Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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After the People petitioned to extend appellant's involuntary commitment, the state hospital failed to transport appellant to the hearing. Appellant's counsel waived his right to a jury on his behalf and, following a bench trial, the trial court found the People's petition true and extended appellant's commitment. Appellant contends that the trial court erred by, inter alia, deciding in his absence that he was incompetent to decide whether to waive this right, and by accepting his counsel's waiver.The Court of Appeal was unpersuaded by the Attorney General's contention that appellant's presence would have made no difference in the trial court's assessment of appellant's capacity to waive his right to a jury trial. The court explained that, in enacting Penal Code 1026.5, the Legislature envisioned a pre-trial hearing at which the not guilty by reason of insanity defendant is not only present but is also addressed directly by the court concerning his or her right to a jury trial. That the trial court found appellant incompetent in his absence may have deprived him of the opportunity to present his strongest evidence of his own competence. Furthermore, appellant's subsequent testimony at trial suggests that had he been present at the hearing, he might well have been able to dispel any doubt about his capacity to understand the jury-waiver decision. The court rejected the Attorney General's claims to the contrary and held that the violation of appellant's right to be present at the hearing was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "People v. Ford" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of sexually molesting his two granddaughters, F. and A. The Court of Appeal held that defendant's previous conviction for molesting A.—suffered in an entirely separate proceeding that concluded long before the trial of his offenses against F.— does not fall within Penal Code 667.61, subdivision (e)(4)'s multiple victim circumstance as a matter of law. Therefore, the trial court should not have instructed on the multiple victim circumstance or submitted it to the jury. The court explained that, because sentencing under the One Strike law in the absence of a valid qualifying circumstance is an unauthorized sentence, the One Strike sentences on counts 6, 7, and 8 are unauthorized. The court struck the multiple victim circumstances and remanded for resentencing. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "People v. Foley" on Justia Law

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On February 24, 2020, Lacayo was arraigned for possession of a firearm by a felon and related felonies. He waived his right under Penal Code 859b to a preliminary hearing within 10 court days but did not waive his right to a preliminary hearing within 60 days. On April 24, after the Governor proclaimed a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the parties appeared and announced they were ready to proceed. The court acknowledged it was “the 60th day” but continued the preliminary hearing to April 28, citing the pandemic and the lack of prejudice to Lacayo, who was out of custody. Defense counsel objected but the court cited “exceptional, extraordinary circumstances.” At the April 28 hearing, Lacayo unsuccessfully moved for dismissal. The information was filed on May 5. On June 18, Lacayo moved to set aside the information based on the 60-day rule violation. The People requested dismissal without prejudice and a good cause finding for purposes of section 1387(c)(1), which provides that dismissal does not bar re-filing if “good cause is shown why the preliminary examination was not held within 60 days.” On August 5, the court denied Lacayo’s motion, adding specific facts to establish good cause.Lacayo filed a petition for a peremptory writ. The court of appeal granted relief. There is no good-cause exception to the 60-day rule; the pandemic emergency orders did not extend the rule. The court should not have continued the preliminary hearing beyond April 24 without Lacayo's personal waiver. View "Lacayo v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Jeremy Tellez was charged with DUI offenses and sought pretrial mental health diversion. The issue presented for the Court of Appeal's review was which of the two statutes prevailed: Vehicle Code section 23640 or Penal Code section 1001.36. Like the trial court, the Court concluded that Vehicle Code section 23640 prevailed and barred pretrial mental health diversion for defendants charged with DUI offenses. the Court therefore denied Tellez’s petition for a writ of mandate. View "Tellez v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Consistent with People v. Elizalde (2015) 61 Cal.4th 523, the Court of Appeal held that the routine booking question exception to Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436, categorically applies to all of the core booking questions enumerated in Pennsylvania v. Muniz (1990) 496 U.S. 582, 601-602, and authorizes the admission of the defendant's answers to those specific questions into evidence without the need to assess those questions' incriminatory nature on a case-by-case basis.The Court of Appeal affirmed the juvenile adjudication in this case, holding that the trial court did not err in admitting the officer's testimony regarding the minor's answers to the booking questions about his age and date of birth, both of which fall squarely within Muniz's categories of basic biographical data. Therefore, there was sufficient evidence to support the juvenile court's adjudication. View "The People v. J.W." on Justia Law

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Wilson was arrested after he ran from a routine traffic stop. Police searched the area where Wilson was apprehended and discovered two baggies of cocaine and a loaded handgun. Wilson, with previous convictions for multiple felonies, pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). A typical section 922(g) violation carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, 18 U.S.C 924(a)(2); but the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), imposes a 15-year minimum if the offender has three prior “violent felony” convictions, section 924(e)(1). Wilson objected to an ACCA enhancement, arguing that his prior conviction under Ohio Revised Code 2911.01(A)(3) ((A)(3) Aggravated Robbery was not a violent felony because one could be convicted “even when the victim of the crime suffered little or no actual physical injury.” The court concluded that one of Wilson’s aggravated robbery convictions was not an ACCA violent felony.The Sixth Circuit vacated the 79-month sentence. The 2019 precedent on which the district court relied did not answer whether (A)(3) Aggravated Robbery is a violent felony. The Sixth Circuit found the statute “twice divisible,” so that a modified categorical approach should be applied, and remanded. The sentencing court should determine what crime, with what elements Wilson was convicted of and determine which predicate “theft offense” formed the basis of Wilson’s (A)(3) Aggravated Robbery conviction. View "United States v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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Baratang used the debit card belonging to the sister of his father’s wife. The victim suffers from dementia. An officer testified that the total amount taken from her bank account as a result of the transactions was $8,710.44. A jury convicted Baratang of felony theft from an elder under Penal Code section 368(d).Baratang contends that the court prejudicially erred by instructing the jury it could convict him of felony elder theft based on an identity theft theory regardless of the value of the property taken or obtained. The court of appeal reversed. The jury instruction contradicts the plain language and legislative history of section 368, and the error cannot be deemed harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The $950 requirement in section 368(d)(1) applies to a felony violation of section 368(d) based on identity theft. The court could not rule out a reasonable possibility that the jury relied on the identity theft theory to support a felony violation of section 368(d). It is reasonably possible that one or more jurors found Baratang guilty of felony theft from an elder under the identity theft theory based solely on two ATM withdrawals totaling $700. View "People v. Baratang" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for bank fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering. The court held that the district court did not err by allowing defendant to proceed pro se after he invoked his right to self-representation. In this case, the waiver of defendant's right to counsel was clear, uncontested on appeal, and repeatedly reaffirmed after signs of uncertainty. The court also held that the district court did not err by denying defendant's motion under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(b) and, in any event, any error was harmless.The court further held that, to trigger the USSG 2B1.1(b)(16)(A) enhancement, at least in a case involving property held by a financial institution for a depositor, the financial institution (1) must be the source of the property, which the court interprets as having property rights in the property, and (2) must have been victimized by the offense conduct. The court held that the two-level enhancement was not erroneously applied to defendant's sentence where HSBC-Monaco, not defendant, was a source of the derived property; control over the property transferred directly from HSBC-Monaco to defendant; and the bank was not just a conduit for a transfer of property that resulted from criminal conduct directed elsewhere. The court explained that the bank was a victim of defendant's fraud. Finally, the court held that defendant's sentence was substantively reasonable where the district court considered the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors and the district court did not abuse its discretion. View "United States v. Muho" on Justia Law

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In 2014, a jury convicted Lizarraga of second-degree murder and found that he personally used a firearm in connection with the shooting of a rival gang member. Lizarraga was 17 years old when he committed the crime. He was sentenced to 40 years to life in state prison. After his first appeal, Lizarraga filed a “Franklin” habeas corpus petition, requesting an opportunity to make a record relevant to his eventual youth offender parole hearing. The court granted the petition and set a hearing date. Lizarraga next moved for a transfer hearing in juvenile court under the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 (Proposition 57). The trial court denied the motion.The court of appeal affirmed, concluding that Lizarraga’s case was final when he requested the transfer hearing. Proposition 57 does not apply to final judgments. The Franklin hearing aside, Lizarraga’s case was final in June 2016, upon expiration of the time to seek U.S. Supreme Court review. The court rejected an argument that whenever a Franklin hearing is scheduled, finality is undone and all intervening changes in the law are in play. Lizarraga’s equal protection challenge is without merit. No “equal protection violation aris[es] from the timing of the effective date of a statute lessening the punishment for a particular offense.” View "People v. Lizarraga" on Justia Law

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Dex Hunter Stone was indicted for sexual battery and lustful touching of a child. A jury acquitted him of sexual battery but found him guilty of lustful touching of a child. The Circuit Court sentenced Stone to ten years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections with six years suspended and five years of probation. Stone appealed the denial of his motion for a new trial, arguing the verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence and that newly discovered evidence entitled him to a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Stone v. Mississippi" on Justia Law