Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Defendant-appellant, David Lippert, filed a petition under Penal Code section 1170.95 to vacate his 2003 murder conviction. The parties stipulated that defendant made a prima facie showing that he “fall[s] within the parameters for resentencing” under the statute. Plaintiff-respondent, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office (the State), however, moved to strike the petition on the ground that Senate Bill No. 1437 was unconstitutional because it: (1) impermissibly amended Proposition 7; (2) impermissibly amended Proposition 115; (3) violated separation of powers principles; and (4) violated Victims’ Bill of Rights of 2008 (Marsy’s Law). The trial court agreed Senate Bill No. 1437 unconstitutionally amended Propositions 7 and 115, and struck defendant’s petition without addressing the State's remaining arguments. The Court of Appeal agreed with defendant that the trial court erred in concluding Senate Bill No. 1437 was unconstitutional, and reversed. View "California v. Lippert" on Justia Law

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Fairfield Officer Anderson testified that, while patrolling a residential neighborhood, he noticed a BMW parked on the street without license plates. He approached the car and saw that Harrell was asleep in the driver’s seat. Anderson identified himself as police and asked Harrell to roll the window down or open the door to talk. Harrell did not comply nor would he show identification but gave his name and date of birth. A record check revealed that Harrell was on Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS). Anderson removed Harrell from the car to conduct a PRCS compliance check. Anderson found notebooks and paperwork that contained personal identifying information for approximately 20 people. After arresting Harrell, Anderson contacted several of those people, who reported that Harrell did not have permission to have their personal information. The prosecution submitted documentary evidence regarding Harrell’s prior conviction for identity theft.Harrell was convicted of three felony counts of acquiring or keeping the personal identifying information of three individuals. after having previously suffered a conviction for this same crime. He was sentenced to 12 years and 8 months in prison. The court of appeal rejected Harrell’s contention that his convictions for felony fraudulent possession of personal identifying information must be reclassified under Penal Code 490.2 as misdemeanors and affirmed the denial of Harrell’s suppression motion, but concluded his section 667.5(b) enhancements must be stricken. View "People v. Harrell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant-appellant Ignacio Ogaz appealed a judgment sentencing him to prison for illegal drug activity. He contended his Sixth Amendment right to confront adverse witnesses was violated by the admission of certain drug testing evidence, and to this, the Court of Appeal agreed. Because appellant did not have the opportunity to cross-examine the analyst who conducted the drug testing, judgment was reversed. View "California v. Ogaz" on Justia Law

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In April 2010, a trial court sentenced defendant-appellant Richard Mirmon to 12 years in prison for attempted first degree burglary in Los Angeles County. On June 27, 2011, an information charged defendant with conspiracy to bring a controlled substance into prison, bringing a controlled substance into prison, possession of heroin, and possession of methamphetamine in Riverside. The Riverside information also alleged defendant had a prison prior and two strike priors. As charged in the information, defendant faced: (1) 101 years to life in prison with two strikes; or (2) 14 years four months with one strike. Pursuant to a plea agreement, on September 6, 2011, defendant pled guilty to all four counts in exchange for a sentence of eight years four months. On December 2, 2011, the trial court dismissed one of defendant’s two strikes and imposed the agreed-upon sentence of eight years four months. The court made no reference to defendant's Los Angeles case, but stated the sentence was to be served concurrent with any other sentences defendant was serving. On June 11, 2018, defendant filed a petition under Proposition 47 to reduce counts 3 and 4 in the Riverside Case to misdemeanor convictions. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) filed a letter with the Riverside County Superior Court on June 22, 2018. In the letter, CDCR stated that Penal Code section 667 (c)(8), mandated consecutive, not concurrent, sentences for defendant in the Los Angeles and Riverside cases. On June 22, 2018, defendant filed a motion to dismiss the charges. On September 7, 2018, the trial court held a hearing. The court denied defendant’s petition to reduce counts 3 and 4 to misdemeanor convictions. The court then clarified its order on defendant’s sentence in the Riverside Case and ordered that the sentences in the two cases be served consecutively. Defendant appealed. The Court of Appeal found the Riverside trial judge had no discretion to sentence defendant to a concurrent term for his in-prison possession convictions in the original sentencing on the Riverside case, so the trial court properly sentenced defendant to a term to be fully served consecutively to the sentence defendant was already serving. View "California v. Mirmon" on Justia Law

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Defendant Leon Tacardon was charged with possession of a controlled substance for sale, and misdemeanor possession of marijuana for sale. Evidence of these crimes was seized following an interaction with San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Deputy Joel Grubb. After an unsuccessful motion to suppress evidence made during the preliminary hearing under Penal Code section 1538.5, defendant renewed his motion under Penal Code section 995, and prevailed. The State appealed. Based on the magistrate’s factual findings expressed on the record and supported by substantial evidence, the Court of Appeal concluded defendant was detained by Deputy Grubb not when the deputy detained defendant's passenger, M.K., but when the deputy, after smelling marijuana coming from the BMW and seeing three large bags of the substance on the rear floorboard, told defendant to remain in the car while he conducted a records check. "At that point, there can be no doubt the deputy possessed reasonable suspicion defendant was engaged in criminal activity." The Court concluded the superior court erred by setting aside the magistrate’s ruling denying defendant’s motion to suppress evidence. View "California v. Tacardon" on Justia Law

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A brief encounter between two groups of strangers in a restaurant parking lot at closing time ended in one man shot and killed. Three others were injured. Pedro Cardenas was one of the shooters, and convicted by jury trial on one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder, and one count of assault with a firearm, and he pled guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The trial court instructed the jury on the "kill zone" theory as to the attempted murder counts. On the felon in possession count, Cardenas argued that his rights under California v. Arbuckle, 22 Cal.3d 749 (1978) were violated because he was sentenced by a different judge from the one who took his guilty plea. Cardenas did not object on that basis at sentencing, but he cited California v. Bueno, 32 Cal.App.5th 342 (2019) for the proposition that he did not thereby forfeit the issue. A split Court of Appeal concluded that the evidence was insufficient to justify instructing on the kill zone theory under California v. Canizales, 7 Cal.5th 591 (2019), and the error was prejudicial. The Court therefore vacated the attempted murder convictions. The Court disagreed with Bueno and held that Cardenas forfeited the Arbuckle issue by failing to raise it at sentencing. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "California v. Cardenas" on Justia Law

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Liggins violated the terms of his probation multiple times; each time it was reinstated with modified terms. Police responded to an alleged altercation between Liggins and his girlfriend, Roy, at 4:00 o’clock in the morning. Roy was found outside a San Francisco convenience store crying and yelling. She told officers Liggins had punched, kicked, and choked her. After the fight, Liggins apparently rode away on his bicycle. Roy’s behavior was unruly, characterized by screaming and cursing. Officers arrested Liggins. By the time of Liggins’s preliminary hearing, his former attorney stated that Roy had recanted her accusations against Liggins; her erratic behavior at the scene of Liggins’s arrest, Roy told his attorney, resulted from her being under the influence of a controlled substance and her failure to take prescribed medication for manic-depression. At the probation revocation hearing, Liggins’s attorney asserted hearsay objections to the admission of an officer’s body camera footage, which captured Roy making statements about Liggins’s conduct, and an officer’s testimony to Roy’s statement identifying Liggins. The objections were overruled. The court revoked Liggins’s probation and sentenced him to three years in prison.The court of appeal reversed. While the trial court was within its discretion to admit the challenged statements under the spontaneous statement exception, their admission in the absence of a showing of Roy’s unavailability or other good cause to present hearsay in lieu of live testimony from her violated Liggins’s due process right of confrontation. View "People v. Liggins" on Justia Law

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In 2006, a jury found Wilson guilty of first-degree murder and second-degree robbery. Wilson had prior strike convictions and was sentenced to an aggregate term of 50 years to life. The court stayed consecutive sentences for the second-degree robbery conviction and the sentence enhancement. Changes to Penal Code sections governing accomplice liability for felony murder and murder under the natural and probable consequences theory allow defendants who could not be convicted of first or second-degree murder under the new law to file a petition to seek to vacate their murder conviction and be resentenced on any remaining counts in the same manner “as if the petitioner had not been previously . . . sentenced, provided the new sentence, if any, is not greater than the initial sentence.”The trial court vacated Wilson’s murder conviction, resentenced him to time served on his robbery conviction and related sentence enhancement, and placed him on parole supervision for two years. Wilson sought immediate release from parole supervision. The court explained that, because Wilson had a significant criminal history, a two year period of parole was appropriate despite his having spent 16 years in custody. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Wilson’s argument that the trial court was mandated, but failed, to apply his excess custody credits to eliminate the two-year parole period. Notwithstanding excess custody credits, the court may exercise its discretion when deciding whether to order a period of parole. View "People v. Wilson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In September 2017, defendant pleaded guilty to furnishing methamphetamine and maintaining a place for the sale of a controlled substance. On October 23, 2017, defendant was sentenced. In the interim, on October 11, 2017, Governor Brown approved Senate Bill No. 180, which went into effect on January 1, 2018. Senate Bill 180 amended Penal Code section 11370.2 by eliminating its three-year enhancements for most drug-related prior convictions.On remand from the California Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal reconsidered this case in light of Assembly Bill 1618, which added Penal Code section 1016.8. Defendant relied on the Estrada rule and contends that Senate Bill 180 is retroactive, thus invalidating the portion of her sentence imposed under former section 11370.2. Defendant argues that the waiver provision is void by retroactive application of Assembly Bill 1618.The court agreed with the parties that Senate Bill 180 and Assembly Bill 1618 apply retroactively to this case. Therefore, the plea agreement is unenforceable and the trial court cannot approve of the agreement in its current form. The court remanded for the parties to enter a new plea agreement or to proceed to trial. View "People v. Barton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In 2007, Lawson brutally raped and sodomized Victim C. A year later, she saw Lawson and called the police, who came to her location and detained him. C participated in a field show-up and identified Lawson as the rapist but did not hear from the police again. In 2016, Lawson was arrested for the rapes of Victims A and B. C participated in a photographic lineup and again identified Lawson. Lawson was charged with 10 counts of sexual assault. Following a mistrial, C refused to testify in the second trial. The court found her unavailable as a witness and admitted her prior testimony from the preliminary hearing and the first trial into evidence. The jury was unable to reach verdicts on the counts involving A and B but convicted Lawson of forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, and forcible sodomy against C.The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that the trial court violated his state and federal rights to confrontation when it determined C was unavailable and admitted her testimony from his first trial and the preliminary hearing and that Code of Civil Procedure section 1219 (b), which prohibits the incarceration of sexual assault victims for their refusal to testify, also impaired his state and federal confrontation rights because the court had no sufficient means to compel C’s testimony. View "People v. Lawson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law