Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Yanez pled no contest to possessing more than one kilogram of methamphetamine for sale (Health & Safety Code 11378; 11370.4(b)(1)) and admitted a prior strike conviction. The court had imposed home detention subject to electronic monitoring as a condition of reducing Yanez’s bail from $480,000 to $100,000. By the time of his sentencing hearing, Yanez had spent 555 days on electronic home detention, in a program authorized by Alameda County. The trial court sentenced Yanez to serve five years and eight months in state prison. Although the court granted him custody credits for his home confinement (Penal Code 2900.5(a)), it deemed him ineligible for conduct credits. No statute provides for such credits but post-judgment home detainees are eligible for conduct credit under Penal Code 4019. The court of appeal reversed. The disparity in eligibility for conduct credits between pretrial and post-judgment electronic monitoring home detainees violates equal protection; the pre-sentencing time Yanez spent on home detention is eligible for conduct credits notwithstanding the Legislature’s failure to provide for them in section 4019. View "People v. Yanez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Petitioner Manuel Bracamontes was sentenced to death in 2005 for the kidnapping and murder of nine-year-old Laura Arroyo. His automatic appeal was pending with the California Supreme Court. In anticipation of a future petition for writ of habeas corpus, Bracamontes filed a motion with the San Diego County Superior Court to preserve evidence that may be relevant to such a petition. His motion sought a preservation order covering relevant physical and documentary evidence in the hands of the prosecution, various government entities, and four private individuals or entities that were the subject of this proceeding: Norman Sperber, a forensic dentist and tool mark expert; Rod Englert, a retired police officer and crime scene reconstructionist; and Orchid Cellmark, Inc. (Cellmark) and Serological Research Institute, Inc. (SERI), two forensic laboratories that conduct DNA testing and analysis. Bracamontes relied on California v. Superior Court, 2 Cal.5th 523 (Morales, 2017), which held that a court had jurisdiction to order preservation of evidence potentially subject to postconviction discovery under Penal Code section 1054.9.1 The superior court granted Bracamontes's motion in large part, but it declined to issue preservation orders to Sperber, Englert, Cellmark, or SERI, determining that evidence in the possession of these private parties would not be subject to postconviction discovery under section 1054.9 and therefore the court had no jurisdiction to order its preservation. Bracamontes challenged the superior court's determination by petition for writ of mandate, and the Court of Appeal summarily denied the petition. The California Supreme Court then granted review and transferred the matter back to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration. After reconsideration, the appellate court concluded the superior court erred by denying the preservation order directed at Cellmark and SERI; these entities participated in the investigation of Arroyo's murder at the behest and under the direction of law enforcement. “Sperber and Englert, by contrast, were retained solely for their testimony at trial as independent expert witnesses.” The Court therefore granted the petition in part and denied it in part. View "Bracamontes v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Charged with a misdemeanor, Daws waived his statutory right to be brought to trial within 45 days during an off-the-record conversation in chambers. When the case was called, Daws’s counsel stated that his client intended to withdraw his time waiver and requested a trial date within 30 days. The court rejected this request, explaining that Daws must provide two days’ written notice to the prosecution before withdrawing his time waiver. The court scheduled trial for 80 days later, but invited Daws to provide two days’ written notice to withdraw his time waiver and have an earlier trial date. Daws declined to do so, waited for 30 days to elapse, and then filed an unsuccessful motion to dismiss The court of appeal denied a petition for relief. Penal Code section 1382 requires a defendant to provide “proper notice” to all parties before withdrawing a time waiver in open court but does not specify what is “proper.” Trial courts have inherent authority to determine by local rule or as a matter of courtroom practice what “proper notice” means, so long as the required notice is consonant with the defendant’s right to a speedy trial under the California Constitution and the Sixth Amendment; two days’ written notice meets that standard. View "Daws v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant Robert Michael Gangl was convicted of multiple offenses after he stole a car and then stole the arresting officer’s patrol vehicle, led officers on a high-speed chase, and eventually robbed a man in his own home as he tried to elude capture. The trial court sentenced defendant to an aggregate term of 18 years in state prison. Defendant raised several alleged sentencing errors on appeal. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal had to decide what an amendment to Proposition 36 meant, and whether it changed the long-standing rule that trial courts could use discretion to sentence a prior serious or violent felony offender concurrently to multiple current convictions or whether the trial court was mandated to sentence that offender consecutively to all of his current convictions. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court had the discretion to sentence a serious or violent felony offender concurrently to his or her current serious or violent felony convictions when those felonies were committed on the same occasion and arise out of the same set of operative facts. Those serious or violent felonies must then be sentenced consecutively to the sentences for nonserious and nonviolent convictions. View "California v. Gangl" on Justia Law

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Robert Tran was convicted by jury of reckless driving. He was sentenced to three years' probation with 30 days in custody. Tran appealed, contending the trial court erred in denying his pretrial motion to suppress evidence obtained from the warrantless search of his backpack and seizure of his dashboard camera. Tran claimed exigent circumstances did not exist; thus, law enforcement was not excused from first obtaining a warrant. After review, the Court of Appeal determined the seizure of Tran's dashboard camera was constitutional, and that the trial court did not err in denying Tran's motion to suppress. View "California v. Tran" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal held that Allergan was not entitled to summary adjudication of plaintiff's first cause of action for disability discrimination. The court held that plaintiff provided direct evidence of disability discrimination where Allergan terminated him because the temporary corporate benefits staffer mistakenly believed he was totally disabled and unable to work. The court held that Allergan was not entitled to summary adjudication of plaintiff's fourth cause of action for retaliation where plaintiff's emails would permit a reasonable trier of fact to find that he sufficiently communicated to Allergan that he believed the way he was treated (i.e. ignored and not accommodated for his disability) was discriminatory. Furthermore, Allergan failed to articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for plaintiff's termination. The court held that plaintiff's fifth cause of action for failure to prevent discrimination and seventh cause of action for wrongful termination in violation of public policy should survive summary adjudication for the same reasons as his causes of action for discrimination and retaliation. Accordingly, the court issued a peremptory writ of mandate vacating the trial court's order to the extent it granted summary adjudication on these causes of action. View "Glynn v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS) removed K.T. (K. or child) from his mother when he was about nine months old. At that time, a nurse noticed that he had an enlarged head. He was placed with distant relatives, Mr. and Ms. B., who were already caring for his older half-brother. Further testing showed that K. had a subdural hematoma. Meanwhile, the B.’s began refusing to communicate with K.’s social worker or her “friends” in the same office, claiming that she had discriminated against them and insulted them. CFS detained K., placed him in a special health care needs foster home, and filed a petition to remove K from the B.'s custody. The B.'s in turn, filed a "changed circumstances" petition for return of the child. The trial court denied the B.'s petition, finding they had not show they were qualified as a special health care needs foster home. It then granted CFS' petition, finding that communication between the B.'s and CFS has broken down. The B.'s appealed; CFS contended the B.’s lacked standing to appeal the trial court's orders, citing In re Miguel E., 120 Cal.App.4th 521 (2004). The Court of Appeal agreed with Miguel E. that, in general, a person from whom a child has been removed under Welfare & Institutions Code section 387 lacked standing to challenge the removal. However, when that person is a relative, the Court disagreed with Miguel E., because under Welfare & Institutions Code section 361.3, a relative has standing to appeal from a refusal to place a child with him or her (an argument that Miguel E. did not consider). Nevertheless, the Court of Appeal rejected the B.'s contentions of error and affirmed the trial court's orders. View "In re K.T." on Justia Law

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Prima Donna’s president, opened commercial bank accounts at Wells Fargo; he signed or agreed to be bound by several agreements, including wire transfer agreements. The commercial account agreement contained an arbitration agreement. A Prima employee was the victim of fraud and authorized wire transfers to foreign banks. Before Prima reported the fraud, $638,400 had been transferred and could not be recovered. Prima sued, alleging that Wells Fargo did not employ reasonable commercial standards of fair dealing and failed to follow the agreement's security procedures. The court ordered arbitration, stating “The fact that UCC provisions displace common law provisions and provide the law under which claims are analyzed" is unrelated to what type of fact-finder can apply that law. The arbitrator concluded that Wells Fargo was not liable for the loss. The court of appeal concluded the trial court properly ordered the matter to arbitration and confirmed the award. The court rejected arguments that the arbitration agreement was substantively unconscionable because the arbitrator would not necessarily decide the dispute under California law, because it denied Prima its right to a jury trial, or because of the limited nature of judicial review. The arbitration process allowed for discovery, an arbitrator who voluntarily recused himself after Prima expressed concern about his impartiality, a multi-day hearing, written discovery, evidentiary rulings, and a reasoned, written award that applied relevant California law, View "Prima Donna Development Corp. v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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Ruth Zapata Lopez was charged with two misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence with a prior conviction for driving under the influence. The Public Defender was appointed to represent her, and his deputy successfully moved to suppress evidence. The trial court then dismissed both counts in the interest of justice. The State appealed the suppression order. California Rules of Court, rule 8.851(a) and (b) allow the appellate division to appoint counsel only for an indigent defendant who has been “convicted of a misdemeanor.” Nevertheless, the Public Defender filed a request with the appellate division to appoint counsel for Lopez on appeal. The California Supreme Court has already held that, when the State appeals a suppression order in a misdemeanor case, the defendant, if indigent, has a right to appointed counsel. The Supreme Court remanded to the Court of Appeal to determine whether the Public Defender’s appointment for purposes of trial continued for purposes of the appeal, or whether, on the other hand, the appellate division had to appoint new counsel. The Court of Appeal held the appellate division had to appoint new counsel, because the trial court was not statutorily authorized to appoint the Public Defender under these circumstances. View "Gardner v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Kennith Evans was pulled over for driving with his off-road-only lights illuminated while on a "highway." After exhibiting signs of intoxication, Evans consented to a chemical breath test. Evans was notified his license was being suspended for driving a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or more. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) upheld the suspension after conducting an administrative hearing. Evans filed a petition for a writ of administrative mandate challenging the DMV's decision. Evans the appealed the superior court's denial of his writ petition. In his petition, Evans argued his suspension was not supported by substantial evidence: he contended he was allowed to use off-road lights inasmuch as the road he was on was not a "highway" as defined by section 24411 of the Vehicle Code. In addition, he claimed substantial evidence did not support the finding he was driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or more because the time entries on the notice indicate the arresting officer administered two chemical breath tests before he had had the opportunity to observe Evans for 15 minutes, as required by Title 17 of the California Code of Regulations. After review, the Court of Appeal determined Evans’ initial stop was lawful, the DMV and superior court properly considered the dispatch log and breath test results, and substantial evidence supported the superior court’s findings. View "Evans v. Shiomoto" on Justia Law