Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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After a spree of San Pablo parking lot robberies and purse snatchings, officers found the victims' property in a vehicle occupied by 17-year-old Alonzo and two others. Alonzo admitted to grand theft of a person, taking property valued at more than $950, The court dismissed the other charges, ordered that Alonzo be placed on GPS monitoring and released to his mother's custody, and transferred the case to Contra Costa County. That court ordered that Alonzo was to have no contact with his “co-responsibles.” A supplemental petition alleged that Alonzo committed three additional felonies during the crime spree. Alonzo expressed remorse, blamed peer pressure, denied using alcohol and reported that he had been smoking marijuana once a day for chronic migraines. This was Alonzo’s first referral. The disposition order placed him on probation. Alonzo challenged a probation condition: In light of ... concern about your association in Oakland, … you must submit your cell phone or any other electronic device under your control to a search of any medium of communication reasonably likely to reveal whether you’re complying with the terms of your probation with or without a search warrant at any time ... text messages, voicemail messages, photographs, e-mail accounts, and other social media accounts and applications. You shall provide access codes ... upon request .” The court of appeal upheld the decision to impose an electronic search condition but concluded the condition sweeps too broadly and remanded. View "In re Alonzo M." on Justia Law

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S.L. was 15 years old at the time of the murder. The prosecution charged S.L. with murder and attempted murder and filed a juvenile wardship petition, alleging that S.L. personally and intentionally discharged a firearm in the commission of the offense and that S.L. was a principal in the offense. Proposition 57 requires prosecutors charging a minor aged 14 or older at the time of the offense to seek juvenile court approval to transfer the minor to adult criminal court. In 2018, SB 1391 prohibited the transfer of 14- and 15-year-old minors to criminal court in most cases. After the court refused to hold a transfer hearing concerning S.L., the prosecution challenged SB 1391 as impermissibly eliminating a court’s ability to transfer jurisdiction over a 15-year-old charged with murder to adult criminal court. The court ruled that SB 1391 is constitutional and did impact S.L.’s case. The court of appeal denied the District Attorney’s petition for mandamus relief. SB 1391 is constitutional; it is consistent with and furthers the intent of Proposition 57. “[T]he intent of the electorate in approving Proposition 57 was to broaden the number of minors who could potentially stay within the juvenile justice system, with its primary emphasis on rehabilitation rather than punishment.” View "People v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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A deputy noticed an SUV parked illegally near a popular overlook with three people in it. Bay, whom the deputy knew from prior contacts, stated that he did not have identification and provided a false name. Knowing that Bay was on postrelease community supervision, subject to search terms, the deputy asked him whether he had any guns, knives, drugs, or any other weapons. Bay said, “Not that I know of.” The deputy conducted a pat search and felt a wallet in Bay's pocket. Bay admitted that the wallet contained identification in his real name. Before searching the SUV, the deputy asked Bay again whether there was any contraband. Bay admitted there was marijuana in a backpack. The backpack was directly behind the center console, accessible by all occupants of the car. The deputy found marijuana, a loaded gun in a case, ammunition, a lock pick set, a bong, and a hypodermic needle. A knife was in the driver's door console. An evidence technician found no usable fingerprints. The SUV belonged to a passenger's recently-deceased boyfriend. Bay was convicted as a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition and of possessing burglary tools and giving false information to a peace officer. The court of appeal reversed Bay’s conviction for possession of burglary tools because the special jury instruction on that offense prejudicially omitted the element of felonious intent. The court otherwise affirmed; the contraband was in Bay’s constructive possession. View "People v. Bay" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Court of Appeal affirmed defendant's conviction for first degree burglary, assault with a firearm, and kidnapping. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to convict defendant of kidnapping and rejected defendant's contention that making the victim move 190 feet, from her bedroom to the front of her house, was a trivial distance; the trial court had no duty to give an attempted kidnapping instruction where there was no evidence that defendant committed anything less than kidnapping; and defendant forfeited his claim under People v. Dueñas (2019) 30 Cal.App.5th 1157, because he did not object to the fines and fees at issue. View "People v. Newman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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A jury convicted Jesus Humberto Mejia of attempted premeditated murder, burglary, robbery, street terrorism, and firearm possession. The jury also returned true findings on associated weapon and street gang allegations. In bifurcated proceedings, the trial court made true findings on prior conviction allegations. Mejia contended the court improperly instructed the jury on premeditated attempted murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine. Mejia also raised sentencing issues, which the Attorney General conceded. The Court of Appeal agreed the premeditation and deliberation special finding had to be reversed. With respect to sentencing, the Court first agreed with the parties that the trial court erred in imposing the full 10-year sentence for the gun-use enhancement. Second, the Court acknowledged and agreed with the parties that a recent change in the law required this case be remanded to allow the trial court to exercise its discretion to strike the five-year prior conviction enhancement imposed pursuant to Penal Code section 667(a)(1). Finally, the Court ordered the trial court to correct numerous clerical errors on the abstract of judgment and minute order (brought to our attention by the Attorney General). In all other respects, the Court affirmed judgment. View "California v. Mejia" on Justia Law

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Markeith Jenkins was convicted by jury of assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury, and battery with serious injury. Defendant subsequently admitted to having two prior strike convictions, two prior serious felony convictions, and two prior prison convictions. Before sentencing, defendant filed a motion based on California v. Superior Court (Romero), 13 Cal.4th 497 (1996) seeking in the interest of justice to have one or more of his strike priors set aside. The court denied that motion, imposed on defendant the term of 25 years to life on the assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury conviction; stayed pursuant to Penal Code section 654 (a)(1) his sentence on the conviction for battery with serious bodily injury; and imposed three consecutive years for the great bodily injury enhancement, and an additional 10 years for the two serious felony prior convictions, for a total sentence of 13 years plus 25 years to life. On appeal to the Court of Appeal, defendant argued for a remand for a pretrial diversion hearing, and to give the trial court an opportunity to exercise its newly provided discretion pursuant to Senate Bill No. 1393 (2017–2018 Reg. Sess., eff. January 1, 2019), to dismiss or strike one or more of his serious felony prior convictions. Defendant alternately contended the court abused its discretion when it refused under Romero to strike one or more of his prior strike convictions. The Court of Appeal agreed the newly enacted section 1001.36 and newly amended sections 667(b) and 1385(b) applied retroactively in this matter. Judgment was conditionally reversed and the case remanded for the trial court to exercise its discretion under these statutes. View "California v. Jenkins" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress the results of a blood test on the grounds that the blood testing was a warrantless search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The court agreed with defendant that there could be no implied consent to a warrantless blood draw upon threat of criminal penalty, but held that Birchfield v. North Dakota (2016) 579 U.S. ___, [136 S.Ct. 2160], did not mandate the invalidation of his actual consent. The court explained that Birchfield prohibits a court from finding implied consent where an arrestee's only choice is to consent to a warrantless blood test or be prosecuted for refusing to do so. In this case, the blood test was not defendant's only choice. Rather, defendant was given a choice of tests to choose from and the arresting officer stated that he was subject to criminal penalties only if he refused all options. Furthermore, the trial court held a hearing on the issue of actual consent and found consent to be voluntary. Finally, the court rejected defendant's contention that the Legislature's decision to amend California's implied consent law, Assembly Bill No. 2717, in response to Birchfield strongly indicated that he could not have freely and voluntarily consented. View "People v. Nzolameso" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Petitioner Ricky Lee Cobbs was convicted of first degree murder, predicated on felony murder based on attempted robbery, and murder as the natural and probable consequence of assault and battery. Petitioner contended the second theory was made invalid under California v. Chiu, 59 Cal.4th 155 (2014) and In re Martinez, 3 Cal.5th 1216 (2017), and both theories were invalid following changes enacted under Senate Bill No. 1437 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.) (Stats. 2018, ch. 1015, sec. 2 (SB 1437).) He contended the Court of Appeal should vacate his conviction and direct the trial court to conduct further proceedings consistent with California Penal Code sections 188 and 189. The Attorney General agreed the first degree murder conviction was invalid under Chiu and Martinez, but did not address SB 1437. The Attorney General thus asserted the remedy should be that provided for in Chiu and Martinez: reverse the first degree murder conviction, and have the State the option of retrying the first degree murder count or reducing the conviction to second degree murder. The Court of Appeal agreed with the parties that the first degree murder conviction could not stand in light of Chiu and Martinez, but disagreed on the remedy. “While SB 1437 changes the law underlying both theories of guilt, it provides a procedure for those who seek retroactive application, section 1170.95. That procedure is the sole means by which a person may obtain relief for a conviction that becomes final before the effective date of SB 1437. Accordingly, we shall vacate the first degree murder conviction and order additional proceedings in the trial court.” View "In re Cobbs" on Justia Law

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Financial Casualty & Surety, Inc. (Surety) posted a bail bond on behalf of criminal defendant Abdul Karim Juma. Surety appealed following the trial court's denial of its motion to vacate the trial court's forfeiture of the bail bond and to exonerate the bail bond following Juma's failure to appear. On June 23, 2016, Juma was arraigned on charges of mayhem, assault with a deadly weapon, and assault likely to produce great bodily injury. Bail was set at $100,000. Surety posted a $100,000 bail bond for Juma's release from custody. According to the minute orders in the appellate record, Juma appeared for hearings on July 1 and 15 and August 24, 2016. However, for a hearing held on August 5, 2016, the clerk who filled out the minute order neglected to check the box indicating whether Juma was present, and no reporter's transcript exists for that hearing. The only indication that Juma may have been present in court on August 5 was a minute order statement that "distribution" of the order to defense counsel and Juma took place on the date of the hearing. After having appeared on August 24, Juma failed to appear for a September 29, hearing, and the trial court entered an order forfeiting bail. Surety twice moved the trial court to set aside the forfeiture and exonerate the bail bond, or in the alternative to further extend the period to seek such relief based on the fact that Surety's investigator had located Juma in Kenya and the District Attorney was in the process of deciding whether to extradite Juma. The District Attorney filed an opposition, in which it argued that Surety had not fulfilled all of the requirements for exonerating bail by merely locating Juma in Kenya. At a hearing in February 2018, the trial court concluded Surety had not established Juma failed to appear on August 5, 2016, and thus had not established the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the bail bond by failing to order bail forfeited on that date. The Court ultimately ordered summary judgment on the bail bond forfeiture. Surety contended on appeal that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to forfeit the bond because: (1) it failed to enter an order forfeiting the bond at an earlier hearing at which Juma may not have been present; and (2) on several grounds, the bail agreement was rendered void and was exonerated when the trial court required that Juma waive his Fourth Amendment right against warrantless searches. The Court of Appeal determined Surety's arguments lacked merit, and accordingly, affirmed judgment. View "California v. Financial Casualty & Surety, Inc." on Justia Law

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A warrant issued for the search of Klugman’s residence and his dental practice, authorizing the seizure evidence of child pornography. Officers seized extensive electronic evidence contained on multiple devices. Klugman was charged with knowingly possessing images of minors engaging in or simulating sexual conduct. In a motion to suppress, Klugman cited the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, sections 1538.5 and 1546.4(a), asserting that the warrant lacked particularity and probable cause and “contained no limiting time periods, specific accounts, precise descriptions of the types of information, or particular electronic devices that could be seized. Nor did it contain any safeguards such as sealing or the appointment of a referee to preserve the privacy of seized information unrelated to the purpose of the warrant. Instead, it authorized a ‘complete dump’ of all electronic devices ... including thousands of patient records.” The court of appeal affirmed. Even disregarding timeliness issues, the trial court did not err. The reports based on information derived from third parties were not conclusory, were not stale, and were reliable and corroborative; inferences from tips were reinforced by the opinion of the affiant, a 20-year veteran who relied on his training, experience, and conversations with other officers and with the computer forensics expert. While the warrant for Klugman’s equipment did not dictate that medical information about Klugman’s patients be sealed in compliance with HIPAA, investigating officers previewed material at the scene, “thus addressing the issue noted in the statute.” View "Klugman v. Superior Court" on Justia Law