Articles Posted in Supreme Court of California

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The Supreme Court reversed the sentence of death imposed in connection with Defendant’s conviction for the first degree murder of a police officer and the attempted murder of a police officer, holding that the trial court, over defense objection, erroneously excused for cause a prospective juror based on his written response to questions about his view on capital punishment, requiring reversal of the penalty verdict. After finding that Defendant did not have an intellectual disability, and following a penalty trial, the jury returned a verdict of death. The trial court imposed a judgment of death after denying the automatic motion to modify the verdict. The court also imposed a prison sentence on the other counts for which Defendant was convicted and enhancement allegations. The Supreme Court held (1) the trial court erred in excusing a prospective juror based on his questionnaire responses, an error that automatically compelled reversal of the penalty phase; and (2) the trial court’s judgment is affirmed in all other respects. View "People v. Woodruff" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant, after a jury trial, of murdering James Madden and sentencing Defendant to death. On appeal, Defendant raised a number of issues, most of which focused on purported errors made by the trial court. Defendant also took issue with the Supreme Court’s decision not to supplement the appellate record with the trial transcripts of his codefendants and also challenged the constitutionality of California’s death penalty scheme. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court in its entirety, holding that there was no reversible error in this case. View "People v. Spencer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendants Joseph Adam Mora and Ruben Rangel of two counts of murder and two counts of attempted robbery and sentencing Defendants to death. On appeal, Defendants argued that several errors during the guilt and penalty phases of their trial warranted reversal of their convictions. The Supreme Court disagreed with the exception of a guilt phase instructional error. The Court held (1) the trial court erred by permitting the jury to find the multiple murder special circumstance try without finding that either defendant intended to kill or actually killed either victim, but the error was harmless; and (2) no error or assumed error, whether considered separately or collectively, merited reversal. View "People v. Mora" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in its entirety the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first degree murder and sentencing him to death. Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder for killing his girlfriend’s twenty-one-month-old granddaughter, assault resulting in the death of a child under eight years old, and committing lewd and lascivious conduct on a child under the age of fourteen. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the admission of testimony from child witnesses was not in error and did not violate Defendant’s due process rights; (2) the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant’s murder conviction; (3) the trial court did not err in admitting evidence of a witness’s broken leg; (4) the trial court did not improperly coerce a death verdict; (5) the trial court’s response to a jury question, coupled with the prosecutor’s argument, did not allow the jury to consider inadmissible evidence during its penalty determination; (6) the prosecutor did not commit error under Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609 (1965); and (7) the admission of rebuttal character evidence was not in error. View "People v. Lopez" on Justia Law

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At issue was how to assess the validity of a stipulation entered into by Defendant, through counsel, that admitted all of the elements of a charged crime, making it tantamount to a guilty plea, when Defendant was neither advised of, nor expressly waived, his privilege against self-incrimination or his rights to a jury trial and confrontation. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal’s judgment affirming Defendant’s conviction of misdemeanor driving when his driver’s license was suspended or revoked. The Court held (1) the test set forth in People v. Howard, 1 Cal.4th 1132 (1992), that a plea is valid notwithstanding the lack of express advisements and waivers if the record affirmatively shows that it is voluntary and intelligent under the totality of the circumstances applies in cases where there is a total absence of advisements and waivers; and (2) applying that test, the record failed affirmatively to show that Defendant understood his counsel’s stipulation had the effect of waiving Defendant’s constitutional rights. View "People v. Farwell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of the first degree murder of a twelve-year-old boy, finding true the special circumstance that the murder was committed while Defendant was engaged in the commission of a lewd and lascivious act on the child, and sentencing Defendant to death. Specifically, the Court held (1) there was not substantial evidence of Defendant’s present incompetence that required the trial court, on its own motion, to declare a doubt and conduct a competence hearing during the penalty phase of trial; (2) Defendant’s constitutional challenge to the death penalty for mentally ill defendants was unavailing; (3) there was sufficient evidence of first degree murder and sufficient evidence to support a true finding on the special circumstance allegation; (4) Defendant’s argument that the trial court erred in excluding testimony regarding the victim’s relationships lacked merit; (5) the challenged jury instructions were not improper; (6) there was no reasonable possibility that the prosecutor’s comments during the penalty phase affected the jury’s verdict; and (7) Defendant’s challenges to California’s death penalty scheme failed. View "People v. Ghobrial" on Justia Law

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In this habeas case, the Supreme Court held that Juror No. 045882, who, during Petitioner’s criminal proceedings, intentionally concealed that he had previously been convicted of public fighting and was then on probation, was not actually biased against Petitioner and that no prejudicial misconduct occurred. Petitioner was convicted of two counts of first degree murder and was sentenced to death. While his appeal was pending, Petitioner filed this habeas petition, alleging that Juror No. 045882 committed misconduct. This Court issued an order instructing the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to show cause why the Court should not grant Petitioner relief based on juror misconduct. A referee appointed by the Court concluded that the juror at issue was not actually biased. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed and discharged the order to show cause, holding that there was no substantial likelihood that the juror harbored actual bias against Petitioner. View "In re Cowan" on Justia Law

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As modified in this opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction for murdering two people during the commission of a robbery and his sentence of death. On appeal, the Supreme Court found only one error during the guilt and penalty phases of Defendant’s trial - the admission of Defendant’s pretrial statement in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436. Specifically, the Court held that detectives violated Miranda by continuing to question Defendant after he invoked his right to remain silent, but the statements were not coerced. The Court then determined that this sole error was harmless. The Court modified the judgment of the trial court by reducing the $10,000 restitution fine to $6,000 and, as modified, affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "People v. Case" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first degree murder, rape, and other crimes and sentencing Defendant to death. On appeal, the Court held (1) the trial court did not commit prejudicial error during jury selection; (2) no prejudicial error occurred during the guilt phase of trial; (3) none of the errors identified by the Court during the penalty phase of trial was prejudicial individually, and they did not have any cumulative effect; and (4) Defendant’s challenges to California’s death penalty law were unavailing. View "People v. Hardy" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in its entirety the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of three counts of first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, second degree robbery, and assault with a firearm and sentencing Defendant to death for the three murders. On appeal, the Supreme Court held (1) no prejudicial error occurred during jury selection; (2) during the guilt phase, the Confrontation Clause was violated through the admission of certain out-of-court statements, but the errors were not prejudicial; and (3) several errors were committed during the penalty phase, including the erroneous admission of certain statements and the erroneous admission of testimony by victim family members about the appropriate penalty, but the errors did not affect the penalty phase verdict. View "People v. Penunuri" on Justia Law