Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Defendant Brian Koback walked into a rental car company office and stole a set of car keys. Defendant would ultimately be charged with and convicted of robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, and resisting arrest. Defendant admitted he had suffered a strike conviction, and the trial court sentenced him to state prison for 14 years four months. On appeal, defendant argued: (1) his conviction for assault with a deadly weapon was not supported by substantial evidence because there was no evidence he used the car keys in a manner that was capable of inflicting and likely to cause great bodily injury; (2) the trial court abused its discretion by imposing consecutive sentences on the robbery and resisting arrest counts, under the mistaken belief that it could only impose concurrent sentences if it struck defendant’s strike prior; (3) the minutes of sentencing and abstract of judgment did not accurately reflect the oral pronouncement of sentence with respect to restitution and parole revocation fines; and (4) the minutes of sentencing contained a clerical error, in that they reflected that defendant admitted two strike priors instead of one. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal concluded defendant’s conviction for assault with a deadly weapon was supported by substantial evidence: "a car key is not an inherently deadly or dangerous weapon, but if wielded as a makeshift weapon with sufficient force at close range, as defendant did here, a key is capable of puncturing skin and causing serious bodily injury." In the unpublished portion of this opinion, the Court concluded the trial court erred when it concluded the only way it could impose concurrent sentences on defendant’s robbery and resisting arrest convictions was if it first struck defendant’s admitted strike prior. The Court therefore reversed the sentence and remanded for the trial court to resentence defendant and to consider in the first instance whether concurrent sentencing was appropriate in this case. View "California v. Koback" on Justia Law

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Petitioners sought a writ of mandate directing the superior court to vacate its order denying their motion for summary judgment and issue an order granting the motion. The Court of Appeal issued a stay pending this court's resolution of the petition and an order to show cause why a writ of mandate should not issue. In this case, real party in interest's complaint alleged that petitioners' breakfast cereals were required by California's Proposition 65 to display cancer and reproductive harm warnings because they contain acrylamide. The court held that the Proposition 65 claim was preempted by federal law and granted the petition. The court directed the superior court to vacate its order denying petitioners' motion and enter a new and different order granting the motion. View "Post Foods, LLC v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment against plaintiff in an action alleging that Hughes violated the California Disabled Persons Act (DPA). Plaintiff alleged that under the DPA, the store was obliged to designate an accessible path of travel from the street to the store’s entrance that did not require wheelchair-bound patrons to travel behind parked vehicles. The court found no error in the trial court's conclusion that the 2013 CBSC standards applied to all the incidents identified in the first amended complaint; under the 2013 CBSC standards, Hughes was not required to provide an accessible route that did not pass behind parked cars for persons using wheelchairs; and the trial court did not err by determining that plaintiff failed to plead a signage-based claim. View "Baskin v. Hughes Realty, Inc." on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Antonio Torres of two counts of committing a lewd act with a minor under 14 years old, and found true the allegations that he had substantial sexual conduct with the minor. The court sentenced him to a total term of eight years and ordered him to pay various fines and fees, including victim restitution. Torres' appointed appellate counsel presented no argument for reversal, but asked the Court of Appeal to review the record for error on whether: (1) defense counsel was ineffective for failing to raise Miranda1 and voluntariness of confession issues; (2) sufficient evidence supported the lewd conduct and substantial sexual conduct findings; (3) the trial court erred by admitting a forensic interview into evidence; (4) the court erred when it gave the jury a pinpoint instruction defining masturbation; (5) the court erred by imposing the middle term sentence rather than the lower term sentence; and (6) the court erred by imposing consecutive sentences. The Court concluded that while the interrogation was not custodial when it began, the totality of the circumstances showed that it became custodial, and Torres should have received Miranda warnings when the detectives essentially told Torres that they would not leave, and he could not go home, until Torres told them the truth based on the evidence they had against him. The Court also concluded Torres would have prevailed on a suppression motion, and that the failure to file a suppression motion was prejudicial. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment based on ineffective assistance of counsel. Accordingly, it was unnecessary for the Court to consider the other issues raised. View "California v. Torres" on Justia Law

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In this wrongful death action, a jury found Deputy David Aviles liable for intentional battery by use of excessive force and Deputy Paul Beserra liable for negligence resulting in Darren Burley's death. The jury awarded plaintiffs $8 million in noneconomic damages and the trial court entered judgment against Aviles for the full amount of the award based on the jury's finding that he intentionally harmed Burley. The Court of Appeal agreed with defendants that Civil Code section 1431.2 mandates allocation of the noneconomic damages award in proportion to each defendant's comparative fault, notwithstanding the jury's finding of intentional misconduct. Therefore, the court directed the trial court to vacate the judgment and enter separate judgments for each of Deputies Beserra and Aviles, holding them liable for the noneconomic damages award in an amount proportionate to the jury's comparative fault determinations. The court also held that the summary adjudication order must be reversed because plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence to raise a triable issue as to whether the deputies acted intentionally in interfering with Burley's right to be free from unreasonable seizures. View "B.B. v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Ahmed operated a business selling medical marijuana products in Livermore, which has an ordinance that prohibits marijuana dispensaries. The city issued an administrative citation and ordered him to cease operations. Undercover officers subsequently purchased a small quantity of marijuana from Ahmed after being required to sign a membership agreement and produce identification, state medical marijuana cards, and physicians’ recommendations. Police searched Ahmed’s business and seized financial records, approximately $26,000 in cash, 18 pounds of marijuana, and 37 ounces of marijuana oils, wax, and edibles. They executed search warrants for Ahmed’s bank records, which reflected several cash deposits of between $1,000 and $11,000 and several purchases for personal rather than business purposes. Ahmed was charged with possession of marijuana for sale, money laundering, and transportation of marijuana. The prosecution successfully moved to preclude Ahmed from raising a medical marijuana defense. The judge instructed the jury that “[t]he law allows local jurisdictions to enact ordinances to regulate use of its land, including the authority to provide that facilities for distribution of medical marijuana will not be permitted to operate within its borders.” The court of appeal reversed Ahmed’s conviction. The court’s ruling barring Ahmed’s medical marijuana defense violated his constitutional right to present a defense. A local government's power over land use within its borders does not extend to, in effect, nullify a statutory defense to violations of state law. View "People v. Ahmed" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order dismissing plaintiffs' challenge to an amendment to California law that eliminated the previously existing "personal beliefs" exemption from mandatory immunization requirements for school children. Senate Bill No. 277 eliminated the personal beliefs exemption from the requirement that children receive vaccines for specified infectious diseases before being admitted to any public or private elementary or secondary school, day care center or the like. The court held that plaintiffs failed to cite any authority for their assertion that SB 277 violated freedom of religion and plaintiffs' free exercise claim was meritless; SB 277 did not violate plaintiffs' constitutional right to attend school; SB 277 did not violate the equal protection clause where the statutory classifications and exemptions plaintiffs disputed did not involve similarly situated children, or were otherwise entirely rational classifications; SB 277 was not void for vagueness where it was sufficiently clear to give fair warning of the required conduct; and SB 277 did not violate Health and Safety Code 24175 subdivision (a). View "Brown v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Minor A.R. (the Minor) challenged a dispositional order committing him to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice (hereafter, DJJ). At the time of the disposition hearing, the Minor was 18 years old. His history with the juvenile justice system began when he was 13 years old, and a petition was first filed against him. In 2012, he admitted two counts of residential burglary. and was declared a ward. Since then, he would be charged with various property crimes, culminating with burglary, robbery and use of a deadly weapon. He admitted to several probation violations, leading to the commitment order at issue here. The Minor argued the juvenile court abused its discretion in committing him to DJJ, on the grounds there was no substantial evidence that a less restrictive placement would be inappropriate or ineffective. He also argued the court erred by applying his custody credits to the overall maximum term of confinement, instead of the lower maximum term set by the court. In a supplemental brief, Minor argued there was no substantial evidence of probable benefit from the DJJ commitment, citing a recently decided case, In re Carlos J., 22 Cal.App.5th 1 (2018). The Court of Appeal rejected these contentions and affirmed the judgment. View "In re A.R." on Justia Law

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A jury found defendant Nathan Bussey guilty of unauthorized taking or driving of a vehicle and receiving a stolen vehicle. Before trial, defendant had entered pleas of no contest to two misdemeanor counts of possession of drug paraphernalia and driving with a suspended license. Defendant admitted certain recidivist allegations, and the trial court sustained the remainder. It then sentenced him to state prison for six years (after striking two of the recidivist findings). On appeal, defendant claimed the trial court erroneously ignored his pretrial request to act in propria persona. He also contended that he received an unauthorized sentence, asserting that the trial court should have designated both of his felony convictions as misdemeanors and sentenced him accordingly, because the statutes on which these convictions are based should be deemed to be included within the reach of a 2014 ballot proposition that reduced a number of offenses to misdemeanors (even though they were not expressly included in it). The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. The California Supreme Court granted review pending its disposition of “related issues” in other pending appeals. Then the Supreme Court decided California v. Page, 3 Cal.5th 1175 (2017), which concluded that a conviction for unlawfully taking a vehicle valued at less than $950 was eligible for resentencing under Penal Code section 1170.18; unlawful driving, on the other hand, was not an eligible offense. It then transferred this matter back to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration in light of Page. Having done so, the Court of Appeal conditionally reversed the conviction for unlawful taking or driving, vacated the sentence, and remanded for retrial on the election of the State and resentencing. View "California v. Bussey" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant, Anthony Esparza Cortez, Jr., a convicted felon, and his friend, Michael Saavedra, conspired to commit murder against Rene Perez, and his son-in-law, Alvino Barrera. While defendant drove, Saavedra fired a gun at Perez and Barrera in another car. Defendant and Saavedra then drove to the home of Guadalupe Valle, Perez’s relative by marriage. Armed with a rifle and a handgun, defendant and Saavedra fired more than 30 bullets into the house, which was occupied by 10 people. Defendant admitted having possession of the rifle used in the shooting, and of an assault rifle which is banned in California, as well as several rounds of ammunition. A jury convicted defendant of five charges: conspiracy to commit murder; being a felon in possession of a firearm; possessing firearms ammunition while prohibited from possessing a firearm; assault with a firearm; and possessing an assault weapon. The court sentenced defendant to an aggregate, determinate term of 29 years four months, followed by an indeterminate term of 25 years to life. On appeal, defendant claimed: (1) the trial court erred in not instructing the jury sua sponte on conspiracy to commit assault with a firearm and conspiracy to shoot at an inhabited dwelling as lesser included offenses of conspiracy to commit murder as charged; (2) the trial court erred in denying his requested self-defense instruction; (3) substantial evidence did not support the jury’s finding that defendant personally and intentionally discharged a firearm in the commission of conspiracy to commit murder; and (4) four sentencing errord, which the State conceded. The Court of Appeal remanded this matter to the trial court for the purpose of permitting the trial court to exercise its discretion as to whether to strike defendant’s firearm enhancement, and to make the other corrections to defendant’s sentence. In all other regards, the Court affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Cortez" on Justia Law