Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional 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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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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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

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Defendant-appellant Jhyy Demond Chubbuck, was convicted by a jury of one count of unlawful taking or driving a vehicle. In a bifurcated proceeding, the trial court found defendant had suffered a strike prior pursuant to Penal Code sections 667(b)-(i) and 1170.12(a)-(d), as well as a prison prior pursuant to Penal Code section 667.5(b). Defendant was sentenced to three years, doubled for the strike prior, and an additional one year for the prison prior, for a total of seven years in state prison. On appeal, defendant contended: (1) his conviction had to be overturned because the motorized equipment he allegedly drove or took did not qualify as a “vehicle” under Vehicle Code section 10851; (2) the jury’s verdict finding that he “took” or “drove” a vehicle in violation of Vehicle Code section 10851 was not supported by substantial evidence; and (3) the trial court’s finding that he suffered an offense qualifying as a strike under Penal Code sections 1170.12 and 667(b)-(i) was not supported by substantial evidence. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Chubbuck" on Justia Law

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Defendant Ricky Lee Cobbs was one of several young men who confronted "Kenny W." at the home of his fiancée. Defendant discovered his gun was missing. While defendant and others were kicking and beating Kenny W., one of the men pulled out a gun, and shot Kenny W. through the heart. At trial with codefendant Undrey Turner, the prosecution argued defendant was guilty of first degree murder on either of two theories: felony murder based on attempted robbery, and murder as the natural and probable consequence of assault and battery. On appeal, Cobbs argued his conviction for murder as the natural and probable consequence of assault and battery was invalid under California v. Chiu, 59 Cal.4th 155 (2014) and In re Martinez, 3 Cal.5th 1216 (2017), and both theories were invalid following changes enacted under Senate Bill No. 1437 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.) (Stats. 2018, ch. 1015, sec. 2 (SB 1437).) He contended the Court of Appeal should have vacated his conviction and directed the trial court to conduct further proceedings consistent with sections 188 and 189. The Attorney General agreed the first degree murder conviction was invalid under Chiu and Martinez, but argued the remedy should be the same as was provided in Chiu and Martinez: reverse the first degree murder conviction, and give the State the option of retrying the first degree murder count or reducing the conviction to second degree murder. The Court of Appeal agreed with the Attorney General, as SB 1437 applied retroactively only through its resentencing provision, which did not apply in this habeas proceeding. Accordingly, the Court vacated the first degree murder conviction and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Cobbs" on Justia Law

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Defendant Lonnie Schmidt managed a home foreclosure rescue operation, doing business as Second Opinion Services and Financial Services Bureau Limited. Following a lengthy jury trial in which he represented himself, defendant was convicted on four counts of prohibited practices by a foreclosure consultant, ten counts of filing false instruments, six counts of identity theft, and five counts of attempted grand theft. Defendant was sentenced to a total of 28 years in prison, plus one year to serve in the county jail. On appeal, defendant argued, and the State conceded: (1) insufficient evidence supported some of defendant’s convictions for grand theft; (2) the evidence did not support some of defendant’s convictions for filing false instruments; and (3) the trial court should have stayed his sentence for second degree burglary and attempted grand theft. The Court of Appeal agreed as to all these contentions and reversed judgment and sentence regarding those counts. The Court remanded the case for resentencing in light of this decision. View "California v. Schmidt" on Justia Law

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Alexander Stringer was convicted by jury of aggravated kidnapping to commit extortion or exact money or property from another person, three counts of aggravated kidnapping to facilitate carjacking, two counts of simple kidnapping, two counts of assault with a firearm, one count of child endangerment, two counts of felony possession of a firearm, and one count of robbery. Stringer admitted a prior serious felony conviction and two prior strikes under the three strikes law, and the jury returned true findings on several firearm enhancements. The trial court sentenced Stringer to an aggregate term of life without the possibility of parole, plus an additional 87 years to life, in state prison. Stringer appealed. After review of Stringer’s arguments on appeal, the Court of Appeal determined: (1) the jury instruction for aggravated kidnapping to commit extortion or exact money or property from another person contained a prejudicial legal error permitting the jury to find Stringer guilty on a legally invalid basis; (2) simple kidnapping to facilitate carjacking was a lesser included offense of kidnapping, and the State conceded as much. Therefore, the Court of Appeal reversed the aggravated kidnapping charge and accepted the State’s concession on simple kidnapping. Judgment was affirmed as to all other charges, and the Court left it to the State on whether to retry Stringer on counts affected by the faulty instructions. View "California v. Stringer" on Justia Law