Articles Posted in Supreme Court of California

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decisions of the trial court and court of appeal, which determined that the elimination of the opportunity to purchase additional retirement service (ARS) credit set forth in the California Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013 (PEPRA), Cal. Gov. Code 7222 et seq., did not violate the California Constitution, holding that the opportunity to purchase ARS credit is not a right protected by the contract clause, and in the absence of constitutional protection, the opportunity to purchase ARS credit can be altered or eliminated at the discretion of the legislature. PEPRA effectively repealed the statute granting public employees the opportunity to purchase ARS credit. At issue in this case was whether the opportunity to purchase ARS credit was a vested right protected by the constitutional contract clause and whether the elimination of the opportunity to purchase ARS credit was an unconstitutional impairment of public employees’ vested rights. The Supreme Court answered the first question in the negative and declined to address the second issue, holding that the opportunity to purchase ARS credit is not a vested right. View "Cal Fire Local 2881 v. California Public Employees' Retirement System" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting codefendants Oswaldo Amezcua and Joseph Conrad Flores of four counts of first degree murder and sentencing each defendant to death for the murder convictions, holding that any errors in the proceedings below were not sufficiently prejudicial to require reversal of the judgment. A jury convicted Defendants of murder, finding true multiple-murder and drive-by-murder special circumstance allegations, as well as multiple counts of attempted willful, deliberate premeditated murder, false imprisonment, and other non-capital offenses. The trial court sentenced Defendants to death for the murder convictions and imposed determinate and indeterminate sentences for the noncapital convictions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) any error in the prosecutor’s guilt phase closing was harmless; (2) any error in a medical examiner’s testimony relating to autospy results derived from a different pathologist’s report was harmless; and (3) whether considered individually or cumulatively, the errors did not warrant reversal. View "People v. Amezcua" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal affirming the denial of Defendant’s special motion to strike, holding that the evidence produced by Plaintiff was properly considered by the trial court in ruling on a pretrial anti-SLAPP motion in determining Plaintiff’s probability of success. Plaintiff, Sweetwater Union High School District, sued to void contracts it approved with Defendants to manage certain projects after a criminal bribery investigation into the awarding of the contracts resulted in a number of guilty or no contest pleas. Plaintiff also sought to secure disgorgement of funds already paid. Defendants brought a special motion to strike under the Anti-SLAPP Statute, Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 425.16. Plaintiff’s response relied on evidence of the various guilty and no contest pleas. The court overruled Defendants’ evidentiary objects and denied their special motion to strike. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, at the second stage of an anti-SLAPP hearing, the court may consider affidavits, declarations, and their equivalents if its reasonably possible the proffered evidence set out in those statements will be admissible at trial. View "Sweetwater Union High School District v. Gilbane Building Co." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions of kidnapping, robbing, raping, torturing, and murder but reversed his death sentence, holding that multiple prospective jurors were improperly excused for cause. Defendant in this case was a black man sentenced to death for murdering a white woman. The prosecutor struck four black male jurors, leaving no black man on the jury. The Supreme Court held (1) under the standards of Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510 (1968) and Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412 (1985), the trial court erred by excusing jury candidates on the ground that they could not fairly and impartially consider whether death was the appropriate punishment; but (2) the trial court properly rejected Defendant’s Armstrong’s Batson claims. View "People v. Armstrong" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the judgment of the appellate court reversing the judgment of the trial court granted Defendants’ special motions to strike the second through sixth causes of action advanced by Plaintiffs in Plaintiffs’ dispute with the City of Carson and other defendants, holding that some of Plaintiffs’ causes of action were based on protected activities under Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 425.26(e)(2) and (e)(4) but others were not. After Plaintiffs brought this lawsuit Defendants responded by making a motion under the anti-SLAPP statute. The Supreme Court held that the causes of action asserted in Plaintiffs’ dispute with Defendants did not arise from Defendants’ acts in furtherance of their right of free speech in connection with a public issue with the exception of two discrete claims, which were within the scope of subdivision (e)(2) and (e)(4) of the anti-SLAPP statute, thus affirming in part and reversing in part the appellate court’s judgment. View "Rand Resources, LLC v. City of Carson" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of first degree murder and sentence of death on the murder count, holding that no reversible error occurred in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress; (2) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant’s challenges for cause concerning a prospective juror or Defendant’s motion for additional peremptory challenges; (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in deciding not to sequester the jury; (4) Defendant’s child pornography charge was validly joined with his kidnapping and murder charges; (5) assuming the trial court erred in allowing certain testimony, the error was harmless; (6) any other error in the trial court’s evidentiary rulings was harmless; (7) the trial court did not commit prejudicial error in its instructions to the jury; and (8) Defendant’s challenges to the constitutionality of California’s death penalty law were unavailing. View "People v. Westerfield" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment convicting Defendant of the first degree murders of her three children, vacated two of the jury’s three multiple-murder special-circumstance findings, reversed Defendant’s sentence of death, and remanded the matter for a new penalty determination. The Supreme Court held (1) the trial court did not commit reversible error in denying Defendant’s request for self-representation under Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975), and no other prejudicial error occurred during the guilt phase proceedings; (2) two of the three multiple-murder special-circumstance allegations were erroneously charged and found true in this case; and (3) the trial court erred in excusing a prospective juror for cause based solely on her written questionnaire responses concerning her personal views on the death penalty, requiring reversal of Defendant’s penalty judgment. View "People v. Buenrostro" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first-degree murder and sentencing him to death, holding that Defendant suffered no prejudice in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant’s guilty plea was valid because Cal. Penal Code 1018 allows advisory counsel to satisfy the statutory requirements imposed on counsel in the case of a defendant who has exercised the right to self-representation; (2) the restraints placed on Defendant during the penalty trial and the denial of any writing instrument did not violate Defendant’s right to participate in his own defense or any other constitutional rights; and (3) Defendant’s challenges to California’s death penalty scheme and standard jury instructions were unavailing. View "People v. Miracle" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal and remanded with directions to reverse Defendant’s judgment of conviction, holding that the trial court erred in failing to suspend the criminal trial and initiate competency proceedings when defense counsel declared a doubt about her client’s competence. Here, Defendant, a formerly incompetent defendant, was restored to competence primarily through administration of medication. At the start of Defendant’s jury trial, Defendant began exhibiting signs of incompetence, and the trial court learned that Defendant had stopped taking his medication. After counsel declared a doubt as to Defendant’s competence the trial court conducted a brief colloquy with Defendant. The court then ruled that the trial could proceed. Defendant was ultimately convicted on several counts and sentenced to multiple life terms. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court’s failure to suspend proceedings and conduct a formal investigation into Defendant’s incompetence violated Defendant’s constitutional guarantee of due process. View "People v. Rodas" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in its entirety the judgment of the trial court imposing a sentence of death after a jury convicted Defendant of first degree murder, holding that no reversible error occurred in the proceedings below. Defendant was convicted of first degree murder, robbery, and grand theft. The jury found that the murder occurred during a robbery and that Defendant personally used a firearm. The jury then returned a verdict of death. The trial court imposed that sentence, as well as an aggregate determinate sentence of eight years four months. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that no prejudicial error occurred during the pretrial proceedings, the guilt phase proceedings, or the penalty phase proceedings. Further, the Court held that Defendant’s death judgment did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment in light of his youth and intellectual shortcomings, that Defendant’s challenges to the constitutionality of California’s death penalty statute failed, and that Defendant’s claim of cumulative prejudice must be rejected. View "People v. Powell" on Justia Law