Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Defendant was convicted in 1990 of special-circumstance felony murder for a crime committed when he was 25 years old. Current law entitles anyone who commits a special-circumstance murder at age 16 or 17 is entitled to both a Youth Offender Parole Hearing and a Franking Hearing. However, those who commit a special-circumstance murder at 18 or older are ineligible for both.Defendant challenged California law on Equal Protection grounds. The Second Appellate District agreed with Defendant, finding there is no rational basis to support the Legislature’s distinction between young adult offenders who committed a special-circumstance murder and were sentenced to life without parole and other young adult offenders who committed different serious or violent crimes and received parole-eligible indeterminate life terms, including those that could be the functional equivalent of a life without parole sentence. Thus, the court determined that Defendant was eligible for a Youth Offender Parole Hearing as well as a Franklin Hearing. View "P. v. Hardin" on Justia Law

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Lucas was living at the Aranda, a residential hotel that provides supportive housing to formerly homeless individuals. The management company sought a workplace violence restraining order (Code Civ. Proc. 527.8) against Lucas with affidavits from four employees, alleging that Lucas had been very aggressive and confrontational toward other tenants and Aranda employees.The trial court granted a temporary restraining order and scheduled an evidentiary hearing. Lucas filed a response, denying all of the allegations. Both parties were represented by counsel at the hearing. Only a janitor (Yee) and Lucas provided testimony. The trial court questioned Yee, who affirmed that each of the allegations in his affidavit was correct. Lucas then testified, answering questions posed by his attorney. Lucas’ counsel requested an opportunity to cross-examine Yee and any of the other witnesses. The trial court stated it had no authority to allow cross-examination at such a hearing and granted a three-year workplace violence restraining order, based on “clear and convincing evidence” that had “been supported” and was “logical” and “believable.” The court of appeal reversed. The court’s failure here to allow Lucas to cross-examine Yee was contrary to section 527.8(j) and raised due process concerns. View "CSV Hospitality Management v. Lucas" on Justia Law

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Long before the passage of California Senate Bill No. 620 in 2002, defendant Frederick Johnson pleaded no contest in two cases to various counts in connection with multiple armed robberies and, as relevant here, admitted seven Penal Code section 12022.53(b) enhancements. He was sentenced to 46 years four months in prison, and resentenced approximately 15 years later to 46 years in prison. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal to decide related to the extent to which fairly recent legislation, when considered together with the available caselaw interpreting that legislation, conferred new discretion on trial courts at sentencing. The discretion at issue here was a trial court’s choice to impose an uncharged lesser included firearm enhancement in lieu of the greater enhancement of conviction, after the greater enhancement was stricken by the trial court in its exercise of discretion. The Court agreed with defendant that the trial court had broad discretion to impose a lesser uncharged firearm enhancement provided for by section 12022.5(a) when it exercises its discretion to strike a Penal Code section 12022.53(b) firearm enhancement of conviction. The Court remanded the case for a full resentencing hearing, where the trial court could consider exercise of its discretion and any other new laws related to sentencing that might apply to defendant. View "California v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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California law requires notification to “a local law enforcement agency in the jurisdiction in which the theft or loss occurred” when a gun is lost or stolen. (Penal Code 25250(a)), within five days of the time when the owner or possessor knew or reasonably should have known that the firearm had been stolen or lost. Morgan Hill adopted its own missing firearm reporting requirement, requiring notification to the Police Department within 48 hours of discovering a gun is missing if the gun owner lives in Morgan Hill, or the loss occurs there.A Morgan Hill resident and the California Rifle & Pistol Association sued, asserting the ordinance is preempted by the state law's five-day reporting requirement. The trial court found no preemption and granted the city summary judgment. The court of appeal affirmed. Local governments are free to impose stricter gun regulations than state law. If it is possible to violate the ordinance without violating state law, as it is here, there is no duplication. The ordinance does not contradict state law. Given the significant local safety interests at stake, cities are allowed to impose more stringent firearm regulations than state law prescribes. View "Kirk v. City of Morgan Hill" on Justia Law

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A jury found defendant Noy Estul Boukes guilty of the first degree murder of victim 1, threatening victim 2, and falsely imprisoning victim 2. The jury also found true allegations that defendant intentionally murdered victim 1 while he was an active member of a criminal street gang, and that he personally discharged a firearm during the commission of the murder, proximately causing great bodily injury or death. In a separate proceeding thereafter, defendant admitted he had suffered three prior prison terms and two prior strike convictions. The trial court sentenced defendant to state prison for life without the possibility of parole plus 78 years to life. On appeal of the judgment and sentence, the Court of Appeal remanded the matter to the trial court for resentencing. The trial court then struck the prior prison term enhancements and imposed, but struck punishment on the gang enhancements attached to counts 2 and 3. Appealing again, defendant contended that pursuant to Assembly Bill No. 333 (2021- 2022 Reg. Sess.), the judgments of conviction on counts 1 through 3, and the true findings on all the gang-related allegations, including the special circumstance finding, had to be reversed: “the prosecution did not present evidence that the predicate offenses commonly benefitted a criminal street gang in a manner that was more than reputational” and that “the prosecution relied, in part, on the reputational benefit of the shooting in this case to” defendant’s gang. To this point, Court of Appeal concurred and reversed the gang enhancements and special circumstance finding; the Court remanded the matter to give the State the opportunity to retry the issue relating to gang activity. In all other respects, the judgment was affirmed. View "California v. Boukes" on Justia Law

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Respondents are a group of college students, all of which face criminal charges for marching though San Luis Obispo in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Respondents sought recusal of the San Luis Obisbo District Attorney's Office on the basis that the District Attorney had a well-publicized association with critics of the Black Lives Matter movement. The trial court granted respondents' motion, appointing the Attorney General to the case, and the District Attorney and Attorney General appealed.On appeal, the Second Appellate District affirmed. Based on social media posts, public statements and targeted fundraising appeal to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement, the court concluded that substantial evidence supported the trial court’s determination that the San Luis Obisbo District Attorney's Office was not likely to treat respondents fairly. View "P. v. Lastra" on Justia Law

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Without notice to appellant A.I. (mother of the minor R.O.), the juvenile court followed its usual practice of converting what was scheduled as a contested jurisdictional confirmation hearing into an uncontested jurisdictional hearing because mother did not appear as ordered. It did so over mother’s counsel’s objection. The Court of Appeal concluded this routine practice denied mother her due process rights. The Court therefore reversed and remanded the matter for a new jurisdictional hearing. View "In re R.O." on Justia Law

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Frank Heard was serving a sentence of 23 years plus 80 years to life for two counts of attempted willful, deliberate and premeditated murder for a drive-by shooting he committed at age 15, and one count of voluntary manslaughter for a homicide he committed just after he turned 16. After 15 years of incarceration, he petitioned the trial court to recall his sentence and resentence him to a lesser sentence under Penal Code section 1170 (d)(1) (formerly (d)(2)). The trial court denied Heard’s petition, finding him ineligible for relief because he was not sentenced to an explicitly designated term of life without the possibility of parole. Heard appealed, presenting two issues of first impression: (1) the resentencing provision should be interpreted to apply not only to juvenile offenders sentenced to explicitly designated terms of life without parole, but also to a juvenile offender, like him, who have been sentenced to multiple terms that are the functional equivalent of life without parole; and (2) a contrary interpretation of the resentencing provision would violate his constitutional right to equal protection of the laws. The Court of Appeal rejected Heard's his first contention, instead interpreting section 1170 (d)(1)(A), to limit eligibility to petition for recall and resentencing to juvenile offenders sentenced to explicitly designated life without parole terms. But the Court concluded denying juvenile offenders, who were sentenced to the functional equivalent of life without parole, the opportunity to petition for resentencing violated the guarantee of equal protection. The Court therefore reversed the trial court’s order and remanded for further proceedings. View "California v. Heard" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the State argued that a sentencing court’s discretion under California v. Tirado, 12 Cal.5th 688 (2022) was limited to imposing a lesser enhancement under Penal Code section 12022.53, so a court that strikes an enhancement under section 12022.53 cannot impose an uncharged lesser included enhancement under section 12022.5. The Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that under Tirado the sentencing court may impose an uncharged lesser included enhancement under section 12022.5 after striking a greater enhancement under section 12022.53. View "California v. Fuller" on Justia Law

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In 1997, real party in interest and appellant Nathan Ramazzini was convicted of first degree murder with a special circumstance regarding a killing that occurred when Ramazzini was 16 years old. Pursuant to California Penal Code section 190.5 (b), enacted by Proposition 115 (the Crime Victims Justice Reform Ac), Ramazzini was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP). At the time Ramazzini was sentenced, courts interpreted section 190.5 (b) as establishing a presumption in favor of LWOP. In 2012, the US Supreme Court concluded the Eighth Amendment to the federal Constitution barred mandatory LWOP sentences for minors. The California Supreme Court subsequently concluded that section 190.5 (b) conferred discretion on the sentencing court to impose either a sentence of 25 years to life or LWOP, but the presumption in favor of LWOP was inconsistent with Miller. In response to Miller, the California Legislature passed Senate Bill No. 394 (2017- 2018 Reg. Sess.), which provided that those sentenced to LWOP for crimes committed when they were 16 or 17 years old were eligible for release on parole during their 25th year of incarceration. Ramazzini became eligible for a parole hearing in July 2021. Upon learning of that eligibility, the Colusa County District Attorney’s Office (Office), petitioned for writ of mandate seeking to invalidate Senate Bill No. 394 on its face and as applied to Ramazzini, and to enjoin the Board of Parole Hearings (Board) from enforcing its provisions. The trial court granted the Office’s writ petition as applied to Ramazzini. The Board appealed, contending the Office lacked standing to petition for writ of mandate, and Senate Bill No. 394 was lawfully enacted. Ramazzini also appealed, joining the Board’s contentions and separately contended that Senate Bill No. 394 was lawfully enacted because it did not amend Proposition 115’s alternative sentencing scheme for 16- and 17-year-old defendants. The Court of Appeal agreed the Office lacked standing to bring the writ petition, and invalidated the judgment invalidating Senate Bill No. 394 as applied to Ramazzini. View "California v. Board of Parole Hearings" on Justia Law