Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of California
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant of two murders and finding true the special circumstances that one murder occurred during the commission of a robbery, that the other murder involved the killing of a witness and that Defendant had been convicted of multiple murders, and sentencing Defendant to death, holding that no errors required reversal of the judgment.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) substantial evidence supported the excusal of juror J.W. for cause; (2) assuming that the trial court erred when it allowed the prosecution to introduce "other acts" evidence at the guilt phase of trial, any error was harmless; (3) assuming that the trial court erred in introducing evidence at the penalty phase regarding Defendant's participation in mutual combat was harmless; and (4) there was no cumulative error requiring reversal of the judgment below. View "People v. Pineda" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the trial court entering judgment upon the jury's verdict that Defendant committed first degree murder, robbery, burglary, and firearm possession by a felon and sentencing him to death, holding that while the court committed statutory error, there were no additional errors or rulings that caused Defendant undue prejudice.On appeal, Defendant asserted that several errors in the guilt and penalty phases occurred, resulting in cumulative prejudice warranting reversal of his convictions. The Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed, holding (1) the trial court erred by allowing Defendant to be absent from trial without a written waiver, but the error was not prejudicial; and (2) Defendant failed to identify any other reversible error on appeal. View "People v. Poore" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court finding Defendant guilty of first degree murder and the jury's findings of the lying-in-wait special circumstance and the special circumstance allegations that Defendant intentionally killed the victim for financial gain while engaged in the commission or attempted commission of rape, holding that there was no error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by failing to initiate competency proceedings; (2) there was no error in the trial court's evidentiary rulings; (3) sufficient evidence supported the jury's true findings of the special circumstances, and the special circumstances, as applied, are not unconstitutional; (4) there was no instructional error; (5) Defendant's claims of prosecutorial misconduct were without merit; and (6) Defendant's remaining claims of error were unavailing. View "People v. Parker" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of the first-degree murder of his father and the second-degree murders of his stepmother and stepsister and sentencing him to death, holding that Defendant's second-degree murder convictions must be reversed.A federal court vacated Defendant's initial conviction and sentence. After a retrial, Defendant was convicted of first- and second-degree murder, and the jury found true a multiple-murder special-circumstance finding and various firearm- and weapon-use findings. Defendant was sentenced to death. At trial, Defendant's counsel conceded his responsibility for the deaths of all three victims, but Defendant was willing to accept responsibility only for the killing of his father and objected to admitting responsibility for the other two deaths. The Supreme Court held (1) defense counsel violated Defendant's Sixth Amendment rights to choose the fundamental objectives of his defense; and (2) while the error did not affect Defendant's first-degree murder conviction or the associated firearm-use finding, the error requires reversal of the remainder of the judgment and the judgment of death. View "People v. Bloom" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the the trial court convicting defendants Karl Holmes, Herbert McClain, and Lorenzo Newborn of three counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder, and one count of conspiracy to commit murder and sentencing each defendant to death, holding that no prejudicial error occurred at either stage of the proceedings.After the jury failed to reach a penalty verdict, a new penalty phase was held, and death verdicts were returned against all defendants. On appeal, Defendants asserted several allegations of error argued that the cumulative prejudicial errors in both the guilt and penalty phases of the trials required the reversal of their convictions and sentences. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) in the few instances in which this Court found or assumed error, no prejudice resulted; and (2) whether the claims are considered separately or cumulatively, no prejudicial error occurred. View "People v. Holmes" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for first degree murder and other crimes and Defendant's death sentence, holding that any found or assumed errors were individually harmless and that there was no cumulation of error that merited reversal.Specifically, the Supreme Court found or assumed errors in the admission of prior crimes evidence, a prosecutorial misconduct claim concerning a jury argument that Defendant signed a parole form advising him of a possible life sentence, a claim that the defense was prevented from responding to the prosecutor's argument, a claim that certain expert testimony usurped the trial court's role to instruct the jury about the law, and four additional prosecutorial misconduct claims. The Court held (1) any assumed or actual error in each of these claims was individually harmless; and (2) there was no cumulative error warranting reversal. View "People v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation acted within the authority provided by Cal. Const. art. I, 32(b) when it adopted regulations prohibiting early parole consideration under the scheme set forth in Proposition 57, The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, for inmates "currently serving a term of incarceration for a 'violent felony.'"After Petitioner was convicted of nine violent felony counts and six nonviolent felony counts voters approved Proposition 57. The Department subsequently adopted regulations implementing early parole considerations, including the regulations at issue here. Consistent with these regulations, the Department determined that Petitioner was ineligible for nonviolent offender early parole consideration because he was serving a term of incarceration for a violent felony. The court of appeal granted relief, concluding that the language of article I, section 32(a) requires early parole consideration for any inmate convicted of a nonviolent felony even when that inmate was also convicted of a violent felony. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Department acted within its authority provided by article I, section 32(b) when it adopted the regulation at issue. View "In re Mohammad" 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, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his allegations of error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court did not commit reversible error when it denied Defendant's request for self-representation under Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975) because the motion was untimely; (2) it was not reasonably probable that the jury would have reached a result more favorable to Defendant but for one improper question posed by the prosecutor to a witness; (3) the trial court did not err when it denied Defendant's motion for a mistrial; (4) admission of certain evidence did not violate Defendant's right to due process or render his trial fundamentally unfair; (5) there was no merit to Defendant's allegations of instructional error; and (6) Defendant's challenges to the death penalty law were unavailing. View "People v. Wright" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of first-degree murder and attempted second-degree robbery and sentence of death, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) sufficient evidence supported the attempted robbery conviction; (2) the trial court did not err in admitting statements obtained during an undercover operation that law enforcement performed while Defendant was being transported and held in jail; (3) there was no error in the denial of defense counsel's request for a second continuance; (4) a wiretap application at issue in this case was not facially invalid; (5) any violation of Defendant's right to confrontation was harmless; (6) Defendant failed to establish either prosecutorial or judicial misconduct; (7) the trial court did not improperly restrict cross-examination or err in its remaining challenged evidentiary rulings; (8) Defendant failed to establish harmful error as to the admission of his statements at the penalty phase of his statements referencing other crimes; and (9) Defendant's challenges to the death penalty were unavailing. View "People v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court granting Defendant's motion for postconviction discovery under Cal. Penal Code 1054.9 giving Defendant access to the prosecutor's jury selection notes, holding that there was no error.In 1994, Defendant was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. Decades later, Defendant filed a habeas corpus petition claiming that the prosecution had used peremptory strikes to discriminate against prospective jurors, in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986) and People v. Wheeler, 22 Cal.3d 258 (1978). Defendant also filed, in connection with the petition, a motion for postconviction discovery seeking access to the prosecutor's jury selection notes. The trial court granted the motion, and the court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district attorney may not invoke the attorney work product protection to withhold information necessary to the fair adjudication of Defendant's Batson/Wheeler claim. View "People v. Superior Court" on Justia Law