Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Plaintiffs filed a petition for writ of mandate and a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief challenging statewide delays in the transfer of incompetent to stand trial (IST) defendants from county jails to DSH and DDS to begin substantive services. The trial court granted the petition in part, first finding that defendants systematically violate the due process rights of IST defendants in California who are committed to DSH pursuant to Penal Code section 1370 or to DDS pursuant to section 1370.1, subdivision (a)(1)(B)(i). The trial court found that due process requires defendants to commence substantive services for these IST defendants within 28 days of the date on which the order transferring responsibility for those defendants to DSH or DDS is served. The trial court denied the petition as to certain IST defendants charged with felony sex offenses who are committed to DDS pursuant to section 1370.1, subdivision (a)(1)(B)(ii) and (iii).The Court of Appeal concluded that defendants have systematically violated the due process rights of all IST defendants in California by failing to commence substantive services designed to return those defendants to competency within 28 days of service of the transfer of responsibility document, which is the date of service of the commitment packet for all defendants committed to DSH and the date of service of the order of commitment for all defendants committed to DDS. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment as to the issues raised in defendants' appeal, but reversed as to the issue raised in plaintiffs' cross-appeal. The court remanded to the trial court with directions to modify its order granting in part plaintiffs' petition for writ of mandate to reflect a uniform transfer of responsibility date for all IST defendants committed to DDS. View "Stiavetti v. Clendenin" on Justia Law

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Appellant Mark Sorden appealed his conviction for contempt of court for violating a Criminal Protective Order— Domestic Violence (CPO) issued in a prior action. The Court of Appeal determined Appellant did not meet his burden of establishing reversible error, finding: (1) Appellant could not collaterally attack the CPO in this action; (2) the trial court properly instructed the jury as to the meaning of “disturbing the peace” for purposes of the contempt conviction; (3) the trial court did not deny Appellant due process of law when it allowed the jury to consider evidence of cellphone tracking that was not presented at the preliminary hearing; (4) the trial court properly instructed the jury as to the meaning of “act of violence” for purposes of the conduct enhancement; (5) the trial court was not required to give a unanimity instruction for the conduct enhancement; and (6) without individual instances of trial court error, there could be no prejudice from “cumulative error.” The Court further concluded that, as Appellant and the Attorney General agreed, because Senate Bill No. 136 (2019-2020 Reg. Sess.; Stats. 2019, ch. 590, sec. 1, eff. Jan. 1, 2020) applied retroactively, the two one-year sentence enhancements based on prior prison terms should be stricken from the judgment. Accordingly, the Court modified the judgment to strike the two one-year sentence enhancements and otherwise affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Sorden" on Justia Law

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Eloy Gonzalez appealed a trial court’s postjudgment order denying his petition for resentencing pursuant to Penal Code section 1170.95. Gonzalez claimed the court improperly determined he was ineligible for resentencing as a matter of law. “Southside” gang members Gonzalez, Matthew Robert Miller, and Eduardo Vargas engaged in a series of armed robberies, one of which ended with Vargas shooting a robbery victim, Jesse Muro. Vargas was tried separately, convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to death. The Attorney General (AG) conceded section 1170.95 was constitutional but contended the court’s denial was nevertheless proper. The AG argued a person convicted of murder with a robbery-murder special circumstance before the Supreme Court’s decisions in California v. Banks, 61 Cal.4th 788 (2015), and California v. Clark, 63 Cal.4th 522 (2016), was barred from pursuing resentencing under section 1170.95 without first having obtained a writ of habeas corpus to set aside the special circumstance for insufficient evidence. To this, the Court of Appeal disagreed: because the record of conviction did not establish Gonzalez’s ineligibility for resentencing as a matter of law, the postjudgment order denying the petition for resentencing was reversed and the matter remanded with directions to issue an order to show cause (OSC) and to proceed in accordance with section 1170.95 (d). View "California v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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Defendant Joseph Jackson sought a youth offender parole hearing under Penal Code section 3051 as a result of his conviction in 1998 that included two counts of first-degree murder with multiple special circumstances, which counts resulted in a sentence of two consecutive terms of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). Defendant was 19 years old when he committed the homicides. In his October 2019 motion, defendant argued section 3051 violated his equal protection rights because he allegedly “is entitled to the same protections as any other person who violated the law at the same age whether it was murder without special circumstances, robbery, kidnapping or any other crime.” The trial court in November 2019 denied the motion, finding that defendant was statutorily ineligible for relief and that there was a rational basis for carving out from section 3051 offenders such as defendant who were convicted of first-degree special circumstance murder and sentenced to LWOP. On appeal, defendant reiterated his trial court argument that section 3051’s exclusion of persons over 18 years of age with LWOP sentences from its parole hearing provisions violated the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. Upon de novo review, the Court of Appeal concluded the carve out to section 3051 for offenders such as defendant serving a LWOP sentence for special circumstance murder was not an equal protection violation. View "California v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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In this case, two gang members were walking together in their gang’s territory where they both lived. Police detained the pair and arrested defendant after retrieving a knife from his pants pocket. A gang expert later opined (given these facts) defendant carried the knife for the benefit of, in association with, and with the intent to promote his gang. A jury found defendant guilty of carrying the concealed knife and found true a two-year gang enhancement. The Court of Appeal concluded there was insufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find the gang enhancement true beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court thus reversed defendant’s gang enhancement and remanded the matter so the trial court could conduct a new sentencing hearing. View "California v. Soriano" on Justia Law

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Defendant Malcolm Brewer and codefendants Glen Conway and Shane Williams participated in a string of armed robberies and attempted robberies, mostly of gas stations and convenience stores, in November and December 2017. In many of the robberies and attempted robberies, defendant personally used a firearm by displaying it to or pointing it at the victims. Defendant and his codefendants were charged in a 20-count amended information with numerous counts of robbery and attempted robbery with firearm enhancement allegations as well as one count of felon in possession of a firearm. Williams entered into a plea agreement. Defendant and Conway proceeded to trial together before separate juries. Defendant’s jury found him guilty of 11 counts of second degree robbery, two counts of attempted second degree robbery, and one count of felon in possession of a firearm. The trial court sentenced defendant, who had a strike prior, to an aggregate determinate term of 63 years. On appeal, defendant characterized his sentence as the functional equivalent of a life sentence without parole imposed on a developmentally disabled person, and contended it was cruel and unusual punishment in violation of federal and California Constitutions. The Court of Appeal rejected defendant’s contention that such a sentence categorically violated those constitutional provisions in the same way as imposition of the death penalty as to developmentally disabled adults and imposition of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) as to juvenile defendants. Accordingly, his convictions and sentence were affirmed. View "California v. Brewer" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal vacated and remanded the trial court's order granting respondent's anti-SLAPP motion to strike Brighton's cross-claim for fraud. The parties' dispute stemmed from a contract between respondent and Brighton where Brighton would pay respondent $3,000 for a one-day photo shoot. Respondent filed suit against Brighton, alleging that the company failed to pay her immediately upon completion of the photoshoot. Brighton cross-complained, asserting claims for declaratory relief and fraud.The court concluded that, even if it were to assume that respondent met her burden of showing that Brighton's cross-claim for fraud arose from protected conduct, reversal is required because Brighton has shown a probability that it will prevail on its claim. In this case, the evidence submitted shows that Brighton's fraud cross-claim has the requisite minimal merit where Brighton submitted evidence that respondent made a misrepresentation when she told the company to pay LA Models for her services during the photoshoot upon receipt of an invoice rather than immediately upon her "termination" as an employee when the shoot concluded; it can be inferred that plaintiff knew that misrepresentation was false based on her actions, she intended for Brighton to rely on her misrepresentation, and Brighton justifiably did so; and reliance on respondent's misrepresentation damaged Brighton by exposing it to $90,000 in waiting-time penalties plus attorney fees and costs— in addition to the costs Brighton incurred in defending itself against her lawsuit. View "Brighton Collectibles, LLC v. Hockey" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Antonio Moses, III, was convicted by a jury of: human trafficking of a minor; attempted pimping of a minor; and pandering. The district attorney sought review of the Court of Appeal’s decision, which the California Supreme Court granted. The case returned to the appellate court on remand; the Supreme Court reversed as to human trafficking, finding the Court of Appeal misinterpreted the applicable statute. Accordingly, pursuant to the Supreme Court’s ruling, in this case mistake of fact as to the age of the alleged victim was a potential defense under the attempt prong because here, count 1 involved an adult decoy, not an actual minor. Under these circumstances, Moses must have specifically intended to target for commercial sex acts a person he thought was a minor. During a retrial, the prosecution has to establish this element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury here was instructed to the contrary when the trial court included in its instructions the language of the statute, which stated mistake of fact as to age “is not a defense to this crime.” The use of such an instruction here constituted error. This error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt; judgment was therefore reversed and the case remanded for a new trial. View "California v. Moses" on Justia Law

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Defendant Eddie Ray Jones, Jr., kidnapped a grandmother, F., and her two-year- old granddaughter, E., while carjacking F.’s car in a restaurant parking lot. At defendant’s direction, F. drove him to a few locations. Eventually, defendant took over driving, parked the car, and forced F. to orally copulate him. At the beginning of this ordeal, defendant took F.’s cell phone so she could not call the police. After the oral copulation, defendant drove to another location, where he took money from F. and then allowed her to leave on foot with her granddaughter as defendant drove away in her car. Defendant would ultimately be convicted by jury of two counts of kidnapping during a carjacking, two counts of robbery, and one count of forcible oral copulation. With respect to each count, the jury also found defendant personally used a firearm in the commission of the offense. The trial court sentenced defendant to serve an aggregate determinate prison term of 33 years plus a consecutive indeterminate term of 32 years to life. On appeal, defendant contended: (1) the evidence was insufficient to support the enhancement for personal use of a firearm attached to the first robbery count, involving the taking of F.’s cell phone, because that robbery was complete before defendant displayed the gun in a menacing fashion; (2) the single larceny doctrine precluded defendant from being convicted of two robberies based on a single course of conduct; (3) the trial court violated Penal Code section 654 by imposing concurrent sentences for both robbery convictions; and (4) the abstract of judgment must be corrected. The Court of Appeal determined the abstract of judgment had be corrected. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "California v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Verizon California Inc.’s (Verizon) petitioned the California State Board of Equalization’s (Board) to reduce its assessments for the tax years 2008 through 2012. Verizon paid the taxes levied by the counties for each year based on the Board-assessed values set forth in its petitions. Verizon then joined with Board staff to seek approval from the Board of joint recommendations to lower the assessed values of its property set forth in its petitions. The Board approved the joint recommendations. Verizon then filed actions for refunds for the years 2008 through 2012 arguing that the Board should have adopted the valuations proposed in its petitions. The trial court consolidated the actions. The Board moved for summary adjudication of the claims on the ground the court lacked jurisdiction because in approving the Verizon/Board staff recommendations for reduced valuations Verizon failed to exhaust its administrative remedies with respect to the valuations it claimed in its petitions. The trial court granted the motion for summary adjudication of the consolidated actions based on the Board’s approvals of the parties’ joint recommendations for a reduction in assessed valuations. On this basis, the trial court concluded: “Because of the mutually agreed recommendation[s] on value, no disputed issues were presented to the Board for [tax years] 2008 through 2012. In each of those five years, the Board adopted the revised value that had been jointly recommended by Verizon and [the Board] staff, reducing Verizon’s tax basis by over $1.1 billion in the aggregate. [¶] . . .Verizon cannot ask the Board to adopt a jointly presented reduction in value, receive the agreed reduction, and then turn around and sue for a lower value than it asked the Board to adopt.” Verizon timely appealed the trial court’s decision, arguing again that the Board should have adopted the valuations it proposed in its petitions to the Board to reassess its property. The Court of Appeal determined the statutory ground of the actions required a “dispute” regarding the Board’s assessments of the property. Finding none, the Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Verizon California v. Board of Equalization" on Justia Law