Articles Posted in Supreme Court of California

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant of one count of first degree murder, thirteen counts of robbery, and two counts of attempted robbery and sentencing Defendant to death. The trial court found true the special circumstance allegation that Defendant committed the murder during the commission of a robbery. The conviction and sentence were rendered after bench trials for the guilt phases and penalty phases. The Supreme Court held (1) Defendant entered a knowing and intelligent jury waiver; (2) because there was no basis for concluding that Defendant would have chosen a jury trial for the special circumstance allegation had the trial judge avoided an error under People v. Memro 700 P.2d 446 (Cal. 1985), the error was harmless; (3) Defendant’s waiver of a jury trial for the penalty phase was adequate, and no reaffirmation of the waiver before the state of the penalty phase was required; (4) the trial court did not err in considering certain aggravating evidence at the penalty phase; and (5) Defendant’s miscellaneous challenges to the death penalty are rejected. View "People v. Sivongxxay" on Justia Law

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During jury selection proceedings, three defendants joined in a Batson/Wheeler motion, arguing that the prosecutor improperly excluded prospective jurors on account of Hispanic ethnicity. The trial court denied the motion, finding the prosecutor’s reasons for exercising ten of sixteen peremptory challenges to remove Hispanic individuals from the jury panel to be neutral and nonpretextual. The court of appeal upheld the trial court’s denial of Defendants’ joint Batson/Wheeler motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the trial court’s finding that Defendants had not met their burden of proving intentional discrimination with respect to at least one excluded panelist was unreasonable in light of the record of voir dire proceedings, and therefore, Defendants were denied their right to a fair trial and their right to a trial by a jury drawn from a representative cross-section of the community under the state Constitution; and (2) the court of appeal erred in refusing to conduct a comparative juror analysis. View "People v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that a claim alleging a discriminatory decision is not subject to a motion to strike simply because it contests an action or decision that was arrived at following speech of petition activity or that was thereafter communicated by means of speech or petitioning activity. Plaintiff, a tenure-track assistant professor, filed suit under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act for national origin discrimination and failure to receive a discrimination-free workplace after his application for tenure was denied. The Board of Trustees of the California State University responded with a motion to strike, arguing that the communications that led up to the decision to deny Plaintiff tenure were protected activities. The trial court denied the motion, but the Court of Appeal reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that “a claim may be struck only if the speech or petitioning activity itself is the wrong complained of and not just evidence of liability or a step leading to some different act for which liability is asserted.” View "Park v. Board of Trustees of California State University" on Justia Law

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Petitioner committed murder when he was sixteen years old and was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The sentencing court did not give due consideration to the factors in Miller v. Alabama in imposing this sentence. Petitioner did not pursue an appeal. Here, Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking a resentencing hearing at which the court would properly integrate the Miller factors into its sentencing calculus. The superior court granted habeas corpus relief. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that Petitioner could seek recall of his sentence and resentencing to a term of life with the opportunity for parole pursuant to Cal. Penal Code 1170(d)(2), which remedied any constitutional defect in Petitioner’s sentence and therefore precluded habeas corpus relief. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 1170(d)(2) does not provide an adequate remedy at law for Miller error, and Petitioner may obtain a Miller resentencing as a form of habeas corpus relief. Remanded for a resentencing hearing. View "In re Kristopher Kirchner" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of first degree murder with the special circumstances of killing a witness, murder, in the commission of kidnapping, and lying in weight. The jury also found Defendant guilty of kidnapping, rape, and dissuading a witness. After a penalty trial, the jury returned a verdict of death for the murder conviction. The trial court imposed a judgment of death. The Supreme Court reversed the lying-in-wait special-circumstance finding for insufficient evidence but otherwise affirmed the judgment, holding (1) the evidence did not support the lying-in-wait special-circumstance finding, but no other prejudicial error occurred during the guilt phase of trial; and (2) there was no prejudicial error during the penalty phase of trial. View "Poeple v. Becerrada" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of first degree murder and other crimes. The jury found true special-circumstance allegations. After a penalty phase, the jury returned a verdict of death.The trial court denied Defendant’s motion for modification of his sentence to life without the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) no prejudicial error occurred during the pretrial phase of trial or during the guilt phase of trial; (2) substantial evidence supported Defendant’s convictions; (3) no prejudicial error occurred during the penalty phase of trial; and (4) Defendant’s challenges to the constitutionality of California’s death penalty scheme were unavailing. View "People v. Brooks" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded no contest to two counts of nonforcible lewd conduct. The trial court placed Defendant on probation, ordered him to register as a sex offender, mandated his participation in an approved sex offender management program, and imposed two probation conditions that were the subject of this appeal - (1) that Defendant waive any privilege against self-incrimination and participate in polygraph examinations, pursuant to Cal. Penal Code 1203.067(b)(3); and (2) that Defendant waive any psychotherapist-patient privilege, pursuant to Cal. Penal Code 1203.067(b)(4). Defendant appealed, arguing that conditioning probation on the waiver of his privilege against self-incrimination and on his participation in polygraph examinations violated his Fifth Amendment rights and, like the waiver of his psychotherapist-patient privilege, was unconstitutionally overbroad. The Court of Appeal upheld the validity of the subdivision (b)(4) and (b)(3) conditions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the probation conditions challenged in this case were not unconstitutional where they enabled those charged with monitoring the probation to obtain the information they need while otherwise safeguarding the probation’s privacy and protecting the probation from compelled self-incrimination. View "People v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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In People v. Hosner, the Supreme Court held that an indigent criminal defendant facing retrial is presumptively entitled to a full and complete transcript of the prior proceedings. Defendant in this case was an indigent pro se defendant charged with making criminal threats, among other offenses. A jury deadlocked on the charges, the court declared a mistrial, and retrial was set. At a pretrial hearing, the trial court granted Defendant’s motion for a “complete record of trial transcripts.” Defendant received a transcript that included all witness testimony from the first trial but omitted the opening statements and closing arguments. The court then denied Defendant’s request for a transcript of the opening statements and closing arguments. After a trial, the jury found Defendant guilty as charged. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that Hosner’s presumption applies only to transcripts of witness testimony and not to transcripts of opening statements and closing arguments. The Supreme Court affirmed on different grounds, holding (1) a defendant facing retrial is presumptively entitled to a full transcript of the previous trial, including opening and closing statements; (2) when a defendant is denied only a portion of the transcript, the harmless error rule applies; and (3) the error was harmless in this case. View "People v. Reese" on Justia Law

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Petitioner requested disclosure of thirty-two categories of public records from the City of San Jose, its redevelopment agency and executive director, and other elected officials and their staffs, seeking documents concerning redevelopment efforts in downtown San Jose. Included in the request was emails and text messages sent or received on private electronic devices used by the mayor, two city council members, and their staffs. The City disclosed certain communications but did not disclose communications made suing the individuals’ personal accounts. Petitioner sued for declaratory relief under the California Public Records Act (CPRA), arguing that messages communicated through personal accounts are public records. The trial court granted summary judgment for Petitioner and ordered disclosure. The Court of Appeal, however, issued a writ of mandate. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a city employee’s writings about public business are not excluded from CPRA simply because they have been sent, received, or stored in a personal account. Remanded. View "City of San Jose v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of two counts of first degree murder, two counts of assault by a life prisoner with malice aforethought, and possession of a sharp instrument by a prisoner. The jury also found that Defendant had suffered two prior felony convictions within the meaning of the “Three Strikes” law. The jury returned a death verdict. The trial court sentenced Defendant accordingly. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) no reversible error occurred during either the guilt phase or penalty phase of trial; and (2) Defendant’s attacks on the constitutionality of California’s death penalty statute and related standard jury instructions were unavailing. View "People v. Delgado" on Justia Law