Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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When a defendant is held to answer on charges brought in separate cases following separate preliminary hearings, the People do not need the court's permission to file a unitary information, covering the charges in both those cases, as their first pleading where the charges meet the requirements set out in Penal Code section 954. In this case, defendant challenged the inclusion of all counts in a unitary information by means of a motion to set aside the information pursuant to section 995. The court reversed the order granting the motion to set aside counts 1 through 4 of the information and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that the judge deliberately ignored half of the record before him, and erred in his interpretation of the controlling law and in his ruling. View "People v. Henson" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed defendant's conviction of battery by gassing in violation of Penal Code section 243.9(a). The purpose of the battery by gassing statute is to deter individuals in custody from spitting on, or throwing feces or urine on, peace officers. In this case, the court rejected defendant's contention that a courtroom was not a local detention facility under section 243.9(a) and held that the courtroom constituted a "local detention facility" where the practical, reasonable, common sense interpretation of the statute promoted the Legislature's goal of protecting peace officers from battery by inmates. View "People v. Valdez" on Justia Law

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A jury found defendant Eric Jones guilty of multiple counts of second degree burglary of a vehicle and additional offenses arising from a series of car break-ins throughout San Francisco that occurred over a 17-month period. The trial court instructed the jury that if it found Jones committed one or more of the charged auto burglaries (along with one uncharged auto burglary) by a preponderance of the evidence, it could consider that evidence in deciding identity and intent to commit theft for the other charged crimes. The instruction reminded the jury that the prosecution had to prove each charge beyond a reasonable doubt. Jones argued on appeal this instruction had the effect of lowering the prosecution’s burden of proof, and was structural error requiring automatic reversal. The Court of Appeal concluded the instruction should not have been given, but there was no structural error. Any error in giving the instruction was harmless. View "California v. Jones" on Justia Law

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In this writ proceeding, the State sought relief from a discovery order requiring them to produce certain materials related to DNA testing in a criminal action. Petitioner Florencio Dominguez was accused of conspiracy to commit murder. Pertinent here, one piece of evidence expected to be introduced at his upcoming trial was central: results from DNA testing conducted on a pair of blood-soaked gloves found near the scene of the crime. No one disputed DNA testing established the blood on the gloves' exterior to be that of victim. DNA on swabs from the gloves' interior, however, could not be tied to a single source. Rather, those swabs yielded a low template DNA mixture with multiple contributors. The San Diego Police Department Crime Lab (the lab) tested the swabs using the STRmix program. In February 2018, defense counsel informally requested discovery of materials related to the STRmix program from the State. After review, the Court of Appeal granted the state’s application and issued a writ of mandate directing the superior court to: (1) vacate its order of March 29, 2018; (2) enter a new order denying defendant's motion to compel production of the STRmix software program, the program source code, and ESR's internal validation studies; and (3) conduct further proceedings consistent with the Court’s opinion with respect to the STRmix user manual. The stay issued on May 18, 2018 would be vacated when this opinion was final as to the Court of Appeal. View "California v. Superior Court (Dominguez)" on Justia Law

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Defendant challenged his conviction for mayhem, contending that the trial court engaged in improper judicial factfinding to determine that his prior conviction of assault from 1991 under Penal Code section 245, subdivision (a)(1), was a serious felony and a strike under California's "Three Strikes" law, violating his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred in relying upon the preliminary hearing transcript to support the finding that the prior felony was a serious felony. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "People v. Hudson" on Justia Law

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After remand from the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal reaffirmed defendants' convictions and order modifications. The court directed the trial court on remand to hold a hearing on ability to pay. The court also remanded for resentencing. The court directed the trial court to consider, in light of People v. Contreras, (2018) 4 Cal.5th 349, any mitigating circumstances of Defendant Moreland's crimes and life, and the impact of any new legislation and regulations on appropriate sentencing. The court also directed the trial court to impose a time by which Moreland could seek parole. View "People v. Adams" on Justia Law

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Kevin Megown beat Michelle R., the mother of his child. After one incident where Michelle's mother, Maria R., came to aid her, Megown threatened to kill both of them as he held a gun. A jury convicted Megown of violating a domestic violence restraining order, possessing an assault weapon, and inflicting corporal injury on a cohabitant. It also found true allegations that he inflicted great bodily injury in circumstances involving domestic violence. The jury acquitted on some counts and could not reach a verdict on several others. Megown was retried on some of the unresolved counts. A second jury convicted Megown of inflicting corporal injury on a cohabitant, three counts each of criminal threats, and assault with a semiautomatic firearm. The trial court sentenced Megown to a total term of 17 years in prison. On appeal, Megown argued the trial court erred by: (1) admitting past uncharged acts of domestic violence under Evidence Code section 1109 with respect to the counts involving Maria; (2) admitting evidence of abuse that occurred more than 10 years before the charged crimes; (3) giving CALCRIM No. 875 (assault with a firearm) without modification; and (4) failing to stay the sentence on one of the criminal threats counts under Penal Code section 654. He also claimed the abstract of judgment should have been amended to accurately reflect the trial court's oral pronouncement and that the cumulative effect of the above errors require reversal. While the Court of Appeal agreed the trial court erred when it failed to stay the sentence on one of the criminal threats counts under Penal Code section 654 and that the abstract of judgment should be corrected, it rejected Megown's other arguments. The matter was remanded for the limited purpose of allowing the trial court to determine whether to strike the firearm enhancements. In all other respects, the convictions were affirmed. View "California v. Megown" on Justia Law

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A jury found defendant Andrey Yushchuk guilty of second degree "Watson" murder, misdemeanor drunk driving (DUI) and misdemeanor aggravated DUI (over 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content); it acquitted him of felony DUI-with-injury charges. The trial court sentenced defendant to prison for an unstayed term of 15 years to life. On appeal, defendant argued: (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion to acquit at the close of the State's case-in-chief; and (2) the court misinstructed the jury regarding permissive inferences. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Yushchuk" on Justia Law

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This case was Marc Endsley’s second appeal challenging the denial of his Penal Code section 1026.2 petition for conditional release from the state hospital. Endsley was committed to the state hospital in 1997 after a jury found him not guilty of the first degree murder of his father by reason of insanity (NGI). In his first appeal, he argued the trial court erred by summarily denying his petition without a hearing. In that case, the Court of Appeal agreed Endsley was entitled to a hearing, and in interpreting section 1026.2(l), the Court held the trial court had a duty to procure a recommendation from the state hospital on the appropriateness of release. The trial court obtained the recommendation, held a hearing, and again denied the petition. In this appeal, Endsley challenged the denial of his two prehearing requests, arguing the trial court violated his constitutional rights to testify at his hearing and to the assistance of an independent medical expert. Endsley argued the court erred by ruling on his request to testify remotely without first ensuring the selection of a confinement facility that could “continue [his] program of treatment,” as required by section 1026.2, subdivisions (b) and (c). He also argued the holding in California v. McKee, 47 Cal.4th 1172 (2010) that sexually violent predators (SVPs) had a due process right to the appointment of an independent expert to assist them in petitioning for conditional release from involuntary civil confinement should extend to NGIs seeking conditional release. After review, the Court of Appeal agreed with both of Endsley’s contentions, reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "California v. Endsley" on Justia Law

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Defendant Edgar Gutierrez was convicted of attempted carjacking. Defendant claimed that he merely asked the victim if he had keys and could give him a ride. He denied threatening the victim; he claimed that he spoke Spanish poorly and the victim must have misunderstood him. On appeal, he argued the trial court erred by: (1) allowing the prosecution to impeach him with the facts underlying his prior felony conviction; and (2) discouraging the jury from requesting a readback of testimony. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law