Articles Posted in California Court of Appeal

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Bernice Espinoza appealed the denial of her petition for writ of administrative mandate challenging the one-year suspension of her driver’s license by the Department of Motor Vehicles (Department). After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the record supported the trial court’s implied findings that: (1) Espinoza was lawfully arrested on reasonable cause to believe she had been driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI); (2) Espinoza refused to submit to and failed to complete a chemical test as required under the implied consent law; and (3) Espinoza was afforded a fair hearing before the Department. Therefore, the superior court correctly denied Espinoza’s petition. View "Espinoza v. Shiomoto" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, convicted of two counts of first degree murder and two counts of attempted robbery, argued on direct appeal that insufficient evidence supported the jury's finding true the Penal Code section 190.2 special circumstance allegations that the murders were committed while petitioner was engaged in the attempted commission of a robbery or burglary. In 2015, the California Supreme Court held in People v. Banks that, under section 190.2, subdivision (d), an aider and abettor of felony murder who lacks the intent to kill may be sentenced to a term of life without the possibility of parole only if the aider and abettor was a "major participant" in the crime and acted with "reckless indifference to human life." In light of Banks, petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury's robbery/burglary special circumstance findings. The court reviewed the record in light of the California Supreme Court's most recent guidance concerning defendant aider and abbettor's culpability along the so-called Enmund-Tison continuum, holding that sufficient evidence supported the jury's section 190.2 robbery/burglary special circumstance findings in this case. Accordingly, the court denied the petition. View "In re Loza" on Justia Law

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This case involved the interplay between two criminal law statutes: Penal Code section 490.2 (petty theft) and Vehicle Code section 10851 (unlawful taking or driving a vehicle). Defendant Charles Van Orden appealed the trial court’s order denying his petition under the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act (Proposition 47) to have his felony section 10851 conviction reduced to misdemeanor petty theft under section 490.2. The State argued the trial court was correct in concluding section 10851 offenses did not qualify as petty theft offenses under any circumstances. Penal Code section 490.2 redefined the crime of petty theft as “obtaining any property by theft where the value of the . . . property taken does not exceed nine hundred fifty dollars ($950).” Section 490.2 also directed any petty theft, so defined, would be punished as a misdemeanor. The issue on appeal was whether Van Orden’s conviction for violating section 10851, which criminalized the act of unlawfully taking or driving a vehicle, would have been a misdemeanor petty theft under section 490.2 had Proposition 47 been in effect at the time of the offense. As the California Supreme Court explained, “[u]nlawfully taking a vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of possession is a form of theft, and the taking may be accomplished by driving the vehicle away. For this reason, a defendant convicted under section 10851(a) of unlawfully taking a vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of possession has suffered a theft conviction” and, it follows, must be punished under section 490.2 of petty theft. “On the other hand, unlawful driving of a vehicle is not a form of theft when the driving occurs or continues after the theft is complete (“ posttheft driving”).” Therefore, the Court of Appeals found that a conviction under section 10851(a) for posttheft driving is not a theft conviction, and need not be punished under section 490.2 as petty theft. View "California v. Van Orden" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant John Riddles pled guilty to one count of workers' compensation insurance fraud. His conviction grew out of his application for workers' compensation insurance, which fraudulently represented that a number of nurses who had been placed in residential care and skilled-nursing facilities by Riddles' staffing agency were computer programmers. His misrepresentation of the nurses as computer programmers substantially reduced the premium his agency was charged by the workers' compensation insurer that accepted his company's application; accordingly, the trial court required that Riddles pay, as restitution to the insurer, $37,000 in premiums the insurer would have earned in the absence of his misrepresentation. Contrary to his argument on appeal, a workers' compensation insurer could recover, as restitution under Penal Code section 1202.4, the premiums it would have earned in the absence of misrepresentations by an insurance applicant. The fact Riddles may have been able to establish that the Labor Code did not require that he provide workers' compensation coverage for the nurses did not relieve him of responsibility for providing the insurer with a fraudulent application or alter the fact the nurses were covered by the policy he obtained. View "California v. Riddles" on Justia Law

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Defendant petitioned to have his felony conviction for second degree burglary, Pen. Code, 49, redesignated as misdemeanor shoplifting, and for resentencing. The trial court concluded that defendant's conviction did not qualify for resentencing, finding that an attempt to break into a coin-operated soap dispenser in a commercial laundromat did not comport with the commonsense meaning of "shoplifting." The court held that defendant was eligible for resentencing under section 1170.18, subdivision (a), because his offense constituted shoplifting as defined in section 459.5. However, the court held that defendant was not entitled to an order directing that he be resentenced. The court remanded so that the trial court could address the issue of dangerousness under section 1170.18, subdivisions (b) through (e). View "People v. Bunyard" on Justia Law

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In 2013, jury convicted defendant of possession of methamphetamine for sale. The trial court found defendant had three prior narcotics sales convictions and sentenced defendant to 11 years in county jail pursuant to former Penal Code section 1170(h)(5)(A), the Realignment Act. The court of appeal affirmed. Defendant then successfully moved to recall his sentence and modify it to provide he serve the remaining term on mandatory supervision, to permit him to complete his sentence in a residential drug treatment program. The court ordered an 11-year split sentence with the period of mandatory supervision to begin that day. The state appealed. The court of appeals reversed. Under the Realignment Act in effect in 2013 (later amended), the trial court lacked the authority to modify the sentence after the execution of defendant‘s sentence for a term in county jail pursuant to the Realignment Act had begun. View "People v. Antolin" on Justia Law

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Defendant Lamonte Russell and codefendants, Ronald Butterfield and Eric Williams, were charged with committing attempted murder, aggravated mayhem, torture, and assault with a deadly weapon. The trial court severed defendant’s trial from the other two defendants’ trial. The jury found defendant guilty of aggravated mayhem, torture, and assault with a deadly weapon, but not guilty of attempted murder. The trial court sentenced defendant to seven years to life in prison. Defendant appealed his convictions on the grounds there was no unanimous oral declaration of a guilty jury verdict and the trial court erred in denying his motion to exclude statements he made during a police interview before he was advised of his Miranda rights. Defendant also contended the trial court violated his constitutional due process rights by failing to disclose Juror No. 11’s identifying information, and by not subpoenaing Juror No. 11 to testify regarding juror misconduct disclosed to trial counsel. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the convictions. View "California v. Russell" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Selina Angel had two jury trials on three charges. At the first trial, the jury acquitted defendant of the third count of committing a lewd or lascivious act on John Doe 2 (JD2), a minor under 16 years old. The first jury was unable to reach a verdict on the remaining two charges. At the second trial, the jury found defendant guilty of: (1) committing a lewd or lascivious act upon John Doe 1 (JD1), a child under 14 years old; and (2) committing a lewd or lascivious act on JD2, a minor under 16 years old. The second jury found true the allegation that defendant engaged in substantial sexual conduct with JD1, who was under 14 years old. The trial court sentenced defendant to prison for a term of six years eight months. On appeal, defendant contended her counsel rendered ineffective assistance at the second trial by failing to subpoena two witnesses who testified at the first trial. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Angel" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of first degree murder and the jury found defendant personally and intentionally discharged a firearm causing death. In the published portion of the opinion, the court discussed why any error in failing to instruct on voluntary manslaughter was harmless. The court explained that under no view of the evidence was defendant guilty of only voluntary manslaughter. In this case, defendant's trial testimony would not permit a jury composed of reasonable persons to conclude he was guilty of voluntary manslaughter but not murder, nor would his confession to the detectives, which was plainly inconsistent with his trial testimony and provided no support for a lesser included offense verdict on the murder charge. The court modified the judgment to impose a $300 parole revocation restitution fine, and affirmed in all other respects. View "People v. Chestra" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Philip Mejia appealed his conviction for torture, spousal rape, spousal abuse, and criminal threats. The Court of Appeal rejected his contention that the court should have conducted a hearing pursuant to "California v. Marsden," (2 Cal.3d 118 (1970)) based on defendant’s statements during a hearing on his request to represent himself. The Court also rejected his contentions concerning the improper admission of evidence. The Court agreed, however, that Penal Code section 6541 required remand for resentencing. View "California v. Mejia" on Justia Law