Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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After defendant penetrated an unconscious woman with his fingers, he challenged evidentiary rulings and requests a presentence conduct credit. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court properly excluded cumulative evidence about past times the woman was intoxicated at the relevant bar, and any error in allowing a drug recognition expert to testify about whether the woman was incapacitated was harmless. However, the court held that the trial court undercalculated defendant's presentence custody credit because he was not convicted of a violent felony under Penal Code section 2933.1, which would otherwise limit those credits. Accordingly, the court directed the trial court to award defendant 104 days of presentence custody credit and to amend the abstract of judgment, affirming in all other respects. View "People v. Robinson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant Raymond May was found guilty by jury of possessing an assault weapon and a machine gun based on his possession of a single AK-47 assault rifle while guarding a marijuana plantation. He was sentenced to probation, which included an electronic search condition. On appeal, defendant argued there was a lack of sufficient evidence corroborating his accomplice’s testimony and demonstrating he knew of the firearm’s illegal character. He further alleged the trial court erred in instructing the jury: that the accomplice instruction should have included language specifying that the accomplice testimony needed to prove more than defendant’s mere presence or access to the firearm. Furthermore, defendant argued the electronic search condition imposed as part of his probation failed under the standards announced in California v. Lent, 15 Cal.3d 481 (1975). The Court of Appeal agreed defendant’s electronic search condition should have been stricken, but otherwise affirmed. View "California v. May" on Justia Law

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Where, as here, the trial court factually finds that a self-represented defendant has engaged in an attempt to intimidate a witness, the constitutional right of self-representation can, in the exercise of the trial court's sound discretion, be revoked. The Court of Appeal affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for two counts of battery on an ex-girlfriend. In this case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in revoking defendant's pro se status after he asked his sister to contact the victim and have her say that she was coerced by the police detective to "press charges." View "People v. Torres" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In 2009, defendant-appellant Rudy Perez pled guilty to active gang participation under Penal Code section 186.22(a), and unlawful possession of a firearm under section 12025(b)(6). In 2010, defendant pled guilty to residential burglary under section 459, and active gang participation under section 186.22(a). In August of 2018, the State filed a new felony complaint, alleging one of the prior gang participation convictions as a strike prior. In 2018, defendant moved to vacate the two prior gang participation convictions based upon changes in the law that rendered them invalid. The trial court denied defendant’s motion. In 2019, defendant asked for reconsideration, which was again denied. Thereafter, defendant filed a timely notice of appeal from the denial of his motion to vacate the convictions. The Court of Appeal found that defendant pled guilty to street terrorism under Penal Code section 186.22(a) in 2009 and 2010, and it was undisputed that while committing these offenses, defendant acted alone. However, subsequent to defendant’s guilty pleas, in 2012, the California Supreme Court held that a defendant had to act in concert with a fellow gang member in order to be guilty of street terrorism. At that time, defendant could have filed a state habeas petition requesting relief, but failed to do so. "Defendants can lose remedies that are established by law when they fail to invoke such remedies in time." Section 1473.7 became effective in 2017. In defendant’s motion filed in the trial court, defendant failed to state what new evidence was discovered, instead arguing that the trial court was allowed “to vacate a conviction where the defendant is innocent as a matter of law or where vacating the conviction is in the interest of justice, even though the defendant is no longer in custody or otherwise restrained by the conviction.” The Court of Appeal concurred with the trial court's reason to deny relief, determining that "while the outcome in this case may be unfortunate for defendant, we are not here to rewrite legislation. The Legislature could amend section 1473.7 to address issues raised in this case. However, under the laws, as written, we must uphold the trial court’s order." View "California v. Perez" on Justia Law

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In 1991, the Wards and their teenage daughter awoke and discovered four men, including Drayton, inside their house. Two were armed. One told the daughter he was going to rape her and placed a firearm inside her vagina. Drayton told the man not to do it. Drayton had a gun and held Mrs. Ward down during the robbery. Two others shot and killed Mr. Ward. Drayton and the others left without seeking help for the Wards. Drayton did not shoot Mr. Ward or threaten to rape the daughter. Drayton surrendered the next day. Drayton’s sole prior conviction was a misdemeanor; he had no reported history of violence. Drayton was sentenced to 29 years to life imprisonment. In 2019, Drayton sought resentencing under Penal Code 1170.95, declaring that he “was not a major participant ... or did not act with reckless indifference to human life.” Senate Bill 1437, effective January 1, 2019, restricted the circumstances under which a person can be liable for felony murder and enacted Penal Code 1170.95, which allows an individual, previously convicted of felony murder, to petition to have his murder conviction vacated and to be resentenced. The court of appeal directed the trial court to hold a hearing under section 1170.95(d) and to accept the assertions in the petition as true unless facts in the record conclusively refute them as a matter of law. If, accepting the petitioner’s assertions as true, he meets section 1170.95(a)'s requirements for relief, the court must issue an order to show cause. In assessing the prima facie showing, the trial court should not weigh evidence or make credibility determinations. View "People v. Drayton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After a court trial, defendant Jason Broadbent was convicted of five counts of selling an assault weapon (counts 1, 5, 15-17), six counts of selling a large-capacity magazine (counts 2, 6, 13, 18-20), nine counts of possession of a firearm by a felon (counts 3, 7, 11-12, 23- 27), three counts of selling heroin (counts 4, 8, 28), four counts of unlicensed sale of a firearm (counts 9- 10, 21-22), and one count of selling methamphetamine (count 14). The court also found true that defendant had suffered a prior strike conviction and three prior prison terms. After denying defendant’s "Romero" motion, the court sentenced defendant to a total term of 53 years eight months in prison. On appeal, defendant argued: (1) his 2001 conviction could not be used as a prior strike or to enhance his sentence under Penal Code section 667.5(b); (2) the trial court abused its discretion by denying his Romero motion to strike his prior strike conviction; (3) all of his sentences for selling a large-capacity magazine and all but one of his sentences for possession of a firearm should have been stayed pursuant to section Penal Code 654; and (4) the court imposed unlawful terms for counts 9, 10, 14, 21, and 22. In supplemental briefing, defendant argued: (1) his convictions for selling large-capacity magazines under section 32310 must be reversed because the statute violated the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution; (2) his prior prison term enhancements should have been stricken based on recent amendments to section 667.5; and (3) he was entitled to a hearing on his present ability to pay various fines and fees pursuant to California v. Duenas, 30 Cal.App.5th 1157 (2019). The Court of Appeal agreed the trial court miscalculated the sentence it imposed with respect to counts 9, 10, 14, 21, and 22; defendant’s sentences on counts 2, 3, 6, 7, 11-13, and 18-20, and all but one of his sentences on counts 23-27 should have been stayed pursuant to section 654; and defendant's prior prison terms enhancements had to be stricken. The case was remanded for resentencing, but affirmed in all other respects. View "California v. Broadbent" on Justia Law

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In 1993, Shelton was sentenced to a prison term of 19 years to life after pleading no contest to the second-degree murder of his mother-in-law and assault with a firearm on her sister-in-law. Shelton had no prior criminal history. Parole hearings in 2016 and 2018, were his fifth and sixth. Shelton’s “Comprehensive Risk Assessment,” from 2016, concluded he presented a low risk of violence. The psychologist who evaluated Shelton noted “confusion and memory loss secondary to multiple traumatic brain injuries” Shelton had suffered in the military. Shelton, 64 years old in 2019, was permanently mobility impaired and blind/vision impaired. Shelton filed a habeas corpus petition. TIn November 2019, Shelton was again denied parole. The court of appeal ordered a new hearing for consideration of all of the relevant factors. The record suggests Shelton’s cognitive condition will never allow him to demonstrate the kind of insight into his crimes that the panels have been demanding. According to the doctor, Shelton’s neurocognitive disorder was a significant contributing factor in his commission of the offense and “it is unlikely that his disorder will ever allow him to give a coherent narrative about his motivations at the time of the crime.” That lack of insight had not led to violent outcomes in prison. The panel also failed to adequately consider Shelton’s elderly status and the magnitude of his disabilities. View "In re Shelton" on Justia Law

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Matthews was charged in three cases, with allegations of a prior strike conviction and five prior prison terms for felony convictions that subjected him to sentence enhancements under Penal Code 667.5(b). He entered into a plea agreement with specific sentences and completed a change of plea form for each case in which he wrote the sentence for that case. The form also was executed by his attorney, the prosecutor and the court. For Case 1 he pled guilty to felony grand theft, with a three-year prison term that would be doubled to six years because of the prior strike. He admitted four of the prior prison term allegations, with four one-year terms; his total sentence would be 10 years, concurrent with the sentences in the other cases. For Case 2, Matthews pled guilty to resisting arrest, with a three-year term. In Case 3, Matthews pled guilty to unlawfully taking a motor vehicle, with a three-year term. The court imposed the stipulated sentences. The court of appeal, after determining that it had jurisdiction although Matthews had not sought a certificate of probable cause, held that the four one-year terms must be stricken based on a revision to Penal Code section 667.5(b) that eliminates such terms for all but certain prior sexual offenses. The other stipulated sentences imposed should remain intact, thereby reducing his total prison term to six years. View "People v. Matthews" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After being convicted of three counts of willful, deliberate, and premeditated attempted murder, three counts of second degree robbery, three counts of assault with a semiautomatic firearm and a couple of gang-related offenses, with various enhancements attached to each, the trial court sentenced defendant Corbin Dennis to a total of 23 years 8 months, plus 45 years to life in state prison.The attempted premeditated murder convictions were based on a theory that defendant aided and abetted the actual shooter’s attempted premeditated murders by committing the target crime of unlawfully challenging another person in a public place to fight, the natural and probable consequence of which was attempted murder (not attempted premeditated murder). On appeal defendant contended he was entitled to the ameliorative benefits of California Senate Bill No. 1437 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.) (Stats. 2018, ch. 1015), which he claimed required reduction of the attempted murder convictions to misdemeanors for disturbing the peace and resentencing to give him credit for time served. He also argued there was insufficient evidence to support his attempted murder convictions. Alternatively, defendant contended the special finding under Penal Code section 664(a), that the attempted murders were willful, deliberate, and premeditated, should have been stricken, because the trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury that in order to make the special finding of premeditation based on a natural and probable consequences theory, it was required to find attempted premeditated murder was a natural and probable consequence of the target crime. The Court of Appeal concluded Senate Bill 1437 was not a bar to defendant's convictions for attempted murder under the natural and probable consequences theory. Furthermore, the Court found the evidence presented at trial sufficient to support the attempted murder convictions and the jury instruction concerning the target offense. The Court found merit in defendant's claim of instructional error regarding attempted premeditated murder on a natural and probable consequences theory: the trial court’s instruction constituted a Sixth Amendment violation because it allowed the jury to find the attempted murders were premeditated without requiring the jury to find that attempted premeditated murder was the natural and probable consequence of the target offense. View "California v. Dennis" on Justia Law

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Perlas, age 17, and his friends shoplifted alcohol and drank in the park; Perlas assaulted the victim, who was found dead the next day. In 1996, Perlas was convicted of second-degree murder. In 2015, Perlas was released to life-term parole, with an agreed-upon condition that he would not consume alcohol. Perlas had been on parole for more than two years without incident when San Francisco police officers responded to reports of a woman in distress and, outside Perlas’s apartment building, met Perlas’s wife, holding their 10-week-old daughter. She stated that Perlas, who was drunk, threw her cell phone out of their window, then attempted to leave on his motorcycle. Perlas’s wife blocked his exit. He “became enraged.” When she tried to take away his keys, Perlas shoved her and gave her a bloody nose, then left. The next day, officers arrested Perlas for spousal battery, child endangerment, and vandalism. Perlas met with his parole officer and signed a form admitting he had been drinking. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation petitioned to revoke Perlas’s parole, stating: “Intermediate sanctions have been considered. However, they have been deemed not appropriate.” The trial court ultimately dismissed the petition “for failure to appropriately consider intermediate sanctions.” The court of appeal reversed. The petition sufficiently alleged that the Department considered and rejected intermediate sanctions before seeking revocation and why intermediate sanctions were not appropriate. View "People v. Perlas" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law