Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
by
Defendant, driving at nearly 90 miles per hour, ran through a red light and collided with another vehicle, killing its occupants. A blood test after the accident confirmed that Defendant had 7.2 nanograms per milliliter of THC, 3.3 nanograms per milliliter of hydroxy THC, and 225 nanograms per milliliter of carboxy THC. Defendant was tried and convicted of second degree murder. An expert testified on behalf of the government, opining that Defendant had smoked marijuana within 24 hours of the accident.On appeal, Defendant argued that the evidence presented was insufficient to prove he acted with the requisite level of malice. To be convicted of second degree murder, the government must prove that Defendant was subjectively aware his actions endangered human life. Here, given the nature of the accident, evidence of intoxication, Defendant's intent to drive and his knowledge of the dangers of impaired driving, the court concluded that the government presented sufficient evidence to allow the jury to find Defendant guilty of second degree murder. View "P. v. Murphy" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of the involuntary manslaughter of his girlfriend, holding that no violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), occurred in this case.During trial, the county medical examiner opined that the victim had been beaten to death, and the district court relied on that testimony in arguing that Defendant beat his girlfriend to death, thereby committing first-degree murder. On appeal, Defendant challenged the trial court's failure to disclose certain portions of redacted memoranda written by the office of the district attorney as material relevant to impeachment of the medical examiner's trial testimony. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that, although portions of the redacted memoranda qualified as impeachment material under Brady, the failure to disclose them was not material to the outcome at trial. View "People v. Deleoz" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of multiple counts of lewd acts upon a child under the age of fourteen and additional sexual offenses and sentencing him to ninety years to life in prison, holding that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding certain testimony, but the error was harmless.During Defendant's trial, the court allowed the defense to present a psychologist as an expert on false confessions and suggestibility, but the court allowed the psychologist only to give general testimony without permitting the expert to offer his assessment of Defendant's particular suggestibility. Defendant challenged this ruling on appeal. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the trial court abused its discretion in excluding the expert's defendant-specific testimony, but the error was harmless; and (2) Defendant was not entitled to relief on his remaining claims of error. View "People v. Caparaz" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's petition for conditional release on the ground of restoration of sanity pursuant to Cal. Penal Code 1026.2, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the petition.Defendant was charged with homicide, found not guilty by reason of insanity, and committed to Napa State Hospital for a term of fifty years to life. Defendant later filed a petition for release into a conditional release program pursuant to section 1026.2. The trial court denied the petition, finding that Defendant had not carried his burden in showing by a preponderance of the evidence that he would not be a danger to the community if conditionally released. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his allegations of error. View "People v. Diggs" on Justia Law

by
Defendant and a codefendant shot and killed another person after an altercation. Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder with a true finding of the gang special circumstance. He was also convicted of active gang participation. Defendant raised several challenges on appeal, including challenges to the gang-murder special circumstance and his substantive gang-participation conviction.The Fifth Appellate District affirmed Defendant's conviction for first-degree murder. The court held that allowing AB 333’s changes to section 186.22 to affect section 190.2(a)(22) would constitute an impermissible amendment of Proposition 21. However, the court agreed with Defendant that AB 333 required the reversal of his gang-participation conviction under section 186.22(a). The court also reversed Defendant's gang and firearm enhancements after the Attorney General agreed that a reasonable jury could conclude the “common benefit” of the murder in this case was not more than reputational. View "P. v. Rojas" on Justia Law

by
A jury convicted Defendant of attempted willful, deliberate, and premeditated murder. The trial court sentenced Defendant to 32 years to life in state prison. Defendant appealed the application of gang and firearm enhancements and challenged the sufficiency of the evidence under SB 775.    In light of Assembly Bill No. 333’s changes to section 186.22, the Second Appellate District reversed the true findings on the criminal street gang and firearm enhancements. The court remanded to the trial court to permit the prosecution to retry the criminal street gang enhancements if it so elects.Regarding Defendant's SB 775 claim, the court wrote that the parties agree that when a court instructs a jury on both a valid theory of guilt and an invalid theory of guilt the appellate court must review the error under the “harmless beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. The court explained that in employing that standard it must reverse the conviction unless the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Here, the evidence of direct aiding and abetting was overwhelming. Accordingly, the trial court’s error in instructing the jury on natural and probable consequences was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "P. v. Lima" on Justia Law

by
Appellant appealed the judgment after the jury found him guilty of false imprisonment by violence or menace (count 1, Pen. Code, Sections 236, 237, subd. (a)) and infliction of corporal injury on a person with whom he had a current or former dating relationship (count 3, Section 273.5, subd. (a)). He admitted a prior strike (Sections 667, subds. (c)(1), (e)(1), 1170.12, subds. (a)(1), (c)(1)). The trial court sentenced him to state prison for seven years, four months. Appellant contends the trial court erred when it did not: (1) stay the sentence for count 1, and (2) strike his prior strike conviction. He also contends that Senate Bill No. 567, which added a procedural change to section 1170, mandates resentencing.   The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court explained that a trial court has discretion to dismiss a prior violent or serious felony conviction pursuant to the Three Strikes law. Here, the trial court’s ruling was not irrational or arbitrary. The court explained the reasons for denying the Romero motion. It acknowledged that the strike was 19 years old, but noted it was a “serious offense.” Further, there is a presumption that the trial court considered all relevant factors, even if it did not mention them all, and here the record shows that the trial court did consider Appellant’s life-long history including his mental health history and drug history. The court wrote, that the record “clearly indicates” the trial court would not have imposed the low term had it been aware of its discretion to do so under S.B. 567. View "P. v. Salazar" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner entered a no contest plea to first-degree murder. He also admitted that he acted intentionally, deliberately, and with premeditation in committing the murder. Twelve years later, Petitioner filed a petition for resentencing under Cal. Penal Code Sec. 1170.95 and SB 1437 (allowing inmates to obtain a resentencing hearing if they were convicted of felony murder or murder under the "natural and probable consequences" theory).The trial court denied Petitioner's petition, finding that he acted with premeditation. Petitioner appealed.On appeal, the Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court's ruling. The court explained that Petitioner made a binding admission when he admitted to acting intentionally, deliberately, and with premeditation and that this admission precluded SB 1437 relief. View "P. v. Romero" on Justia Law

by
In 2018, Cuenca pleaded guilty to false imprisonment of his girlfriend and to a related charge of resisting arrest resulting in serious bodily injury to an officer. The court imposed a split sentence: three years of formal probation plus county jail time that amounted to a single day, net of credit for time served. Two years later, while on probation, Cuenca was charged with assault and criminal threats arising out of a physical altercation with a male friend, A jury found Cuenca guilty of a lesser offense of assault. The court revoked probation and sentenced Cuenca to county jail for an aggregate term running a total of five years and two months for the three felony convictions in both cases. Cuenca pursued consolidated appeals.The court of appeal affirmed the convictions and sentence, rejecting an argument that Napa County’s failure to grant county jail inmates the same opportunities that state prison inmates have to earn rehabilitation program credits violated his constitutional right to equal protection. Napa County need not put forward evidence of the actual reasons justifying its policy choice; the challenged classification is presumed to be rational. View "In re Cuenca" on Justia Law

by
Defendants were convicted of first degree murder with the special circumstance of lying in wait, and unlawful participation in a criminal street gang ("gang enhancement"). On appeal, Defendants sought reversal of the gang enhancement under the newly passed AB 333, which amended Cal. Penal Code section 186.22 and added a new statute, section 1109 (requiring bifurcation of gang enhancement allegations).The court agreed with Defendants that AB 333 is fully retroactive to all non-final judgments. Thus, the court reversed Defendants gang enhancements. However, the court determined that, based on the language of section 1109, the statute does not apply to special circumstance allegations involving gang murders. Section 1109 says nothing about the special circumstance statutes, and its provisions are specific to section 186.22, subdivisions (a), (b), and (d). Moreover, the procedures required by section 1109 conflict with the procedures set forth in section 190.1 et seq. Thus, the court held that section 1109, as originally enacted by Assembly Bill 333, does not apply to the determination of special circumstance allegations under section 190.2(a)(22).The court reversed all Defendant's substantive convictions under section 186.22(a) as well as the gang enhancements under section 186.22(b). The court also reversed several firearm enhancements for unrelated reasons, otherwise affirming Defendant's murder convictions. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "P. v. Montano" on Justia Law