Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Manuel Saldana was a 58-year-old legal Mexican immigrant with a sixth grade education who, with no notable criminal history, was charged with committing lewd acts on three girls, G.H. (age 11), M.H. (age 8), and Y.H. (age 6) (collectively the children), who lived in the trailer park where he resided. The veracity of the children's claims was open to question. Left mostly unsupervised, the eight-year-old and the 11-year-old​ watched a daily television soap opera which frequently depicted adult themes. After watching, the girls acted out episodes themselves. The day before accusing Saldana of molesting them, they watched an episode involving child molestation. In a police station interrogation (with no Miranda advisements) Saldana confessed to inadvertently touching G.H. and M.H. on the vagina, outside their clothes. The jury watched a video of his confession and during deliberations asked to watch it again. About two hours later, the jury found Saldana guilty of four counts of committing lewd acts, violating Penal Code section 288(a). The court sentenced Saldana to six years in prison. Saldana raised numerous issues on appeal; however, the crux of this case was whether Saldana was subjected to a custodial interrogation. Saldana denied the accusations more than 25 times, but ultimately, he confessed, stating he inadvertently touched M.H. and G.H. twice on the vagina, over their clothes. In response to the prosecutor's question, Saldana testified he believed he could not leave the police station unless he confessed. The Court of Appeal found it appropriate for police to use the kind of interrogation techniques used in this matter. "However, when police create an atmosphere equivalent to that of formal arrest by questioning a suspect who is isolated behind closed doors in a police station interrogation room, by repeatedly confronting him with the evidence against him, repeatedly dismissing his denials, and telling him at the outset he is free to leave, when all the objective circumstances later are to the contrary, Miranda is triggered." The Court of Appeal found the trial court prejudicially erred in receiving Saldana's confession into evidence. Accordingly, it reversed the judgment. View "California v. Saldana" on Justia Law

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Defendants Rodolfo Villa and Michael Almeda appealed their convictions of first degree murder. They both contended the trial court erred by admitting evidence of Villa’s jailhouse confession and by failing to instruct on the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter. Villa also contended the court erred by admitting uncharged offense evidence. Almeda also contended the court erred by denying his motion for severance. Both defendants claimed cumulative error. Finding no reversible errors leading to cumulative error, the Court of Appeal affirmed both defendants’ convictions. View "California v. Almeda" on Justia Law

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Defendant was stopped for a traffic infraction. The vehicle was searched following the deputy’s decision to impound it. Methamphetamine was found in a hidden compartment. Defendant was charged with possession for sale and transportation of methamphetamine and driving with a suspended license, with four prior narcotics convictions. Deputy Dorsey testified that the deputy who had initiated the stop found four blue baggies of equal size filled with a white substance in a paper bag under the driver’s seat. She showed those baggies to Dorsey. After field testing for cocaine produced negative results, Dorsey concluded it was a cutting agent, then noticed that the radio console “looked loose,” and suspected a hidden compartment. Using his pocket knife, Dorsey removed the loose console and between the air conditioning ducts behind the stereo, found bags of a white crystalline substance that he recognized as methamphetamine. Dorsey was trained in recognizing how illegal drugs are packaged and transported and was accepted as an expert. The court denied the motion to suppress. Defendant pleaded no contest. The court of appeal affirmed. While removal of the console exceeded the scope of a permissible inventory search, the search was supported by probable cause, based on the discovery of the baggies, and was lawful under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. View "P.eople v. Zabala" on Justia Law

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In an eminent domain matter, the condemning agency, Tri-City Healthcare District (Tri-City), made a pretrial deposit of $4.7 million and sought to take immediate possession of the subject property, a partially completed medical building. Medical Acquisition Company, Inc. (MAC) stipulated to Tri-City's possession of the building and withdrew the $4.7 million deposited under the "quick-take" provision of the California Constitution. The eminent domain matter was consolidated with another case involving a lease between the parties and ultimately proceeded to trial where a jury determined just compensation for the taking was nearly $17 million. The court subsequently ordered Tri- City to increase its deposit by about $12.2 million. Among other procedural maneuvers, Tri-City filed a notice of abandonment of the eminent domain proceeding. However, the superior court granted MAC's motion to set aside the abandonment. Tri-City appealed that order in addition to the judgment. MAC argued that after judgment, withdrawing a deposit made in an eminent domain action was governed solely by Code of Civil Procedure section 1268.140. Under that section, MAC contended the superior court could not impose any undertaking regarding the prompt release of a deposit to a single claimant after judgment has been entered. In addition, MAC argued the bonding requirement here frustrated the purpose of the quick-take provision of the California Constitution, and thus, should be declared unconstitutional. This was a matter of first impression for the Court of Appeal. After review, the Court concluded MAC was correct that any postjudgment withdrawal of a deposit in an eminent domain case was governed by section 1268.140. However, that provision allowed a court, in its discretion, to impose an undertaking upon objection by any party to the proceeding. The Court concluded MAC did not show how the trial court abused its discretion under section 1268.140. Additionally, the Court determined that MAC's contention that the bonding requirement was unconstitutional was without merit. As such, the Court of Appeal denied the requested relief. View "Medical Acquisition Company v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Clews Land and Livestock, LLC; Barbara Clews; and Christian Clews (collectively, CLL) appealed a judgment in favor of defendant City of San Diego (City) on CLL's petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, violation of procedural due process, and equitable estoppel. CLL challenged the City's approval of a project to build a private secondary school on land neighboring CLL's commercial horse ranch and equestrian facility and the City's adoption of a mitigated negative declaration (MND) regarding the project. CLL contended the City should not have adopted the MND because the Cal Coast Academy project would cause significant environmental impacts in the areas of fire hazards, traffic and transportation, noise, recreation, and historical resources, and because the MND identified new impacts and mitigation measures that were not included in the draft MND. CLL further argued the City should not have approved the project because it is situated in designated open space under the applicable community land use plan and because the City did not follow the provisions of the San Diego Municipal Code (SDMC) applicable to historical resources. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded CLL's challenge to the MND was barred because it did not exhaust its administrative remedies in proceedings before the City. In doing so, the Court rejected CLL's argument that the City's process for administrative appeals (at least as implicated by this project) violated the California Environmental Quality Act by improperly splitting the adoption of an environmental document (e.g., the MND) from the project approvals. In addition, the City complied with all applicable requirements of the SDMC regarding historical resources and the City's approval of the project did not conflict with the open space designation because the project would be located on already-developed land. View "Clews Land & Livestock, LLC v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded no contest to stalking his ex-wife (Penal Code section 646.9(a)). As part of a negotiated disposition, the District Attorney agreed to dismiss several misdemeanor charges involving a trespass on the Apple campus in Cupertino in exchange for defendant’s no contest plea. Defendant was granted probation for a period of five years. One of the conditions of probation is that defendant “stay away from the Apple campus.” The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that the “stay away” order was unconstitutionally vague because it did not specify a distance. A probation condition ordering someone to stay away from a particular location need only express the obligation it imposes in ordinary and understandable terms. The Constitution does not require more. The law does not always succeed in expressing concepts in a clear and understandable way. But an order that someone “stay away” from an identified location is a simple command stated in plain language. View "People v. Holzmann" on Justia Law

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In an action alleging age and disability discrimination, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of defendant's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) on plaintiff's constructive termination claim and defendant's motion for a new trial on all damages. The court held that the evidence showed only plaintiff's personal, subjective reactions to defendant's use of standard disciplinary procedures, all performed with no breach of confidentiality and with no harassment or other mistreatment of plaintiff. The court reasoned that, although the evidence allowed the inference of age or disability discrimination, nothing reflected any unusually aggravated working conditions or a continuous pattern of mistreatment necessary for constructive discharge. The court rejected plaintiff's remaining claims. View "Simers v. LA Times Communications" on Justia Law

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A surety posted a $50,000 bail bond for a misdemeanor defendant. Throughout the case, defendant’s attorney appeared on his behalf. The trial court granted defendant probation, continued several probation violation hearings, and eventually ordered defendant to personally appear. When defendant failed to appear, the court ordered the bond forfeited. On appeal, the surety argued that Penal Code section 977 did not allow attorneys to appear on behalf of misdemeanor defendants at probation violation hearings; therefore, the surety contends that the trial court should have declared a forfeiture at an earlier point in time. The Court of Appeal disagreed, finding that under section 977, an attorney may appear on behalf of a misdemeanor defendant at a probation violation hearing. View "California v. Financial Casualty & Surety, Inc." on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Roland Seau of first-degree for the death of Louiegie Bermas; the willful, deliberate, and premeditated attempted murder of Randy Lozano; assault with a deadly weapon on Lozano with the personal use of a knife and personal infliction of great bodily injury; and dissuading a witness, Vanessa Rivera. The jury found that each crime was committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang. In a bifurcated proceeding, Seau admitted two prison priors, a strike prior, and a serious felony prior. He was sentenced to 102 years to life in prison. The same jury found David Tua guilty of aiding and abetting second-degree murder in the death of Bermas, and the willful, deliberate, and premeditated attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon on Lozano. He was also found guilty of dissuading a witness. The jury found that each crime was committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang. In a bifurcated proceeding, Tua admitted a strike prior, a serious felony prior, and a prison prior. The court sentenced Tua to 75 years to life in prison. Seau and Tua contended the denial of their motions to sever the trials resulted in grossly unfair trials and a denial of due process. They argued on appeal the trial court erred by not bifurcating the gang element from the substantive offenses and denying their motions for mistrial after law enforcement witnesses repeatedly vouched for the credibility of a witness. In an issue of first impression, they also contended the court erroneously imposed a consecutive five-year prior serious felony enhancement as to the determinate sentence for assault with a deadly weapon, a count where sentencing was otherwise stayed. Separately, Tua argued there was no substantial evidence to support his conviction for second degree murder, attempted murder and assault. Seau argued the pinpoint references to his name in jury instructions were prejudicial to him. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal held that a prior serious felony enhancement imposed on a determinate sentence must follow the mode of sentencing imposed on at least one of the determinate counts. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded this case the trial court for resentencing. In all other respects, the Court affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Tua" on Justia Law

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School administrator Cushman received a text message indicating that a student had a loaded gun at school. The tipster had received a SnapChat video showing a student, in a classroom, displaying a gun and a magazine clip. Cushman saw the video and identified the student as K.J., based on the tipster's description. The principal removed K.J. from class and escorted him to the hallway where a school resource officer and a backup police officer were waiting. A search of K.J. revealed a semi-automatic handgun and rounds of ammunition. Cushman knew but declined to reveal the tipster's identity due to her fear of retaliation. The parties stipulated that she would be treated as an anonymous tipster. Following a combined motion to suppress and jurisdictional hearing, the juvenile court sustained a petition alleging K.J. possessed a weapon on school grounds. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting K.J.’s argument that he was detained and searched without reasonable suspicion. Substantial evidence supported findings that the actions of the school officer, detaining K.J. on school property, were neither arbitrary, capricious, nor harassment. In balancing the grave threat to students and staff posed by a student carrying a firearm against the minimally intrusive nature of removing a student from class, the detention was lawful. View "In re K.J." on Justia Law