Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Defendant Sigifredo Zendejas Lopez (Lopez) brought a motion pursuant to California Penal Code section 1018 to vacate his 2019 guilty plea on three felony counts, one of which would have lead to almost certain deportation under federal law. Lopez, who was a lawful permanent resident of the United States at the time of his conviction, argued his retained trial counsel failed to provide accurate and affirmative advice about the immigration consequences of the proposed plea. Lopez’s trial counsel testified at the hearing on the motion that he was not aware of the specific immigration consequences of the individual charges Lopez was facing. Therefore, he could not have provided accurate and affirmative advice as to the consequences of a guilty plea to any particular count. Moreover, trial counsel testified that he tried to negotiate a plea bargain to one misdemeanor count, which was rejected by the prosecution. Had he known the immigration consequences of the specific felony counts, there was some possibility that he could have negotiated an immigration-neutral plea offer the prosecution was more likely to accept. But as he admitted, he did not know those consequences. The Court of Appeal determined Lopez was prejudiced by this course of events. He submitted evidence that he would have taken his chances at trial if he had known and fully understood the immigration consequences of the plea agreement trial counsel negotiated. Because Lopez was not accurately and affirmatively advised, and because there was not an effort to negotiate an acceptable plea bargain with the relevant immigration consequences in mind, the Court reversed the trial court’s order denying the motion to withdraw Lopez’s guilty plea in the interests of justice. View "California v. Lopez" on Justia Law

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Defendant Robert Potter sexually abused his daughter when she was five years old. He admitted the abuse during an interrogation at the police station. Convicted of one count of oral copulation with a child 10 years of age or younger, defendant was sentenced to serve an indeterminate term of 15 years to life in state prison. On appeal, defendant argued: (1) his confession should have been excluded because it was unlawfully obtained during custodial interrogation without Miranda warnings; (2) defendant’s trial counsel provided constitutionally deficient assistance by failing to object to the daughter's testimony on competency grounds; (3) the trial court prejudicially abused its discretion and violated defendant’s federal constitutional rights by allowing the prosecution to amend the information during trial; and (4) the trial court’s determination that defendant possessed the ability to pay a $5,000 restitution fine, as well as court security and court operations assessments of $30 and $40, respectively, was not supported by substantial evidence and violates his federal constitutional rights. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Potter" on Justia Law

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Thyrone Stewart was a veteran, honorably discharged from the Army in 1976. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, which was determined to be related to his military service. In 1986 and again in 1992, he was convicted of first degree burglary. In 2001, after being convicted on two counts of spousal battery (among other things), he was sentenced, as a third-striker, to two consecutive terms of 25 years to life in prison. In 2018, the California Legislature amended section 1170.91 so as to allow a convicted veteran who suffers from a specified disorder as a result of his or her military service to petition for resentencing, so that that disorder may be considered as a mitigating factor when imposing a determinate term. Petitioner sought resentencing under section 1170.91. The trial court denied the petition because petitioner had been sentenced to indeterminate terms. Petitioner contended this was error because, if resentenced, there was a possibility that he could be sentenced to determinate terms. Specifically, he argued he could bring a motion under California v. Superior Court (Romero), 13 Cal.4th 497 (1996) to strike one or more of his strike priors. The Court of Appeal considered whether Stewart would be entitled to be sentenced to determinate terms under Proposition 36, but concluded neither possibility was open to him. The trial court therefore did not err by denying the petition. View "California v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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A juvenile wardship petition (Welfare and Institutions Code section 602(a)) alleged that Matthew had committed assault with a deadly weapon and assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury; that Matthew had personally inflicted great bodily injury on the victim and had caused the victim to suffer great bodily injury resulting in paralysis and had personally used a deadly weapon, a knife. The juvenile court found true all of the allegations except for the paralysis enhancement; dismissed count two and the accompanying enhancement, at the request of the prosecutor; declared Matthew a ward of the court; and placed Matthew on probation with conditions.The court of appeal reversed, finding that Matthew’s pre-arrest statements to police were made during a custodial interrogation without the required Miranda warnings and that the admission of those statements was prejudicial. While Matthew was told at the start of the interrogation that he was not under arrest, and the police officers who were present did not handcuff him or unholster their weapons, the interview was initiated by police, who had just heard from another that Matthew had stabbed the victim. The entire interrogation was an attempt to get Matthew to admit that he stabbed the victim and to provide additional incriminating information. View "In re Matthew W." on Justia Law

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Defendants Luis Dominguez and Abraham Torres shot and killed Angel Sanabria and wounded Joseph Luna. They missed two others (Juan Coronado and Alberto Nava), who were in or near the same small enclosed area. All four victims were members or associates of the Eastside San Diego gang. Defendants were charged with the first degree murder of Sanabria and the premeditated attempted murder of Luna, Coronado, and Nava. Defendants were not gang members, but were admittedly part of a neighborhood “tagging crew” that had conflicts with the Eastside gang. Defendants admitted they were the shooters; the issue was their state of mind. Each testified he fired in a panic and fear when, while about eight feet away from them, Sanabria asked them where they were from, “This is Eastside,” and lunged at them while reaching for an apparent weapon in his waistband. The court instructed the jury on both self-defense and voluntary manslaughter based on imperfect self-defense. But it refused Defendants’ request to instruct on voluntary manslaughter based on heat-of-passion, determining there was insufficient evidence of the requisite provocation. Along with making true findings on certain gun enhancements, the jury convicted Defendants of second degree murder as to Sanabria and attempted murder as to Luna and Coronado. It found allegations that the attempted murders were premeditated to be "not true." It also acquitted Defendants of: (1) first degree murder as to Sanabria; and (2) both attempted murder and attempted voluntary manslaughter as to Nava. The court sentenced Dominguez to a prison term of 16 years, plus 65 years to life and Torres to 17 years, plus 65 years to life. On appeal, Defendants contended the trial court erroneously refused their request to instruct on voluntary manslaughter based on heat of passion. Additionally, they claimed that in light of California v. Canizales, 7 Cal.5th 591 (2019) (which was decided after trial), the court gave an erroneous “kill zone” instruction on the element of intent to kill for attempted murder. They further claimed the evidence was insufficient to support their convictions on that theory. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erroneously refused to instruct on voluntary manslaughter based on heat of passion. On the attempted murder convictions, the Attorney General conceded that “the trial court’s kill zone instruction was prejudicially erroneous” under Canizales. Judgments were reversed and the cases remanded for a new trial on the reversed convictions. View "California v. Dominguez" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the City, alleging retaliation under Labor Code section 1102.5. The City asked the trial court to dismiss plaintiff's action for failure to exhaust available administrative remedies, but the trial court concluded that an appeal to the HR Commission was unnecessary. After the case proceeded to trial, the jury found for plaintiff and awarded him about $4 million, including $2 million in past noneconomic damages and $1.5 million in future noneconomic damages. The trial court subsequently denied the City's motion for a new trial.The Court of Appeal concluded that the involvement of plaintiff's direct superior in the underlying dispute, on one hand, and his expected role in deciding plaintiff's appeal, on the other, violated the requirements of due process and therefore excused plaintiff from proceeding with his administrative appeal. The court also found no reversible evidentiary error by the trial court. However, the court agreed with the City that the $3.5 million noneconomic damages award -- comprising $2 million in past and $1.5 million in future noneconomic damages -- was so excessive as to suggest it resulted from passion or prejudice. Accordingly, the court vacated the awards for past and future noneconomic damages and remanded for a new trial on these issues, unless plaintiff accepts a reduction of the awards to $1 million and $100,000, respectively. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "Briley v. City of West Covina" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Jose Medina was placed in custody in November 2016 on charges of second degree robbery and misdemeanor sexual battery. In June 2017, the respondent court found that Medina was mentally incompetent to stand trial and had a developmental disability under Penal Code section 1370.1. Since the time Medina was adjudicated to be mentally incompetent, he has received neither treatment nor a trial. The regional center and the California Department of Developmental Services (DDS), which have the responsibility for providing services for people with developmental disabilities, disagreed with the court’s adjudication and concluded that Medina did not have a developmental disability. Although the incompetency order was legal and binding on the regional center and the DDS, they declined to offer Medina services or recommend placement. At issue was that the version of Penal Code 1369 and 1370.1 in effect in 2017 did not require the regional center’s determination that a defendant have a developmental disability. In 2017, a trial court’s findings of mental incompetence and developmental disability were sufficient, without concurrence by the regional center, to cause the suspension of criminal proceedings. In July 2020, the respondent court attempted to end the standoff by vacating the 2017 order adjudicating Medina to be incompetent. The court ordered new examinations and another competency hearing to be held. Medina challenged the respondent court’s actions by this petition for writ of mandate/prohibition. The Court of Appeal granted the petition in part and ordered the issuance of a writ directing the respondent court to vacate its order, reinstate the orders adjudicating Medina to be incompetent to stand trial and to have a developmental disability, and determine whether the maximum period of confinement has elapsed. View "Medina v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against a reality show's production and media companies for various causes of action after discovering she was filmed while changing clothes in a dressing area designated for models, and that her "nearly fully nude body had been exposed on national television" during the airing of the show. Defendant production and media companies filed a special motion to strike the model's complaint as a strategic lawsuit against public participation under the anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16.The Court of Appeal concluded that plaintiff's claims arise from the production and broadcast of an episode of "Shahs of Sunset," which is protected activity. In this case, the court agreed with defendants' assertion that the footage at issue is relevant to the storyline of the episode and that the experience of being a model is an issue of public interest. However, the court concluded that plaintiff has shown a probability of success on her causes of action for invasion of privacy; tortious misappropriation of name or likeness; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and negligence. Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial court's order denying defendants' special motion to strike the complaint, as modified: the separate cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress is stricken from the complaint, as it is part and parcel of the negligence cause of action. View "Belen v. Ryan Seacrest Productions, LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendant Gabriel Presley challenged his commitment pursuant to the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), arguing his commitment as a sexually violent predator (SVP) was erroneous because expert testimony at trial was based on case-specific inadmissible hearsay, in violation of California v. Sanchez, 63 Cal.4th 665 (2016). The trial court heard from four experts, all substantially agreeing defendant had a diagnosed mental disorder. The trial court observed that, though it was “required to consider the opinions of experts,” “as the trier of fact, [it] [didn’t] have to . . . agree with them.” The Court found the conclusion of one of the experts "to be a bit of an outlier," compelling the court to conclude ". . . that not only does [defendant] have a diagnosed mental disorder, . . . he is a danger to the health and safety of others, because I find that it is likely that he will engage in sexually violent predatory criminal behavior.” The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion, as nothing in the record "dispels the presumption the trial court ignored material it knew was inadmissible under Sanchez." View "California v. Presley" on Justia Law

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A superior court judge summarily denied petitioner Nancy Michelle Mendoza's petition for writ of habeas corpus, wherein she claimed she received ineffective assistance of counsel at her sentencing hearing. The California Supreme Court later issued an order to show cause (OSC) returnable to the superior court on the same claim. The case was then assigned to the same judge who had previously denied Mendoza’s petition. More than 40 days later, Mendoza filed a peremptory challenge to the judge under Code of Civil Procedure section 170.6. A different judge denied the challenge as untimely. Mendoza sought a writ of mandate from the Court of Appeal to direct the superior court to vacate its order denying her peremptory challenge, and to disqualify the original judge. The Court found her petition presented an issue of first impression as to whether her peremptory challenge was subject to section 170.6(a)(2)’s 60-day deadline following a “reversal on appeal” and assignment to the original judge for “a new trial” (in which case Mendoza’s challenge was timely); or section 170.6(a)(2)’s 10-day deadline for criminal cases assigned to a judge for all purposes (in which case Mendoza’s challenge was untimely). The Court determined the 60-day deadline did not apply. The Court found the proceedings on Mendoza's petition would not constitute a new trial; thus the 10-day all purpose assignment deadline applied. Applying this deadline, the superior court properly denied Mendoza’s challenge as untimely. View "Mendoza v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law