Articles Posted in California Supreme Court

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A jury convicted Defendants Stanley Bryant, Donald Franklin Smith, and Leroy Wheeler were convicted of various crimes relating to the fatal shooting of four individuals. Bryant and Wheeler were convicted of four counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder, and Smith was convicted of two counts of first degree murder, two counts of second degree murder, and one count of attempted murder. The jury returned verdicts of death. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgments, holding that any error or any error assumed for the sake of argument that occurred during the pretrial proceedings, the guilt phase, or the penalty phase were harmless. View "People v. Bryant" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of three counts of first degree murder, one count of attempted murder, and two counts of kidnapping. The jury found, among other things, that Defendant personally used a knife during each crime and inflicted great bodily injury on the kidnapping victims. The jury returned a verdict of death following the penalty phase of the trial. The trial rendered judgment on the verdict and sentenced Defendant to death. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment, holding that there was no prejudicial error during pretrial proceedings, the guilt phase, or the penalty phase. View "People v. Lucas" on Justia Law

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Three trials were held on the State’s petition to commit Defendant for secure confinement and treatment as a sexually violent predatory (SVP) under the Sexually Violent Predators Act. After a third jury trial and a second SVP finding, the Court of Appeal overturned the trial court’s judgment, concluding that multiple incidents of prosecutorial misconduct prejudiced Defendant and created a fundamentally unfair trial. The Supreme Court reversed after identifying one clear instance of misconduct and one other instance of arguable misconduct, holding that there was no reasonable probability that these incidents affected the outcome of the third trial, nor did they render the trial fundamentally unfair. Remanded to the Court of Appeal to address several additional claims raised by Defendant. View "People v. Shazier" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder, among other crimes. The jury found true the special circumstance allegations that the murder was committed while Defendant was engaged in the commission of rape and oral copulation and the allegation that Defendant personally used a deadly weapon. The trial court sentenced Defendant to death. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment, holding (1) juror misconduct occurred during the guilt phase, but Defendant was not prejudiced by that misconduct, and any error in the trial court’s evidentiary rulings was harmless; (2) there was no cumulative effect of error during the guilt phase; (2) there was no error at the penalty phase; and (3) Defendant’s challenges to the constitutionality of California’s death penalty law were without merit. View "People v. Merriman" on Justia Law

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Defendant broadsided at high speed a vehicle driving by Loraine Wong. Wong’s younger daughter, Sydney, was killed, and her older daughter, Kendall, sustained serious injuries. A jury convicted Defendant of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and found true the allegation that he personally inflicted great bodily injury on Kendall. At issue on appeal was whether the trial court violated Defendant’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination by admitting evidence that Defendant, following his arrest but before receipt of Miranda warnings, failed to inquire about the other people involved in the collision. The court of appeal reversed, holding that the trial court violated the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-crimination by admitting evidence of Defendant’s post-arrest, pre-Miranda failure to inquire about the welfare of the occupants of the other vehicle. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Defendant needed to make a timely and unambiguous assertion of his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in order to benefit from it. Remanded. View "People v. Tom" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of first degree murder and kidnapping with the purpose to commit a lewd act on a child under fourteen years old. The jury found true the special circumstance allegation of kidnapping murder and returned a verdict of death. The trial court sentenced Defendant to death on the murder count. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) any error in the trial court’s rulings during the pretrial stage of the proceedings did not influence the verdict; (2) no prejudicial error occurred during the guilt phase; (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion excluding certain statements from the penalty phase; and (4) Defendant’s challenges to California’s death penalty were without merit. View "People v. McCurdy" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial in 1998 Defendant was convicted of two counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder, among other crimes. The jury found true the allegation that the attempted murder was committed willfully, deliberately and with premeditation. After a penalty phase retrial, the trial court imposed a sentence of death. The Supreme Court reduced the conviction of willful, deliberate, and premeditated attempted murder to attempted murder and, in all other respects, affirmed the judgment, holding (1) the trial court did not err in overruling Defendant’s objection to the prosecutor’s use of peremptory challenges against three black prospective jurors; (2) the jury was not properly instructed on the meaning of the terms “willful,” “deliberate,” and “premeditated,” and therefore, a reduction of Defendant’s conviction on count two to a conviction for regular attempted murder was warranted; (3) the trial court did not commit prejudicial error in its evidentiary rulings; (4) Defendant failed to establish that his attorney rendered ineffective assistance or that he was denied his right to a fair trial before an unbiased judge; and (5) during the penalty phase, the trial court erred by excluding evidence of institutional failure, evidence regarding Defendant’s antisocial personality disorder, and evidence about lingering doubt, but the errors were harmless. View "People v. Banks" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was charged in a misdemeanor complaint electronically generated by a superior court clerk with willfully violating her written promise to appear. Petitioner pled no contest to the conviction. Petitioner subsequently challenged the conviction, contending that the complaint was void because it was not issued by an executive branch officer with prosecutorial authority in violation of the California Constitution’s separation of powers and due process clauses. The Supreme Court denied Petitioner’s petition for writ of mandate, holding the because the relevant prosecutorial agency has, through an established practice, implicitly approved in advance the clerk’s routine issuance of complaints for the offense of failure to appear, the practice is constitutional, and therefore, the complaint in this case is valid. View "Steen v. Appellate Div., Superior Court" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder. After the penalty phase, the trial court declared a mistrial because the jury was unable to reach a penalty verdict. After a second penalty phase, the jury returned a verdict of death. The Supreme Court reversed the death sentence due to prejudicial juror misconduct and affirmed in all other respects, holding (1) the trial court did not commit prejudicial error during the guilt phase; but (2) there was a substantial likelihood that one juror was influenced or biased against Defendant by an improper conversation he had with his pastor during penalty deliberations and that the juror’s vote to impose the death penalty was not based solely on the evidence and instructions. Remanded for retrial of the penalty phase and resentencing on all counts. View "People v. Hensley" on Justia Law

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Defendant, while acting as manager for a motorcycle dealership, arranged for the fraudulent sale of twenty vehicles to fictitious buyers. After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of twenty counts of grand theft, one count for each of the vehicles fraudulently sold. On appeal, Defendant argued that he could be convicted of one count of grand theft only because all of the sales were part of a single scheme. The court of appeal affirmed the judgment of conviction for the twenty counts of grand theft. At issue before the Supreme Court was the correct interpretation of the language in People v. Bailey, which some courts of appeal have interpreted as permitting only one conviction of grand theft in circumstances such as those presented in this case. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a defendant may be convicted of multiple counts of grand theft based on separate and distinct acts of theft, even if committed pursuant to a single overarching scheme; but (2) the Court cannot not retroactively apply this new rule to Defendant, and therefore, under the law that has existed for decades, Defendant could only have been convicted of a single count of grand theft. View "People v. Whitmer" on Justia Law