Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
by
A trial court denied defendant-appellant Anthony Williams’s motion to substitute retained counsel for his appointed counsel. After the jury found Williams guilty of first degree murder, and found true a special allegation, the trial court sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole. On appeal, Williams claimed the trial court violated his constitutional right to counsel by denying his request to be represented by counsel of his choice and that this error requires reversal without regard to prejudice. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed, and reversed the trial court's judgment. View "California v. Williams" on Justia Law

by
After entering a plea of no contest to attempted driving with a blood alcohol-level of 0.08 percent or more within 10 years of a felony conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) and admitting two prior DUI convictions, defendant Tanya Cummings was granted five years of formal probation. She appealed, contending that : (1) attempted DUI, even with two prior felony DUI convictions, was a misdemeanor under the plain terms of Penal Code section 23550.5; and (2) the trial court erred by ordering her to pay for the cost of her court appointed counsel without a finding of ability to pay or a showing of the actual costs incurred. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Cummings" on Justia Law

by
Senate Bill No. 1421 amended Penal Code section 832.7 to allow disclosure under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) of records relating to officer-involved shootings, serious use of force and sustained findings of sexual assault or serious dishonesty. VCDSA filed suit against defendants to enjoin section 832.7’s application to records involving peace officer conduct and incidents occurring before January 1, 2019, the statute's effective date. The trial court issued a preliminary injunction.In the meantime, the First District issued Walnut Creek Police Officers' Ass'n v. City of Walnut Creek (2019) 33 Cal.App.5th 940, which rejected the assertion "that applying the 2019 amendments to compel disclosure of records created prior to 2019 constitutes an improper retroactive application of the new law." In the absence of a reason to depart from Walnut Creek, and for reasons stated in Becerra v. Superior Court (2020) 44 Cal.App.5th 897, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment and dissolved the permanent injunction. The court agreed with Walnut Creek that section 832.7 does not attach new legal consequences to or increase a peace officer's liability for conduct that occurred before the statute's effective date. The court explained that because the statute merely broadens the public's right to access records regarding that conduct, it applies retroactively. View "Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs' Ass'n. v. County of Ventura" on Justia Law

by
Defendant was convicted by a jury of one count of first degree premeditated murder, and five counts of premeditated attempted murder. The jury found true allegations that the crimes were gang related and that defendant personally discharged a firearm. Defendant was sentenced to a total term of 90 years to life in state prison.In the published portion of this opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the evidence was sufficient to support all five counts of attempted murder. In this case, there was no indication defendant had a primary target; during his jailhouse conversation with the Perkins agent, defendant gave no indication he sought to target a specific individual; defendant fired a semi-automatic weapon from a distance of 40 to 50 feet at a group containing at least six males standing so closely to one another that they fit within the frame of the metal door of the barbershop; and the fact that no one other than one certain victim was struck or injured does not negate an intent to kill. The court explained that firing a gun at the group, under such circumstances, was substantial evidence from which the jury could find a specific intent to kill, and at least one direct but ineffective step towards killing the five victims who survived the shooting. View "People v. Foster" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
The Court of Appeal affirmed defendant's conviction of kidnapping to commit rape, oral copulation, or sodomy, sodomy by use of force, and two counts of commercial burglary. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it admitted evidence that defendant watched pornography shortly before committing the assault; the trial court did not err in refusing to reopen voir dire to inquire into the jurors' views of pornography; there was sufficient evidence to warrant a jury instruction regarding evaluation of a witness with a mental or communication impairment; and counsel did not render ineffective assistance by failing to object to evidence that he refused to answer questions by the nurse. The court rejected defendant's claim of cumulative errors.However, the court modified the conviction by striking the five-year great bodily injury enhancement and replacing it with a three-year enhancement. The court directed the trial court to prepare an amended abstract of judgment reflecting the modification and to forward the amended abstract to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "People v. Byers" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
In 2016, California voters approved Proposition 57, the “Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016,” which amended the California Constitution to grant early parole consideration to persons convicted of a nonviolent felony offense. Petitioners Alexei Kavanaugh, Alberto Moreno, and Larry Smith were denied parole release under the procedures established by the parole regulations. In separate habeas corpus proceedings challenging the parole denials, the trial courts invalidated the parole regulations and ordered new parole consideration proceedings for the petitioners. The courts found the parole regulations were unconstitutional because they did not guarantee the assistance of legal counsel for potential parolees, they did not require in-person parole hearings, and they permitted individual hearing officers to make parole release decisions. According to the courts, the parole regulations conflict with section 32’s guarantee of parole consideration and violate prisoners’ procedural due process rights. The Court of Appeal concluded the parole regulations did not conflict with the constitutional guarantee of parole consideration or violate due process. "Section 32... vests CDCR with authority to adopt regulations in furtherance of its guarantee of parole consideration. CDCR acted within its mandate by enacting the parole regulations." Further, the Court concluded parole regulations required annual parole eligibility reviews, set forth sufficiently definite criteria governing parole release decisions, mandated a written statement of reasons for each parole release decision, and granted prisoners notice of the parole proceeding, an opportunity to submit a written statement to the Board of Parole Hearings (the Board), and the right to seek review of an adverse decision. "These features adequately safeguard against arbitrary and capricious parole release decisions." Orders granting the petitioners’ habeas corpus petitions were reversed. View "In re Kavanaugh" on Justia Law

by
Hoze began serving an indeterminate life sentence in 1980 after being convicted of attempted kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, vehicle theft, oral copulation, kidnapping with intent to commit robbery, and battery by means of force and violence. While incarcerated, he was convicted of weapon possession in 1981 and in 1987. Hoze was sentenced to two additional, consecutive prison terms (Thompson terms) for the in-prison offenses, totaling four years.In 2018, the Board of Parole Hearings granted Hoze parole under the Elderly Parole Program, Penal Code 3055, reasoning that based on “the positive adjustments you’ve made over the last decade . . . you no longer pose a risk of danger to society.” While in prison, Hoze participated in vocational training and self-help programs including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. He received positive work reports. The Board explained, “you have matured” and that “your current age of 67 does reduce your recidivism risk.”Although the parole decision became final in September 2018, Hoze was not released immediately. The Board concluded that his parole grant did not excuse him from serving his Thompson terms, citing Penal Code section 1170.1(c). The court of appeal held that Hoze is not required to serve his sentences for in-prison offenses because a grant of parole under section 3055 supersedes section 1170.1(c). View "In re Hoze" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Defendant-appellant Jonathon Blanco was found guilty by jury of: (1) bringing a controlled substance into a penal institution; and (2) bringing a deadly weapon into a penal institution. The trial court found defendant had suffered a prior strike conviction and sentenced him to prison for a term of six years. On appeal, defendant raised two issues: (1) the trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury on the useable quantity element of the controlled substance offense; and (2) the trial court erred by denying his request for the jury to be instructed on the allegedly lesser included offense of possession of a controlled substance. The Court of Appeal found merit to defendant's first contention: because there was evidence suggesting defendant possessed less than a usable quantity of methamphetamine, the Court could not conclude beyond a reasonable doubt a rational jury would have rendered the same verdict if it had been properly instructed. Accordingly, the trial court’s error was prejudicial, and that portion of the judgment was reversed and remanded. Judgment was affirmed in all other respects. View "California v. Blanco" on Justia Law

by
Hardy fired a pistol in the direction of an occupied vehicle while standing in the street. An Oakland Police Department undercover officer observed Hardy firing a handgun, which was corroborated by a liquor store’s surveillance video and other evidence. Hardy was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 19 years and 8 months in prison on five counts. Most of Hardy’s sentence was based on his conviction for assault with a semi-automatic firearm (count 5). The only unambiguous, evidence that the firearm he fired was semi-automatic was an audio recording, sent to the police by a third-party service, “Shotspotter.”The court of appeal reversed Hardy’s count 5 conviction. The trial court erred in admitting the Shotspotter evidence without first conducting an evidentiary hearing to assess its scientific reliability pursuant to People v. Kelly; the error was prejudicial. The court rejected Hardy’s challenge to his conviction for willfully and maliciously discharging a firearm at an occupied vehicle. The preliminary hearing magistrate barred defense counsel’s cross-examination of the undercover officer about the officer’s location at the time he observed Hardy fire the weapon after the officer claimed official privilege under Evidence Code section 1040 to withhold the information; any error was harmless. The court did not commit an instructional error in responding to a jury question during deliberations about that count. View "People v. Hardy" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
Defendant Michael Lyon was found guilty by jury of six counts of eavesdropping on or recording confidential communications, and two counts of disorderly conduct. These counts arose from defendant's secret videotaping of prostitutes at his residence. Defendant argued on appeal that prostitutes, as a matter of law, have no reasonable expectation of privacy in their communications during sexual encounters at a client’s residence, and therefore the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss on those grounds. He further contended reversal was required due to instructional error, unlawful prosecution under the "Williamson" rule, and an unlawful probation search. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed defendant's convictions. View "California v. Lyon" on Justia Law