not raise his SB 1437 claim on direct appeal, but had to follow the procedures in section 1170.95 and petition the superior court for relief. “To clear up confusion about the particulars of his sentence,” the Court directed the trial court to correct the July 20, 2018 minute order to reflect that it did not impose a gang enhancement on the murder count or a section 1203.1c presentence confinement fee. The trial court was also directed to correct the abstract of judgment to reflect that it did not impose a registration requirement. In all other respects, the Court of Appeal affirmed judgment. View "California v. Cervantes" on Justia Law