Articles Posted in Criminal 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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Jackie Robinson, a patient and detainee at DSH-C, petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus seeking the return of confiscated items, as well as compensation for any lost or destroyed property. The items at issue included a portable hard drive, PlayStation Portable gaming device, and memory cards. The Court of Appeal held that substantial evidence supported the trial court's finding that the contested items were contraband. In the absence of authority showing civil detainees were entitled to the return of their confiscated property, the court rejected Robinson's assertion that he was entitled to the return of his property. Therefore, the court affirmed the trial court's decision declining Robinson's request for the return of the items. View "In re Robinson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Court of Appeal reversed a two-year restraining order against Jonathan V, because he did not receive adequate notice of or a hearing on the People's application for the restraining order. In this juvenile case, defense counsel walked into court for a trial setting conference and was given "notice" by the prosecutor that the People were going to seek a two-year restraining order against her client, Jonathan V. Jonathan V. did not receive adequate notice or an adequate opportunity to be heard to contest the issuance of the order. View "In re Jonathan V." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against defendant, the killer of their daughter, seeking vindication for the 31-year-old murder. Defendant moved to dismiss the case on the basis that the lawsuit had been filed before, not after, her conviction and hence could not fall within Civil Procedure section 340.3, subdivision (a)’s authorization. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of defendant's motion and judgment in favor of plaintiffs, holding that defendant waived prematurity by not timely raising it; any prematurity was cured by the time defendant raised the issue in her motion to dismiss; and by law, the equities supported disregarding defendant's prematurity plea in abatement. View "Rasmussen v. Lazarus" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Dr. Erdle was arrested for possession of cocaine. He successfully completed drug treatment under a deferred entry of judgment program. Before completion of his drug program and dismissal of his criminal matter, the Medical Board filed an accusation. Erdle argued that he could not be disciplined because the action was based entirely on information obtained from his arrest record. Penal Code 1000.4 provides that “[a] record pertaining to an arrest resulting in successful completion of a pretrial diversion program shall not ... be used in any way that could result in the denial of any employment, benefit, license, or certificate.” Business and Professions Code section 492, however, states: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, successful completion of any diversion program under the Penal Code . . . shall not prohibit" disciplinary action by specific agencies, "notwithstanding that evidence of that misconduct may be" in an arrest record. The ALJ concluded that section 492 permits discipline but that arrest records should not be permitted at the hearing; that testimony by the arresting officer was allowable; and that cause for discipline existed. The court of appeal held that section 492 creates a blanket exemption from the restrictions contained in section 1000.4 for licensing decisions made by the specified healing arts agencies. View "Medical Board of California v. Superior Court" 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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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