Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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This case involved a crime that started as an attempted robbery, and ended in the death of three individuals: the victim of the attempted robbery and two of the defendants' cohorts involved in that crime. A jury convicted defendant Steven Carter of one count of first degree murder and one count of attempted robbery. Defendant Michael Hall pled no contest to voluntary manslaughter, robbery, and an enhancement. Defendants raised separate sentencing challenges on appeal: Carter argued the court violated Penal Code section 654 when it sentenced him to consecutive terms for attempted robbery and first degree murder of the robbery victim; Hall argued the court abused its discretion in imposing a 12-year sentence under the terms of his plea agreement, and that errors were made in calculating his sentence. The Court of Appeal agreed the trial court erred in Hall's subsequent resentencing, but disagreed with Carter's and Hall's remaining sentencing challenges. California Senate Bill No. 1437 amended the murder statutes, sections 188 and 189, and enacted a new statute, section 1170.95 (Stats. 2018, ch. 1015, sections 2-4), establishing procedures for eligible defendants to seek resentencing. The Court concluded Carter and Hall could not raise their claims in this appeal; they had to first petition the superior court for relief under section 1170.95. Judgment as to Carter was affirmed; judgment as to Hall was affirmed as modified. View "California v. Carter" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's dismissal of plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (SAC) against the school district and six of its employees, alleging a pattern of harassment, discrimination and retaliation against her because she engaged in protected activities. The court held that the demurrer to the cause of action entitled, "Retaliation in Violation of Government Code Section 12940(h)" was properly sustained; the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying leave to add or amend the cause of action alleged for the first time in the SAC; failure to comply with the Government Claims Act bars the cause of action alleging violations of Labor Code section 1102.5; and the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied leave to amend despite plaintiff's PTSD. View "Le Mere v. Los Angeles Unified School District" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Richard Zamora of one count each of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon (handgun), robbery, and criminal threats. He was convicted on two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm. In a bifurcated proceeding, the court found true that Zamora had served four prior prison terms, had been convicted of three prior serious felonies, and had suffered three prior serious or violent felony convictions under the “Three Strikes” law. Two of the prison priors were reduced to misdemeanors and stricken, and a third was stricken for falling outside of the five-year rule. Zamora was sentenced to state prison for an aggregate term of 20 years, plus 100 years to life. Zamora appealed the attempted murder conviction, contending that there was insufficient evidence to support the finding that he had the specific intent to kill. He further contended one of the serious felony priors must be stricken and that the case should be remanded for resentencing under Senate Bills Nos. 620 and 1393 to permit the trial court to exercise its newly granted discretion as to whether to strike the firearm enhancements and to strike or dismiss the remaining serious felony conviction enhancements. The State conceded the points about the serious felony prior and the enhancements. The Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction and remanded for resentencing. View "California v. Zamora" on Justia Law

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A jury found defendants Luis Alberto Ramirez and Jose Roberto Armendariz committed two gang-related murders when they were juveniles. The trial court originally sentenced Ramirez to life without the possibility of parole, plus 65 years to life, and it sentenced Armendariz to 90 years to life. Eventually, the Court of Appeal reversed the sentences and remanded the matter to the trial court for resentencing. Following remand, Proposition 57 was enacted. The California Supreme Court held Proposition 57 applied retroactively to all cases not yet final at the time it was enacted. Thereafter, defendants filed a motion requesting the superior court remand their case to the juvenile court per Proposition 57. Over the prosecutor’s objections, the court granted the motion and ordered the matter transferred to the juvenile court. The District Attorney sought review of the trial court’s transfer order via writ and direct appeal. The Court of Appeal summarily denied the District Attorney’s petition for a writ of mandate or prohibition, leaving only this appeal. Defendants moved to dismiss the instant appeal, contending the trial court’s transfer order was not appealable. The Court of Appeal denied: "Notwithstanding the fact this court reversed defendants’ sentences, the transfer order is appealable under Penal Code section 1238 (a)(5), as an 'order made after judgment, affecting the substantial rights of the people.'” Judgments were entered when the initial sentences were imposed. While the sentences were reversed and resentencing ordered, the resentencing would result in modified judgments, not new judgments. Because the transfer order affects the State's ability to enforce the modified judgements, it was appealable under Penal Code section 1238 (a)(5). On the merits, the District Attorney contended the trial court lacked authority to order the matter transferred to the juvenile court because the transfer order exceeded the scope of the remittitur; District Attorney conceded defendants were entitled to the benefit of Proposition 57. In light of Proposition 57 and California v. Superior Court (Lara), 4 Cal.5th 299 (2018), the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court properly transferred the matter to the juvenile court to hold a transfer hearing. View "California v. Ramirez" on Justia Law

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This case had its origins in a shooting at a crowded bar. Defendant Shane Warner took a semiautomatic hand gun, concealed in his waistband into a bar and shot across the bar’s semi-dark dance floor, illuminated by a strobe light, at I. Smith, who had attacked him a few weeks earlier. Defendant emptied the gun’s clip of 10 bullets and wounded, but did not kill his primary target, Smith, and wounded, but did not kill an innocent bystander, N.C. Defendant claimed to have acted in self-defense, but there was no evidence that Smith was armed. Defendant was charged with two counts of attempted murder and one count of assault with a semiautomatic firearm. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the attempted murder of Smith, and the prosecution eventually dismissed that count. The jury acquitted defendant of the attempted murder of N.C., but found him guilty of the lesser included offense of attempted voluntary manslaughter. The jury convicted defendant of assaulting N.C. with a semiautomatic firearm. The trial court sentenced defendant to 22 years in prison. Defendant argued on appeal the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction for attempted voluntary manslaughter because he did not intend to kill N.C: he argued it was error to allow the prosecution to infer intent from a “kill zone” theory, and to so instruct the jury. The Court of Appeal concluded it was not an error to allow the prosecution to argue on such a theory: "Defendant’s actions in shooting a gun multiple times at a group of people on a crowded, semi-dark dance floor provided facts from which a reasonable jury could infer he intended to kill people on the dance floor, including N.C." View "California v. Warner" on Justia Law

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Defendant David Richard Bates was tried by jury and found guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of M.H. He was sentenced to 18 years in state prison. On appeal, defendant contended the trial court erred in refusing his request to instruct the jury regarding the effect of the victim’s past harmful or threatening conduct on the reasonableness of a defendant’s belief in the need for self-defense. He also challenged the imposition of a five-year prior serious felony enhancement under Penal Code section 667 (a)(1) on several grounds: (1) the sentence was unauthorized because the information did not allege such an enhancement nor did he admit a prior serious felony conviction for that purpose; (2) it violated due process because he was given inadequate notice of the enhancement; (3) his counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to object to the enhancement; and (4) even if the enhancement was proper, the matter must be remanded to allow the trial court to exercise newly granted discretion to strike the prior serious felony enhancement under Senate Bill No. 1393 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.). The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court did not err in declining to give defendant’s requested instruction, but that the court improperly imposed a five-year term for a prior serious felony enhancement under section 667(a)(1). The Court struck the unauthorized enhancement and affirmed the judgment as modified. View "California v. Bates" on Justia Law

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Defendant Sara Salcido provided immigration services. Under the Immigration Consultant Act (Act), with certain exceptions, it is illegal for a person to act as an “immigration consultant” (as defined in the Act) unless he or she has complied with a host of consumer protection requirements, such as passing a background check and filing a bond. Defendant failed to comply with these. As a result, defendant was convicted on one count of misdemeanor unlawfully engaging in the business of an immigration consultant. The State argued, however, that each time defendant took money from a client in exchange for providing immigration services, she was committing theft by false pretenses, because she was not a legally qualified immigration consultant under state law. The trial court agreed; thus, it also convicted her on six counts of grand theft, and two counts of petty theft. It dismissed two additional counts of grand theft as time-barred. Defendant was placed on probation for five years. Defendant contended the Act was preempted by federal law. She demurred to the complaint on this ground. The Court of Appeal determined federal law did not preempt the application of the Act to defendant. View "California v. Salcido" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jedadiah Bolding was convicted of one count of grand theft and eight counts of money laundering. On appeal, he challenged his money laundering convictions, in part, on the ground that the prosecution failed to offer sufficient evidence tracing the illegally obtained money to the monetary transactions involved in each of the money laundering counts. After review, the Court of Appeal determined there was sufficient evidence supporting defendant’s money laundering convictions based on the language of Penal Code section 186.10(a), and current analogous federal law on money laundering. In the unpublished portions of its opinion, the Court concluded: (1) there was sufficient evidence of money laundering in count 25 of the operative charging document; (2) defendant forfeited an issue regarding the jury instructions for the money laundering counts; (3) the sentencing enhancements for white collar crime should have been reversed; (4) the trial court did not err by imposing consecutive rather than concurrent sentences on the money laundering counts; and (5) the minute order and abstract of judgment must be amended to reflect the correct amount of defendant’s custody credits. View "California v. Bolding" on Justia Law

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A jury found Rennard Cawkwell guilty of communicating with a minor with the intent to commit a specified sex offense, and annoying or molesting a child. The trial court sentenced him to four years in prison and ordered that he register as a sex offender under Penal Code 290. After Cawkwell was sentenced, the California Legislature established a diversion program for defendants diagnosed with qualifying mental health disorders. A few months later, the Legislature amended the diversion scheme to eliminate eligibility for defendants charged with (as relevant here) offenses that require registration under section 290. Cawkwell's only contention on appeal was that the Court of Appeal remand his case back to the trial court for consideration of a mental health diversion for him under section 1001.36. To this end, he asked the Court of Appeal to conclude: (1) Penal Code section 1001.36 as originally enacted, applies retroactively; and (2) the subsequent amendment eliminating eligibility for certain defendants (like Cawkwell) could not apply retroactively due to the ex post facto clauses of the state and federal Constitutions. The Court concluded that because all relevant legislative activity occurred years after Cawkwell committed his offenses, he could not have relied on the prospect of receiving diversion when he committed his offenses. Thus, the amendment eliminating eligibility for sex offenders like Cawkwell was not an ex post facto law. Accordingly, assuming (without deciding) the mental health diversion statute would otherwise apply retroactively to Cawkwell, he would nevertheless be ineligible for diversion. Therefore, the Court affirmed Cawkwell's conviction. View "California v. Cawkwell" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Gregory White challenged the constitutionality of his conviction for second degree felony murder on the basis of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), and petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus. Petitioner and a friend were "pulling" methamphetamine from Coleman fuel canisters when burning fuel splashed back on the friend's face, burning him. Petitioner managed to put the flames out, leaving him with a third friend to drive the burned-friend (Rhea) to the hospital. Rhea friend died as a result of his injuries; eventually, Petitioner was questioned by law enforcement. Petitioner was charged in a two-count information with the murder of Rhea (count 1) and with manufacturing methamphetamine (count 2). It was further alleged that defendant had one prison prior, and had a prior conviction for possessing ephedrine for the manufacture of methamphetamine, an enhancement in count 2. On count 1, the jury was instructed on second degree implied malice murder and second degree felony murder. The evidence showed that an explosion occurred while defendant and Rhea were manufacturing methamphetamine. Rhea suffered extensive second and third degree burns, and later died of his injuries. The jury found defendant guilty of second degree felony murder; guilty as charged in count 2; and found the prison prior and enhancement allegations true. The jury specially found that the murder “occurred during the commission of the crime of manufacturing methamphetamine” and that the murder “was not committed with implied malice.” On appeal, petitioner contended the United States Supreme Court’s Johnson ruling (that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C.S. section 924(e)(2)(B)(ii) (hereafter ACCA), was unconstitutionally vague and failed to meet the due process requirement of notice to potential defendants but invites arbitrary enforcement by judges) applied equally to California’s second degree felony-murder rule. After careful consideration, the Court of Appeal could not find Petitioner was entitled to a reversal under Johnson, therefore his request for a writ of habeas corpus was declined. View "In re White" on Justia Law