Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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In this declaratory relief action, the trial court ruled the Orange County Department of Education (Employer) had to pay approximately $3.3 million in additional contributions to fund pension benefits promised to its employees. Employer argued the Court of Appeal should independently review the legal issues raised in its complaint because the judgment arose from an order granting a motion for judgment on the pleadings. Applying this standard, the Court nevertheless reached the same conclusion as the trial court: the requested payment from Employer, which related to an unfunded liability of its employees’ pension benefits, was permissible and did not violate the California constitution. View "Mijares v. Orange Co. Employees Retirement System" on Justia Law

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Defendant Cornelius Jones appealed his conviction of attempted premeditated murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and assault likely to produce great bodily injury. He argued on appeal: (1) the trial court erred by ruling the prosecution did not unconstitutionally excuse the sole potential African-American juror on the basis of race; (2) insufficient evidence supported the jury s finding he attempted to kill willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation; (3) the court imposed an unauthorized sentence; and (4) the court committed other sentencing and clerical errors. The California Supreme Court directed the Court of Appeal to vacate our earlier opinion in this matter and reconsider the cause in light of Senate Bill No. 1393 (Stats. 2018, ch. 1013) (SB 1393). Thus, defendant also contended: (5) the Court of Appeal should remand to allow the trial court to exercise its new discretion under SB 1393 to strike two five-year enhancements imposed for a serious felony prior. Except to remand to correct the sentencing and clerical errors, but not to reconsider the felony prior enhancements, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs challenged a Monterey County ordinance limiting to four the number of roosters that can be kept on a property without a permit. A permit application must include a plan describing the “method and frequency of manure and other solid waste removal,” and “such other information that the Animal Control Officer may deem necessary.” A permit cannot be issued to anyone who has a criminal conviction for illegal cockfighting or other crime of animal cruelty. The ordinance includes standards, such as maintaining structurally sound pens that protect roosters from cold and are properly cleaned and ventilated and includes exemptions for poultry operations; members of a recognized organization that promotes the breeding of poultry for show or sale; minors who keep roosters for an educational purpose; and minors who keep roosters for a Future Farmers of America project or 4-H project. The court of appeal upheld the ordinance, rejecting arguments that it takes property without compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment; infringes on Congress’ authority to regulate interstate commerce; violates the Equal Protection Clause; is a prohibited bill of attainder; and violates the rights to privacy and to possess property guaranteed by the California Constitution. View "Perez v. County of Monterey" on Justia Law

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An order made after judgment affecting a defendant’s substantial rights is appealable. However, once a judgment is rendered, except for limited statutory exceptions, the sentencing court is without jurisdiction to vacate or modify the sentence, except pursuant to the provisions of section 1170 (d). Defendant’s motion for resentencing was not based on the trial court’s limited authority to resentence under section 1170(d). Instead, defendant argued he was entitled to resentencing under the recently enacted Senate Bill No. 620. Having concluded defendant has appealed from a nonappealable order, the Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal. View "California v. Fuimaono" on Justia Law

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After months of investigation by police, with the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and authorities in Kansas City, Missouri, Peter Johnson and Ian Patrick Guthrie were arrested and eventually charged with murder and assault with a semiautomatic firearm for the shooting death of Lamar Canady in 2014. The investigation into Canady's death revealed Johnson and Guthrie were participants in a conspiracy to kill Canady led by drug kingpin Omar Grant, who ordered a hit on Canady, executed by Johnson with help from Guthrie and other uncharged coconspirators. After the trial, which was conducted jointly but with separate juries, Johnson and Guthrie were both convicted of first degree murder. Johnson's jury also found true the allegation that Johnson personally discharged a firearm resulting in Canady's death. Johnson and Guthrie appeal their convictions on various grounds; the Court of Appeal concluded these claims lacked merit and affirmed both men's convictions. However, while the appeal was pending, the Court granted Johnson's motion to file a supplemental brief to explain the impact of the newly enacted Penal Code section 12022.53(h) on his sentence. The Attorney General conceded the change in law applied to Johnson, but argued the record showed the trial court would not have struck the firearm enhancement even if it had had discretion to do so. Although the Court of Appeal agreed there was some support in the record for the State's position, section 12022.53(h) was not effective when the trial court sentenced Johnson and the court lacked the discretion to strike the firearm enhancement. After the Court of Appeal issued its opinion, the California Supreme Court accepted certiorari review of Guthrie's case, and denied Johnson. The Court mandated the appellate court review its decision in light of the recently enacted Senate Bill 1393 (Stats. 2018, ch. 1013). As with the changes in 2018 to section 12022.53, the Attorney General conceded the law applied retroactively to Guthrie's case, but argued remand was futile because the record was clear that the trial court would not have struck the enhancement had it had discretion to do so. Although the trial court indicated it would not strike the serious prior felony enhancement even if it had the discretion to do so, Guthrie did not have the opportunity to address the question. Therefore, "out of an abundance of caution," the Court of Appeal remanded the matter for the limited purpose of allowing the trial court to consider whether to strike the firearm sentencing enhancement imposed on Johnson and to consider whether to strike the serious prior felony enhancement imposed on Guthrie. View "California v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff, Edward Joseph Mahoney's drummer, was terminated, plaintiff filed suit against Mahoney and others for discrimination on the basis of age, disability, and medical condition. In this appeal, defendants challenged the trial court's denial of a special motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 (the anti-SLAPP motion). The Court of Appeal held that defendants met their burden to establish that Mahoney's decision to terminate plaintiff was protected conduct. The court held that Mahoney's selection of musicians to perform with him was an act in furtherance of the exercise of the right of free speech, an act in connection with an issue of public interest, and plaintiff's first cause of action arose from Mahoney's decision to terminate him. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for the trial court to determine whether plaintiff has demonstrated a probability of prevailing on the merits of his claim. View "Symmonds v. Mahoney" on Justia Law

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In 1992, Victor Lee Ellis was sentenced to prison for seven years and was accessed a fine under Penal Code section 1202.4, which qualified for garnishment under section 2085.5(a). In 1999, Ellis finished serving his prison sentence. Ellis returned to prison in 2011. Under section 2085.5 (a), the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation resumed deducting a portion of Ellis's prison wages based on the fine arising out of his 1992 crime. Ellis argued maintains the CDCR did not have authority to garnish his prison wages under section 2085.5(a) because he was no longer in custody for the 1992 crime. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that if Ellis still owed a portion of a qualifying fine and was an inmate in a California prison, the CDCR could deduct a portion of his prison wages. Therefore, the superior court did not err in denying Ellis' motion to vacate restitution. View "California v. Ellis" on Justia Law

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Defendant Tyrus Hull appealed his conviction for assaulting Marqurus Bonner with a deadly weapon (motor vehicle), for which he was sentenced defendant to two years in state prison. On appeal, defendant argued: (1) the trial court erred in admitting at trial a prosecution witness' preliminary hearing testimony after he invoked the right to remain silent because the defense did not have the opportunity to cross-examine the witness about a prior criminal conviction not disclosed by the prosecution until after the preliminary hearing or about alleged threats made to defendant’s wife the day after defendant’s arrest; (2) instead of allowing the prior testimony, either the trial court or the prosecutor should have provided the witness use immunity and the prosecutor failed to adequately explain his reason for declining to provide immunity; (3) the manner of reading the preliminary hearing testimony was inappropriate and imputed the demeanor of the reader to the witness; and (4) counsel at his preliminary hearing was constitutionally ineffective for failure to cross-examine the witness regarding his alleged participation in threatening and intimidating defendant’s wife the day after the alleged assault occurred. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal concluded: (1) the trial court was not required to grant immunity, because the defense did not establish that what it hoped to gain by cross-examination was clearly exculpatory and essential; (2) the prosecution was not obligated to explain not giving the witness immunity because the defense failed to show that the testimony it hoped to gain was clearly exculpatory and essential, and because defendant did not clearly assert that the prosecutor’s refusal to grant immunity was prosecutorial misconduct; (3) failure to disclose the witness’s criminal history before the preliminary hearing deprived defendant of the opportunity to cross-examine the witness about it at the preliminary hearing, but this error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt; and (4) the defense could not forgo cross-examining a witness at a preliminary hearing about information then known to defendant or the defense team and later prevent the introduction of the preliminary hearing testimony at trial under Evidence Code section 1291 on the grounds that the defendant did not have the same motive or opportunity for cross-examination at the preliminary hearing. In the unpublished portion of its opinion, the Court concluded further there was nothing inappropriate about the reading of the preliminary hearing testimony, and that defendant failed to establish ineffective assistance of counsel. View "California v. Hull" on Justia Law

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Veronica Aguayo hit her elderly father about 50 times with a bicycle lock and chain, then threw a ceramic pot on his head. Aguayo was working on her bicycle in her parents' yard. Her 72-year-old father (Father) turned on the sprinklers to water the plants, accidentally wetting Aguayo's cell phone charger. A jury found her guilty of assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm and assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury (force-likely assault). The trial court placed her on probation. Aguayo appealed. In the Court of Appeal's original opinion, it rejected the sole issue Aguayo initially asserted: that the Court had to vacate her conviction for force-likely assault because it was a lesser included offense of assault with a deadly weapon. Aguayo then filed a petition for rehearing in which she challenged the reasoning of the first opinion and asserted a new argument based on legislation enacted while this appeal was pending. Specifically, she argued that newly enacted Penal Code sections 1001.35 and 1001.36, which grant trial courts the discretion to place defendants with mental disorders into pretrial diversion, apply retroactively to her case. The Court once again rejected the lesser-included-offense argument Aguayo originally raised. With respect to the newly raised issue here, the Court concluded the mental health diversion legislation applied retroactively; Aguayo made a showing of potential eligibility sufficient to warrant a remand for further proceedings. View "California v. Aguayo" on Justia Law

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In exchange for a stipulated 11-year sentence and the dismissal of other counts, Justin Michael Wright pleaded guilty to transporting a controlled substance. He also admitted having a strike prior and one prior conviction for a violation of Health & Safety Code section 11351.5, thereby triggering the imposition of a three-year enhancement under section 11370.2(a). In a written plea agreement, Wright waived his right to appeal, including among other things, "any sentence stipulated herein." The court sentenced Wright to the stipulated 11-year prison term, which consisted of the four-year midterm doubled for the strike prior, plus a three-year enhancement under 11370.2(a). In October 2017 the Governor signed Senate Bill No. 180, which amended section 11370.2, effective January 1, 2018, to limit the scope of the enhancement to apply only to prior convictions for a violation of section 11380.2. Wright appealed, contending the ameliorative provision of the amended section 11370.2 applied retroactively because he case was not yet final, and the Court of Appeal should have vacated the now-inapplicable three-year enhancement. The Court of Appeal concluded Wright did not waive the right to appeal future sentencing error based on a change in the law of which he was unaware at the time he entered his plea. Accordingly, Wright's conviction was affirmed, but his sentence was reversed and the case remanded to the trial court with directions to strike the section 11370.2(a) enhancement and to resentence Wright accordingly. View "California v. Wright" on Justia Law