Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Mark’s grandfather, McKie, created a trust in his will for the benefit of his wife, Yvonne. during her life and granted her a testamentary power of appointment over the remainder. If Yvonne did not exercise her appointment power, McKie’s children from a prior marriage and Yvonne’s son from a prior marriage would each take a one-quarter share of the remainder; if a child did not survive Yvonne, that child’s surviving issue would take that child’s share. The issue of each of the children had a contingent remainder interest in the trust, subject to divestment by Yvonne’s exercise of her appointment power. McKie died in 1988. His adult children settled claims against the estate unrelated to the trust, disclaiming any interest in the trust. In 1991, the probate court issued a distribution decree, specifying that the trust's remainder was to be distributed solely to Yvonne’s son or his issue. McKie’s grandchildren were not given notice; the Decree eliminated their contingent interests. Yvonne died without having exercised her power of appointment. Mark’s father predeceased Yvonne. Mark unsuccessfully petitioned to be recognized as a trust beneficiary under the will's default distribution provision. The court of appeal reversed. Mark had a property interest in the trust in 1991 and the Decree adversely affected his interest. Mark’s existence and address were reasonably ascertainable; due process required that Mark be given notice of the proceeding that resulted in the Decree and an opportunity to object. View "Roth v. Jelley" on Justia Law

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Defendant Fidel Mora-Duran waived preliminary hearing and pleaded no contest to felony marijuana cultivation. After his plea, but before sentencing, Proposition 64 was passed, which amended Health & Saf. Code section 11358 narrowing the scope of conduct constituting felony marijuana cultivation. Defendant asked the trial court to sentence him and redesignate his conviction as a misdemeanor. The trial court refused, explaining the parties had not agreed to that. The court then rejected the plea agreement and reinstated charges. After the prosecution filed an amended information, defendant pleaded no contest to felony marijuana cultivation under section 11358(d)(3)(C), a new provision enacted as part of Proposition 64 requiring proof of additional elements. Thereafter, defendant was placed on probation for two years on the condition that he serve a period in jail that amounted to time served. On appeal, defendant contended: (1) the trial court abused its discretion in rejecting the plea agreement; (2) his conviction should have been reversed because charges were added to the amended information after a preliminary hearing was waived in violation of Penal Code section 1009; and (3) his sentence violated the prohibition on ex post facto punishment. The Court of Appeal concluded defendant’s second contention had merit: the amendment to the information, though ostensibly filed pursuant to the same statute, constituted a significant variance from the original charges. Defendant's conviction under section 11358(d)(3)(C) was reversed, and the attendant sentence was vacated. The matter was remanded for further proceedings on the other charges. View "California v. Mora-Duran" on Justia Law

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James Turner pled guilty in 2007 to voluntary manslaughter, and admitted a gang allegation. While he was serving his 21- year prison term, the California Legislature enacted Senate Bill No. 1437 making certain changes to murder liability under felony-murder and natural-and-probable-consequences theories and provided a procedure for eligible defendants to petition for recall and resentencing. Turner filed a petition pursuant to newly enacted Penal Code section 1170.95(a), but the trial court summarily denied relief on the ground that he was ineligible as someone who "was not convicted of murder." On appeal, Turner argued section 1170.95 applied to defendants who were charged with murder under a felony-murder or natural-and-probable-consequences theory but pleaded guilty to manslaughter to avoid trial. The Court of Appeal found no ambiguity in the plain language of Senate Bill 1437 as to whether a defendant convicted of manslaughter was entitled to relief. Turner relied on language in section 1170.95 (a)(2) to suggest ambiguity existed. “But even if he were correct, the legislative history demonstrates that Turner is not entitled to relief.” Because the trial court did not err in summarily denying Turner's petition, the Court affirmed its order. View "California v. Turner" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal consolidated two appeals of two jury trials for defendant Adolfo Rodriguez Bermudez. The first trial involved the possession of a concealed dirk. The second involved an assault with a deadly weapon with a vehicle done to benefit a gang. Defendant was sentenced to a 21-year four-month aggregate term. On appeal, defendant contended: (1) the statute defining a dirk (Pen. Code sec. 16470) was unconstitutionally vague; (2) the trial court erred in allowing two officers to testify to the legal definition of a dirk; (3) a gang expert provided improper opinion testimony that defendant committed a crime to benefit a gang; and (4) insufficient evidence established the existence of a criminal street gang under Penal Code section 186.22 because testimony concerning the predicate felonies was admitted in violation of California v. Sanchez, 63 Cal.4th 665 (2016). In supplemental briefing, defendant contended: (5) remand was required so the trial court could consider exercising its discretion under Senate Bill No. 1393; and (6) the imposition of fines and fees violated his right to due process and freedom from excessive fines under California v. Duenas, 30 Cal.App.5th 1157 (2019). Finally, in a petition for rehearing, defendant contended: (7) his one-year prior prison term enhancement should have been struck in light of Senate Bill No. 136. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the dirk statute was not unconstitutionally vague. Second, the Court concluded the knowledge element rendered the statute definite enough to provide a standard for police enforcement and ascertainment of guilt. Furthermore, the Court held that a gang expert’s testimony about gang enhancement predicate offenses did not violate Sanchez so long as the predicate offenses did not involve defendant or individuals involved in the defendant’s case. "Such predicate offenses are chapters in a gang’s biography and constitute historical background information, not case-specific information." The Court struck the one-year prior prison term enhancement and remanded to allow the trial court to consider exercising its discretion under SB 1393. During that remand, as the State conceded, defendant could request a hearing on his ability to pay. In all other respects, the Court affirmed. View "California v. Bermudez" on Justia Law

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The State appealed a trial court's order: (1) granting Raheen Johnson's motion to dismiss the petition to revoke parole filed by the Division of Adult Parole Operations of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DAPO); and (2) transferring Johnson from parole supervision to postrelease community supervision (PRCS). The State, through the San Diego County District Attorney, contended, among other things, the trial court did not have the authority, in the context of a parole revocation proceeding, to transfer Johnson's supervision to PRCS. According to the State, a parolee could challenge his classification as an offender subject to parole supervision only by exhausting his administrative remedies with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and then, if necessary, filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus. The State also contended that even if the trial court had authority to transfer Johnson to PRCS, the transfer was barred by Penal Code section 3000.08(l), which permitted a transfer to PRCS only if the parolee had not yet served 60 days on parole supervision. The Court of Appeal determined the trial court had the authority to transfer Johnson's supervision to PRCS, and concluded the trial court properly concluded that the transfer was not barred by the 60-day time limit in section 3000.08(l). View "California v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Defendant Demetrious Marcus and an accomplice broke into an apartment occupied by an elderly couple and other family members. After robbing the victims at gunpoint, defendant and his partner left with various property and were chased by the son and grandson; the son was shot during the chase. A jury found defendant guilty of two counts of first degree robbery, assault with a firearm, and being a felon in possession of a firearm, and found true several enhancements for personal use of a firearm as well as allegations that defendant had suffered a prior strike, had a prior serious felony conviction, and had served a prior prison term. The trial court sentenced defendant to an aggregate term of 29 years in state prison. On appeal defendant contended the trial court erred in declining to excuse a juror who expressed concern for the safety of the alleged victims during deliberation, and by failing to recognize it had discretion to impose concurrent sentences for the robbery counts. He also sought a remand to allow the trial court, under recent statutory amendments, to exercise discretion to strike the prior serious felony enhancement. After review of the trial court record, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court misunderstood its discretion to impose concurrent sentences for crimes committed on the same occasion or arising under the same set of operative facts and agree with the parties that a remand is necessary to allow the court to consider striking the prior serious felony enhancement. The Court also noted the trial court failed to specify a sentence on count four and directed it to do so on remand. View "California v. Marcus" on Justia Law

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The California Department of Corrections Rehabilitation (Department) challenged a trial court ruling striking down its regulation excluding from early parole consideration inmates serving sentences for current nonviolent sex offenses requiring them to register under Penal Code section 290. On appeal, the Department claimed its regulation was supported by Proposition 57’s overarching goal of protecting public safety and the requirement that the Secretary of the Department certify the Department’s regulations enhanced public safety. The Court of Appeal determined the regulation at issue contravened the plain language of the statute, so it affirmed the trial court’s ruling. View "Alliance for Constitutional etc. v. Dept. of Corrections etc." on Justia Law

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In December 2018, E.F. (minor) and L.S. were ninth graders enrolled in the same art class in high school. For unknown reasons, minor offered L.S. a Cup of Noodles, microwaved it, and handed it to him. When L.S. went to drink the broth, it smelled of bleach and he threw it out. The juvenile court entered a temporary restraining order (TRO) and, subsequently, a three-year restraining order against E.F., charged with poisoning one of her high school classmates. Among other things, this appeal presents the following question: Is a prosecutor seeking a TRO under Welfare and Institutions Code section 213.5 required to give advance notice of her intent to do so (or is notice at the hearing where the TRO is requested sufficient)? The court in In re L.W., 44 Cal.App.5th 44 (2020) held that advance notice is required. The Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that express language in section 213.5 authorized courts to authorize TROs without notice in advance of the hearing. “The minor appearing at the arraignment with counsel is still notified of the prosecutor’s TRO application and has the opportunity to oppose the application. Because due process guarantees notice and the opportunity to be heard, the issuance of TROs under section 213.5 accords with due process and thus provides no basis to read section 213.5 in a counter- textual manner to avoid possible constitutional infirmity.” View "In re E.F." on Justia Law

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Tajay Johnson and Kevin Hairston were both convicted by jury of one count of second degree robbery, one count of carjacking, one count of kidnapping to commit robbery, and one count of kidnapping for the purpose of carjacking. Johnson was 17 years old when he committed the offenses. Charges were originally filed against him in criminal court. However, after voters enacted Proposition 57, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 during the pendency of the criminal proceeding, Johnson’s case was transferred to juvenile court to determine whether he was fit to proceed as a juvenile or should be tried as an adult. Both defendants were ultimately sentenced to life with the possibility of parole for each of the kidnapping offenses. The sentences for robbery and carjacking were stayed under Penal Code section 654. The Court of Appeal agreed with defendants and the State that carjacking was a necessarily included lesser offense of kidnapping for the purpose of carjacking, and therefore reversed defendants’ convictions for carjacking. The Court further agreed with both parties that the abstracts of judgment had to be amended and that defendants’ sentences needed to be clarified. Defendants also challenged the imposition of various fines and fees as due process violations under California v. Dueñas, 30 Cal.App.5th 1157 (2019). The Court concluded some of those claims were forfeited, and as to the remainder any error was harmless. A $40 crime prevention fine was stricken as unauthorized. Johnson singly argued that with respect to his being tried as an adult, he had a statutory right to a waive the juvenile fitness hearing, and his attorney could not do so in his behalf. The Court disagreed with Johnson's contention. The matter was remanded for correction of abstract, and for imposition of a statutorily mandated $10 fine instead. View "California v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The sole issue on appeal is whether defendant Christopher Strike’s prior gang participation conviction qualified as a strike under California's "Three Strikes" law. The State alleged defendant was convicted in 2007 of violating Penal Code section 186.22(a), and that this conviction was a prior serious felony under the Three Strikes law. Defendant waived his right to a jury trial on the prior conviction allegation. On appeal, defendant contended the trial court engaged in impermissible “judicial factfinding” in violation of his rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by finding facts that established his prior conviction qualified as a strike. The Court of Appeal found that at the time defendant entered his plea, an individual could be convicted of violating section 186.22(a) as a sole perpetrator. Five years later, in California v. Rodriguez, 55 Cal.4th 1125 (2012), the California Supreme Court clarified section 186.22(a) was not violated by a gang member acting alone but is violated only when an active gang member commits a felony offense with one or more members of his or her gang. During the trial proceedings in 2017, the court was tasked with determining whether defendant had admitted all the elements of section 186.22(a) as now understood, when, in 2007, he pleaded guilty to violating section 186.22(a); specifically, whether defendant had admitted committing a felony offense with at least one other member of his gang. The trial court considered not only the facts defendant admitted as the factual basis for his 2007 guilty plea, but also factual allegations in the 2007 charging document concerning the prior gang participation offense. Based on allegations in the charging document that the codefendant was a member of defendant’s gang, the court found defendant’s prior conviction constituted a strike. The Court of Appeal found that the record did not show that defendant admitted the factual allegations contained in the 2007 charging document as part of the factual basis for his guilty plea, therefore the trial court did indeed engage in impermissible judicial factfinding. Accordingly, defendant’s prior strike had to be stricken, his sentence vacated, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "California v. Strike" on Justia Law