Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of California

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The Supreme Court affirmed as modified the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant and sentencing him to death for the murder of a peace officer, holding that modification of the judgment was required to reduce the restitution and parole revocation fines. Specifically, the Court held (1) the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's finding that Defendant committed a premeditated and deliberate murder; (2) any error in the jury instructions was harmless beyond. Reasonable doubt; (3) the evidence was sufficient to sustain the gang-related enhancement; (4) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in its in camera review process of sealed transcripts; (5) the trial court erred in admitting uncharged misconduct to support the prosecution's argument that Defendant premeditated the murder, but the error was harmless; (6) the guilt phase errors did not cumulatively amount to prejudice requiring reversal of Defendant's conviction; (7) any error in the penalty proceedings was harmless; and (8) the trial court erred by imposing two fines in excess of the statutory maximum - the restitution fine and the parole revocation fine. View "People v. Rivera" on Justia Law

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In this case involving application of the "catchall" provision of the anti-SLAPP statute, Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 425.16, the Supreme Court held (1) the context of a defendant's statement is relevant, though not dispositive, in analyzing whether the statement was made "in furtherance of" free speech "in connection with" a public issue; and (2) Defendant's confidential reports to its paying clients, which were generated for profit and exchanged confidentially, did not qualify for anti-SLAPP protection under the catchall provision. Plaintiff, a for-profit business entity that distributes web-based entertainment programming, sued Defendant, a for-profit business entity that offers online trafficking and brand safety services to Internet advertisers, alleging that Defendant disparaged its digital distribution network in confidential reports to its paying clients. Defendant filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike. The court of appeal ruled that Defendant's reports were protected under the anti-SLAPP statute and that context was irrelevant to the anti-SLAPP analysis under subdivision (e)(4). The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) even where the topic discussed in Defendant's reports was one of public interest the reports did not qualify for anti-SLAPP protection under the catchall provision because Defendant did not issue the reports in furtherance of free speech "in connection with" an issue of public interest. View "FilmOn.com Inc. v. DoubleVerify Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of murder in the course of a robbery and related crimes and sentencing Defendant to death, holding that any assumed errors were harmless. Specifically, the Court held (1) even if it was error for the trial court to admit testimony arguably conveying the substance of a hearsay declarant's out-of-course identification, the error was harmless; (2) assuming there was error in Defendant's absence during one day of the penalty phase trial, the error was harmless; (3) any other possible errors contemplated by this Court were harmless; and (4) Defendant's challenges to the constitutionality of California's capital sentencing scheme were unavailing. View "People v. Bell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's automatic motion to modify the jury's verdict convicting Defendant of two counts of first degree murder and sentencing him to death, holding that any errors were minimal and did not warrant reversal. Specifically, the Court held (1) even assuming that the trial court erred in excluding Defendant's proffered statements to impeach a witness's credibility, the error was harmless and not so severe as to violate Defendant's right under the United States Constitution to confront the witnesses against him; (2) any error in the trial court's ruling permitting certain cross-examination when Defendant testified was harmless; (3) any impropriety on the part of the prosecutor during his guilt phase closing argument to the jury was not prejudicial; and (4) any error in the admission of evidence that Defendant. committed a crime involving force or violence against his stepdaughter was harmless. View "People v. Sanchez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals ruling that Defendant did not have a right to appointed counsel to respond to the prosecution's appeal of the order of the trial court granting Defendant's motion to suppress the prosecution's evidence against her, holding that Defendant had a right to appointed counsel in the present appeal. Defendant was charged by misdemeanor complaint with driving under the influence of alcohol and driving while having a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher. With the assistance of court-appointed counsel, Defendant filed a successful motion to suppress evidence collected during a warrantless traffic stop. The prosecution's appealed the suppression order. Defendant asked the appellate division to appoint new counsel to represent her, but the appellate division refused. Defendant then filed a petition for a writ of mandate, which the court of appeal denied. Without addressing whether the public defender remained appointed to represent Defendant, the court concluded that Defendant did not have the right to appointment of counsel on appeal. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding that Defendant was entitled to the assistance of counsel to respond to the prosecution's appeal. View "Gardner v. Appellate Division of Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court modified the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of two counts of first degree murder and related crimes, sentencing Defendant to death, and imposing a four-year determinate term based on the age of the victims by striking the four-year determinate term but otherwise affirmed, holding that there was error in the elderly victim enhancements but no other prejudicial error. Specifically, the Court held (1) the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant's convictions; (2) there was no reversible error in the guilt-phase instructions given to the jury; (3) any statutory error in allowing an investigator to read aloud from his report of an interview with a driver of Defendant was harmless at the guilt phase, and the admission of the driver's statement during the guilt phase did not prejudice the jury's penalty determination; (4) no other error occurred during the penalty phase of trial; (5) murder is not one of the crimes eligible for an elderly victim enhancement; (6) any error on the part of the trial court in initially imposing a $10,000 restitution fine was harmless; and (7) none of Defendant's challenges to California's death penalty scheme had merit. View "People v. Potts" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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