Justia Criminal Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Court of Appeal
California v. Stapleton
Defendant-appellant Luther Darnell Stapleton, Jr. pleaded guilty to petty theft with a prior. Defendant stole less than $950 worth of property from a Target store in 2014. Defendant had prior theft-related convictions, as well as failing to register pursuant to Penal Code section 290. In return, defendant was placed on probation for a period of 36 months on various terms and conditions. Defendant challenged two of his probation conditions on constitutional grounds. But finding no reversible error in the imposition of those conditions, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Stapleton" on Justia Law
California v. Phung
Defendant Tom Phung was 17 years old when he and fellow Tiny Rascal Gang (TRG) members, riding in about five cars, chased a fleeing vehicle containing eight rival gang members. A TRG member shot and killed one rival and seriously wounded a second. A jury convicted defendant of the lesser included crime of second degree murder, attempted murder, shooting at an occupied motor vehicle, and street terrorism. With respect to the first three crimes, the jury found true the allegations that defendant committed them for the benefit of a criminal street gang and vicariously discharged a firearm causing great bodily injury and death. The trial court sentenced defendant to an aggregate prison sentence of 40 years to life. On appeal, defendant argued he was a passive aider and abettor and consequently his 40-year-to-life sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. He also argued his concurrent sentence on count 3 should have been stayed pursuant to section 654. He also requested that a clerical error in his abstract of judgment be corrected, which described his count 3 conviction as shooting at an “inhabited dwelling” rather than an “occupied motor vehicle.” The Court of Appeal agreed the abstract of judgment had be corrected as to count 3. In all other respects, the Court affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Phung" on Justia Law
People v. Call
Defendant was convicted of transportation of methamphetamine and possession of methamphetamine for sale. Three prior prison term enhancement allegations were found true in a bifurcated court trial and those prior convictions were reduced to misdemeanors pursuant to Proposition 47, Penal Code 667.5. In the published portion of the opinion, the court agreed with defendant that the imposition of those three prior prison terms at her sentencing on the new offenses was error. The court reasoned that, even though the prior convictions were felonies when defendant committed the new offenses, and even though the prior prison term allegations were adjudicated prior to the convictions being reduced to misdemeanors, the reductions occurred prior to defendant's sentencing. Since, at the time of sentencing, the prior convictions were no longer felonies, the court concluded that the prior prison term enhancements could not be imposed. Therefore, the court modified the judgment in regard to the three one-year enhancements and affirmed. View "People v. Call" on Justia Law
In re Kyle T.
Defendant appealed from the juvenile court's adjudication order declaring him a ward of the court and sustained a petition filed by the People alleging that defendant had committed vandalism charges based on his "tagging" of buildings. The court agreed with defendant that there was insufficient evidence to support the juvenile court's finding on the felony vandalism count, under Penal Code 594, subdivision (b)(1) & (2), that defendant caused $400 or more in property damage, which was the amount of damage necessary to punish vandalism as a felony rather than as a misdemeanor. In this case, the court concluded that the people provided insufficient evidence of the actual cost of repair to the property damage defendant caused, and the graffiti cost removal list failed to satisfy the criteria for use of average costs in restitution cases. Accordingly, the court reversed in part and remanded. View "In re Kyle T." on Justia Law
California v. Super. Ct.
Proposition 57 eliminated the State's ability to directly file charges against a juvenile offender in adult court and instead authorized the State to file “a motion to transfer the minor from juvenile court to a court of criminal jurisdiction.” Prior to the passage of Proposition 57, the State directly filed a complaint against real party in interest, a minor, in adult court under the authority of former section 707(d)(2) of the Welfare and Institutions Code. A preliminary hearing took place May 26, 2016; on June 10, 2016, the State filed an information charging real party in interest with felony violations of Penal Code sections 209(b)(1), 286(c)(2)(B), and 288a(c)(2)(B). On November 16, 2016, real party in interest filed a motion requesting “a fitness hearing in juvenile court pursuant to recently enacted legislation via Proposition 57.” After considering written opposition from the State, who argued Proposition 57 could not be applied to real party in interest's case retroactively, the trial court granted the motion on November 29, 2016. Noting that the issue was “novel,” the trial court stayed its order until December 20, 2016, so the State could seek appellate intervention. The State's petition in this case followed three days later, seeking an emergency stay and asserted there would be “widespread confusion and continued litigation” if the trial court's order in this case stood. In addition, the petition introduced evidence that there were 57 other direct-file cases pending, and that 10 motions to transfer to juvenile court had already been received. The Court of Appeal denied the State's petition and published this opinion because "we recognize that trial courts may need guidance deciding whether and how to apply Proposition 57 to cases that were directly filed in adult court before its passage. We caution that we need not and therefore do not opine about anything other than the retroactivity of the portion of Proposition 57 that requires the juvenile court to permit trial of a minor in an adult criminal court. We do not address the equal protection argument real party in interest advanced in his informal response. In addition, although the People asked for advice about how courts should handle direct-filed cases that are transferred to juvenile court and then back to adult court after a successful motion under Welfare and Institutions Code section 707, subdivision (a), we do not purport to guide trial courts regarding other procedural aspects of cases against juveniles now that Proposition 57 has passed. Any such issues are best left for cases that squarely present them." View "California v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law
California v. Salas
Steven Salas pleaded no contest to domestic violence and the trial court sentenced him to three years in prison. The trial court also ordered Salas to pay victim restitution of $17,194.45, including $14,055.48 for security windows and an alarm system. Section 1202.4, subdivision (f)(3)(J) authorized sentencing courts to award restitution "to fully reimburse the victim . . . for every determined economic loss incurred as the result of the defendant's criminal conduct, including, but not limited to . . .[e]xpenses to install or increase residential security incurred related to a violent felony, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 667.5, including, but not limited to, a home security device or system, or replacing or increasing the number of locks." On appeal, Salas argued that because he was not convicted of a "violent felony" as defined in section 667.5, subdivision (c), the trial court erred in awarding victim restitution for residential security expenses. Based on the statutory definition of a "violent felony," the Court of Appeal agreed and modified the judgment accordingly. View "California v. Salas" on Justia Law
California v. Villa-Gomez
Defendant Cesar Villa-Gomez appealed after he was tried and convicted by a jury on multiple assault and gang-related counts arising out of a group attack on fellow prisoners in the Yuba County jail. He was sentenced to six years in state prison. On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred in admitting his statements made in response to jail classification questions about his gang membership. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court did not err in allowing defendant’s statements concerning his gang affiliation made at booking. Because the crime for which defendant was prosecuted had not yet been committed at the time he answered the classification deputy’s questions, those questions were not reasonably likely to illicit an incriminating response. Furthermore, any error in admitting these statements was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Defendant also made several other contentions which were addressed in the unpublished portion of this opinion. There. defendant contended: (1) there was not sufficient evidence to support his conviction for simple assault; (2) there was not sufficient evidence to support the findings on the participation in a criminal street gang count and gang enhancements; (3) the trial court failed to properly instruct the jury that defendant’s knowledge that other participants were gang members is an element of the offense of active participation in a criminal street gang and the gang enhancement; and (4) the prosecutor’s comments during closing argument about the credibility of a police witness was prejudicial prosecutorial misconduct. The Court's review revealed an unauthorized sentence related to a count that was subject to Penal Code section 654.1 To that, the Court ordered imposition of a full-term sentence instead of one-third the midterm imposed by the trial court and further ordered execution of that sentence stayed pursuant to section 654. The Court otherwise affirmed. View "California v. Villa-Gomez" on Justia Law
People v. Cervantes
Cervantes was 14 years old when he attacked a 13-year-old girl and her 20-month-old brother. After breaking into their home, he stabbed them repeatedly as they slept, raped and sodomized the girl, forced her to orally copulate him, and passed out. He had been drinking heavily. His defense rested on voluntary intoxication to negate specific intent. He was convicted of 15 charges, including sex offenses, first-degree burglary, and two counts each of attempted murder, torture, and aggravated mayhem. He received a prison sentence of 50 years to life under Penal Code 667.61, a consecutive 11-year term for one attempted murder (sections 187, 664), plus a consecutive life term for the other attempted murder. The court of appeal reversed as to the eight specific intent counts, noting serious deficiencies in counsel’s performance, and affirmed as to the general intent crimes. The court concluded that Proposition 57, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, requires that the case be remanded for a “fitness hearing” to determine whether adult criminal court or juvenile court will handle any retrial on the reversed counts and sentencing. The court noted that a sentence requiring Cervantes to serve at least 66 years in prison before he would first become eligible for parole exceeds his life expectancy, and is the functional equivalent of life without parole, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. View "People v. Cervantes" on Justia Law
In re Cristian S.
The minor was 13 years old when he engaged sexual conduct with a four-year-old boy and seven-year-old girl. Pursuant to a negotiated agreement under Welfare and Institutions Code section 6021, the minor admitted one count of conduct that if committed by an adult would constitute lewd or lascivious conduct on a child under age 14 (Pen. Code 288(a)); two other counts were dismissed. The parties appeared several times before Judge Johnson for “restitution setting.” The case was set for a contested hearing on victim restitution six months after the disposition hearing. On the day of the contested restitution hearing, the minor’s counsel sought a continuance because Johnson was absent. The visiting judge denied the request, conducted a hearing, and ordered the minor to pay $12,501.39. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that the juvenile court violated People v. Arbuckle in denying the minor’s request to have Judge Johnson preside over the restitution hearing. Arbuckle does not apply to juvenile court restitution hearings, but even if it applied, any error was harmless because the minor received a fair hearing and did not demonstrate that the restitution was excessive. The court upheld restitution for the male victim’s bedroom furniture, clothing, and costs associated with a therapy dog. View "In re Cristian S." on Justia Law
People v. Vega-Robles
A jury convicted Vega-Robles of conspiracy to sell controlled substances, attempted robbery, and two first-degree murders, and found true gang and firearm enhancements. He appealed, challenging gang experts’ testimony on hearsay and confrontation clause grounds. In 2015, the court of appeal reversed the conviction for the murder of Grockett for instructional error, giving the prosecution the option of accepting a reduction of defendant’s conviction to second-degree murder or retrying the first-degree murder charge under theories other than natural and probable consequences. The court rejected his other appellate challenges, but subsequently accepted the case for reconsideration in light of the California Supreme Court’s 2016 decision, People v. Sanchez. The court of appeal then concluded the testimony of two gang experts and the instructions on expert testimony violated Sanchez in certain respects, because the experts testified regarding case-specific facts, but the errors were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, given the plethora of admissible evidence on the defendant’s gang affiliation and leadership status. The court reinstated its previous decision, reversing the Grockett conviction and rejecting the defendant’s other claims. View "People v. Vega-Robles" on Justia Law