Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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In 2006, Alaybue pleaded no contest to two counts of second-degree murder (Pen. Code, 187) and two counts of attempted murder (sections 187, 664(a)) and admitted a gang allegation for each count. Alaybue was sentenced to concurrent indeterminate terms of 15 years to life on the second-degree murder convictions, consecutive to concurrent five-year determinate terms on the attempted murder convictions. In 2019, Alaybue petitioned to vacate his murder and attempted murder convictions under newly-enacted Senate Bill 1437. The trial court denied the petition, finding Senate Bill 1437 was unconstitutional because it impermissibly amended Proposition 7 (1978, increasing the penalty for first-degree murder) and Proposition 115 (1990, defining degrees of murder and addressing felony-murder liability). The court also found that Senate Bill 1437 did not apply to the crime of attempted murder. The court of appeal reversed. Senate Bill 1437 is constitutional, as it does not amend Propositions 7 and 115 and it does not violate the separation of powers doctrine by interfering with the executive’s prosecutorial functions and the finality of judgment. However, Senate Bill 1437 does not apply to the offense of attempted murder. On remand, the court may reconsider Alaybue’s petition, but only as to the murder convictions. View "People v. Alaybue" on Justia Law

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Penal Code section 1170.95, which became effective in January 2019, changed the application of the felony murder and natural and probable consequences theories of murder liability. It entitles certain defendants to petition the superior court for resentencing. Paige filed such a petition, which the trial court denied, based on the fact that Paige, although he was charged with felony murder, was convicted of voluntary manslaughter via a plea agreement. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments based on statutory interpretation and federal equal protection rights. The petitioning prerequisites and available relief indicate that the legislature intended to limit relief to those convicted of murder under a theory of felony murder or natural-and-probable consequences murder. Section 1170.95 is unambiguous and does not provide relief to persons convicted of manslaughter. It is not irrational to distinguish between those convicted of murder by plea and those convicted of voluntary manslaughter by plea. View "People v. Paige" on Justia Law

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Defendant Stephen Bradley was committed to the custody of the Department of State Hospitals for treatment and confinement as a sexually violent predator. Due to a series of continuances, defendant’s commitment trial did not begin until approximately three years after his probable cause hearing, and one year after he initially requested a trial. On appeal, defendant contended the Court of Appeal should have reversed the trial court’s judgment and order his release because the delay denied him his federal constitutional due process right to a timely trial. To this the Court disagreed and affirmed the trial court. View "California v. Bradley" on Justia Law

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Respondent Tyson Mayfield had an extensive criminal record that included multiple acts of violence against racial minorities. As a third-strike defendant, respondent was facing a mandatory prison sentence of 25 years to life. However, the trial court dismissed one of his prior strike convictions in the interest of justice under Penal Code section 1385 and sentenced him to five years in prison. The district attorney contended the dismissal constituted an abuse of discretion, and the Court of Appeal agreed. "Everything about respondent’s crime and his record shouts for application of the Three Strikes law. There is nothing about his criminal history or personal character that suggests he somehow falls outside the spirit of the Three Strikes law. We therefore reverse the judgment and remand the matter for further proceedings." View "California v. Mayfield" on Justia Law

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Bauer, an entertainment magazine publisher, appealed the denial of its special motion to strike the amended complaint of plaintiffs, Richard Simmons and Teresa Reveles. Simmons is a self-described health and fitness guru and Reveles is Simmons's live-in caretaker. Plaintiffs filed suit against Bauer after discovering that a private detective hired by Bauer unlawfully attached an electronic tracking device in Reveles' car. Plaintiffs also filed suit against the detective and the detective's sole proprietorship, LA Intelligence. The Court of Appeal affirmed the denial of the special motion and held that Bauer failed to demonstrate the conduct at the heart of the lawsuit — the unlawful use of the tracking device — is, as Bauer contends, conduct in furtherance of its exercise of the right of free speech in connection with issues of public interest under the anti-SLAPP statute. View "Simmons v. Bauer Media Group USA, LLC" on Justia Law

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While walking one evening in San Diego's College Area, Defendants Lula Sophia Gong Cotsirilos and Tess Elisabet Edman were stopped and cited for underage possession of alcohol in a public place. Although the State filed no written opposition and made no appearance at the suppression hearing, they did subpoena the two investigating officers. Rather than take evidence, the superior court granted the suppression motions based solely on the State's failure to respond or appear. The appellate division of the superior court agreed, concluding that while no written opposition was required, the State's failure to respond or appear compelled suppression. The Court of Appeal concluded that in the ordinary infraction case, the prosecution was not required to oppose a motion to suppress by filing an opposition brief or appearing at the suppression hearing. Instead, it could meet its burden to provide justification for a warrantless search by subpoenaing relevant law enforcement witnesses, who could in turn provide narrative testimony to the court in the same manner as would be permitted in the prosecution's absence at an infraction trial. Because the superior court concluded the prosecution's nonappearance in and of itself compelled suppression, the Court of Appeal reversed and remanded for a new hearing on the motions to suppress. View "California v. Cotsirilos" on Justia Law

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The attempted replacement of a fence led defendant Yi Chih Chen to threaten his neighbors with a shotgun. Following a jury trial, defendant was acquitted on felony charges but convicted on a misdemeanor brandishing charge and sentenced to 36 months of summary probation. At trial, his position was that he acted in defense of property. The Court of Appeal affirmed, finding that displays of deadly force were an unreasonable means of defending property where there is no home invasion or threat of death or serious bodily harm. View "California v. Chen" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Bill Sandlin filed a petition for mandamus relief to challenge the candidate statements submitted by Real Parties in Interest Ed Pope, Jaci Woods, and Frank McGill (Real Parties) in their candidacy for positions on the Irvine City Council. Petitioner alleged Real Parties’ candidate statements would mislead voters about the current city council’s actions and the facts concerning a failed referendum to relocate the site of a planned state veterans cemetery. Real Parties opposed the petition and filed a special motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute. While Real Parties’ anti-SLAPP motion was pending, the trial court denied the mandamus petition in its entirety, finding Petitioner’s challenge to Pope’s candidate statement was untimely, and finding he failed to establish Woods’s or McGill’s candidate statements were false, misleading, or otherwise barred by the Elections Code. The court then denied Real Parties’ anti-SLAPP motion as moot, and further found it was barred by the public interest litigation exemption to the anti-SLAPP statute. After reviewing their anti-SLAPP motion de novo, the Court of Appeal concluded the motion was not moot, the public interest litigation exemption was inapplicable, and the motion should have been granted. View "Sandlin v. McLaughlin" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jessie Reneaux was convicted by jury of inflicting corporal injury on his girlfriend, L.E., with whom he was cohabiting, guilty of false imprisonment of his girlfriend, and guilty of dissuading his girlfriend from testifying against him. He appealed, arguing: (1) the trial court violated his right to confront witnesses against him by allowing the girlfriend’s out of court testimonial statements to be admitted into evidence; and, (2) the trial court abused its discretion when it imposed consecutive rather than concurrent terms. In supplemental briefing, defendant contended that in light of the recent passage of Senate Bill No. 1393 (SB 1393), this matter should have been remanded to permit the trial court to consider whether it should exercise its newly-legislated discretion to strike or dismiss the prior serious felony conviction enhancements imposed under Penal Code section 667(a). To this, the State agreed. The Court of Appeal concluded defendant forfeited, by his own wrongdoing, his Sixth Amendment right to confront and cross-examine L.E., and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing defendant to consecutive prison terms. The Court therefore affirmed judgment of conviction, but remanded to the trial court for the limited purpose of allowing the trial court to exercise its sentencing discretion under Penal Code sections 1385 and 667(a) to strike or dismiss the prior serious felony conviction enhancements. View "California v. Reneaux" on Justia Law

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The State of California, represented by the San Diego County District Attorney, appealed the dismissal of all criminal charges against defendants Mario Aguilera, Jesus Castaneda, Ricardo Eaton, Daniel Gracia, William Sherman, and Jose Villanueva. Defendants were charged with multiple felonies, including robbery and carjacking arising from an aborted illegal drug transaction. The trial court found that defendants' constitutional right to due process was violated because the federal government refused defendants' requests to produce potentially exculpatory evidence in the possession of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). After review, the Court of Appeal concluded that neither due process nor any other constitutional provision required dismissal of the charges against defendants under the circumstances here. The dismissal order was therefore reversed. View "California v. Aguilera" on Justia Law