Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of California

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal finding the City of Oroville liable in inverse condemnation for property damage suffered by a dental practice when raw sewage began spewing from the toilets, sinks, and drains of its building, holding that where the dentists did not install a legally required backwater valve on their premises the City was not liable for the property damage. The dentists argued that the City was legally responsible for the property damage because it was caused by the sewer system's failure to function as intended. The City argued in response that the damage occurred because the dentists failed to install the backwater valve that would have prevented sewage from entering their building in the event of a sewer main backup. The trial court concluded that an inverse condemnation had occurred. The court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the damage was not substantially caused by the sewer system when the dentists failed to fulfill a responsibility to install a backwater valve that would have prevented or substantially diminished the risk of the mishap that occurred in this case. View "City of Oroville v. Superior Court of Butte County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court disapproved the lead opinion in People v. Ray, 21 Cal.4th 464 (1999), in which the Court articulated a "community caretaking" exception to the warrant requirement for government entry into a private residence, holding that such an entry for reasons short of a perceived emergency, or similar exigency, fails to satisfy the relevant constitutional standard. Defendant was charged with manufacturing a controlled substance and firearm-related charges. Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence found in his home. The trial court denied the motion. Defendant later pleaded guilty. The court of appeal affirmed, concluding that, even in the absence of exigency, the warrantless entry of Defendant's home was justified under the "community caretaking" exception. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the community caretaking exception asserted in the absence of exigency is not one of the carefully delineated exceptions to the residential warrant requirement recognized by the United States Supreme Court. View "People v. Ovieda" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of two counts of first degree murder and sentence of death, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below that entitled Defendant to reversal of his convictions. Specifically, the Court held (1) both prongs of Cal. Const. art. I, 28(d)'s requirement were met in this case, and allowing the jury to judge the relevant evidence did not violate Defendant's due process rights; (2) a witness's decision not to testify, upheld by the court, did not deny Defendant the right to present a defense; (3) the state and federal constitutions supported the trial court's decision to grant the witness her Fifth Amendment privilege; (4) Defendant's challenges to California's death penalty law were unavailing; and (5) Defendant failed to establish cumulative error because there were no errors to aggregate. View "People v. Capers" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of two counts of first degree murder and his sentence of death, holding that none of Defendant's challenges to his convictions and death sentence warranted reversal. Defendant was one of three members of a gang who were charged with the murders of Michael Faria and Jessica Salazar. This automatic appeal concerned only Defendant. The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of two counts of first degree murder and death sentence, holding (1) any error in allowing a gang expert to testify was harmless; (2) the trial court did not err in declining to exclude two portions of a jailhouse conversation Defendant had with a friend; (3) there was sufficient evidence to support a finding that Defendant shot Faria; (4) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in limiting the cross-examination of a certain witness; (5) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting a photograph depicting Faria's body; (6) the victim impact evidence admitting in this case was within the bounds of what precedents permit; and (7) Defendant's constitutional challenges to California's death penalty scheme failed. View "People v. Mendez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of first degree murder, with the special circumstance that the murder was committed during a rape, and Defendant's sentence of death holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) the victim's brother testified at the penalty phase in contravention of a court order, but any prejudice was cured by the trial court's admonition and by other evidence undermining the significance of Defendant's assertions; (2) any assumed error in failing to instruct at the guilt phase on a good faith but unreasonable belief in consent to intercourse was not prejudicial; and (3) Defendant offered no compelling reasons for the Court to reconsider its precedent rejecting Defendant's constitutional challenges to California's death penalty scheme. View "People v. Molano" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for three counts of first degree murder and three counts of first degree attempted murder arising from two shootings committed by Defendant on the same day and Defendant's sentence of death, holding that only one error occurred during the proceeding, and the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Specifically, the Court held (1) none of Defendant's claims of error at the guilt phase had merit, and therefore, there was no cumulative error requiring reversal of his convictions; and (2) during the penalty phase, the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury that a witness's prior conviction of a felony bore on his credibility, but the error was harmless, and therefore, there was no cumulative error requiring reversal of Defendant's penalty of death. View "People v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the City and County of San Francisco (San Francisco) can lawfully apply a tax collection requirement, which requires parking lot operators to collect a tax from drivers who park their cars in paid parking lots and remit the proceeds to the city, to state universities that operate paid parking lots in the city, holding that the collection requirement is not unconstitutional. San Francisco, a consolidated city and county that has adopted a charter for its own governance, requires that state universities collect the parking tax at issue with whatever parking fees they charge and remit the proceeds to the city. The trial court concluded that the universities were exempt from compliance with the parking tax ordinance. The court of appeal affirmed, concluding that the constitutional principles articulated and applied in In re Means, 14 Cal.2d 254 (1939), and Hall v. City of Taft, 47 Cal.2d 177 (1956), exempts state agencies from collecting and remitting the parking tax. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that charter cities may require state agencies to assist in the collection and remittance of municipal taxes and that San Francisco's collection requirement is a valid exercise of its power from which state universities are not immune. View "City & County of San Francisco v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court sentencing Defendant Socorro Susan Caro to death for killing three of her four children, holding that any error in the admission of statements from a detective's interview of Defendant in the hospital after she underwent emergency surgery for a gunshot wound to her head was harmless. Specifically, the court held (1) the trial court committed certain evidentiary errors, but the errors were harmless, were not cumulatively prejudicial, and did not affect Defendant's right to present a defense; (2) assuming error on Defendant's claim that the prosecution should have provided its investigatory material about prospective jurors, the error was harmless; and (3) assuming that the prosecution committed misconduct, the misconduct did not require reversal. View "People v. Caro" on Justia Law

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In this criminal case, the Supreme Court held that, when a defendant posts bail, the trial court has authority to impose reasonable conditions related to public safety but that the question had become moot as to the Defendant in the instant case. Defendant was arrested and charged with two felony counts. Defendant posted bail and was released from custody. At arraignment, the court imposed as an additional condition of release that Defendant waive her Fourth Amendment right to be free of warrantless or unreasonable searches. The District Attorney petitioned for review, asking whether trial courts possess inherent authority to impose reasonable bail conditions related to public safety on felony defendants who are released on bail. The Supreme Court answered in the affirmative, holding (1) trial courts have authority to impose release conditions on persons who post bail; but (2) the question was moot as to Defendant, and therefore, this Court need not decide whether the specific condition was valid. View "In re Webb" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of two counts of first degree murder and personal use of a deadly weapon and Defendant's sentence of death on both counts, holding that no prejudicial error occurred in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting evidence of other crimes; (2) the trial court did not violate Defendant's right to an impartial penalty phase jury under the federal and state Constitutions by excusing a prospective juror for cause because of her views on the death penalty; (3) penalty retrial following a hung jury was not unconstitutional; (4) the trial court did not err by denying Defendant's motion to declare the death penalty unconstitutional in practice; and (5) an instruction during the penalty phase was given in error, but the error was harmless. View "People v. Erskine" on Justia Law