Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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Posing as undercover police officers, defendant Robert Montalvo and a female associate committed two robberies: they took money from a couple at a hotel, and they pretended to be conducting a prostitution sting operation and stole money from their target. In a hotel room where defendant was eventually arrested, police discovered rock cocaine and a glass smoking pipe. Defendant was ultimately convicted of multiple crimes including first- and second-degree robbery. After striking one of two prior serious felony conviction allegations, the trial court sentenced defendant to a determinate term of 25 years in state prison and a consecutive one-year term in county jail. On appeal, defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence presented to convict him, and he alleged multiple errors with the trial proceedings. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal rejected defendant’s contention that there was insufficient evidence of the “force or fear” element of robbery. In the unpublished portion of its opinion, the Court agreed the admission of the statement of the nontestifying victim given to the investigating officer violated the confrontation clause, but the error was harmless. The Court corrected sentencing errors, requiring it to: (1) strike the section 667(a)(1) enhancements imposed on count 2 and imposed and stayed on count 3; (2) dismiss the section 667.5(b) prior prison term enhancement; (3) order that execution of the sentences imposed on counts 8 and 9 be stayed pursuant to section 654; and (4) remanded and order that the trial court impose a full-term sentence on count 3 and stay execution thereof pursuant to section 654. Also, given the statutory change in section 667(a), the Court remanded for the trial court to consider whether to exercise its discretion to dismiss or strike that enhancement allegation pursuant to section 1385. As so modified, the Court affirmed. View "California v. Montalvo" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a former police officer, challenged his conviction for unnecessarily assaulting or beating another person while acting under color of authority. The Court of Appeal held that Penal Code section 149 is governed by the same standards as those applied in the Fourth Amendment context; an unlawful arrest or detention alone is not a legally valid basis for conviction under section 149; the prosecutor's arguments and the trial court's instructions in this case erroneously invited the jury to find that defendant violated section 149 by unlawfully arresting plaintiff. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment because the record revealed no basis to conclude that the jury necessarily rested its verdict on a valid theory of guilt. However, the court found that there was substantial evidence to support conviction on a valid theory that defendant used more force than would have appeared necessary to a reasonable officer on the scene. Consequently, the court concluded that retrial is permitted. View "People v. Perry" on Justia Law

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This case presented a narrow question of whether Senate Bill No. 1391 (Stats. 2018, ch. 1012, section 1) (S.B. 1391) was void as an unconstitutional amendment to Welfare and Institutions Code section 707 as modified by the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 (Proposition 57). The State filed two petitions for a writ of mandate seeking relief from separate orders by respondent Superior Court of Sacramento County, which refused to transfer real parties in interest R.Z. and K.L. from juvenile to criminal court for purposes of criminal prosecution based on section 707 as modified by legislative enactment of S.B. 1391. The State charged K.L., 15 at the time of the alleged conduct, with felony murder, attempted murder and shooting into an occupied vehicle, with additional allegations K.L. personally discharged a firearm causing death or great bodily injury, all in association with involvement with a street gang. R.Z. was also 15 at the time of the alleged conduct, arraigned on a juvenile petition because he committed murder and personally discharged a firearm causing great bodily injury or death in the commission of the homicide. The trial court found R.Z. unfit for juvenile court and granted the State's motion transferring R.Z. to criminal court. However, the trial court stayed execution of that order until January 2019 so that it could determine the effect of S.B. 1391 on its order transferring the minor. Over the State's opposition, on January 10, 2019, the trial court dismissed the motion to transfer R.Z. to criminal court, vacated its prior order transferring the minor, and sent the matter to juvenile court. The State argued S.B. 1391’s bar on the transfer of minors under the age of 16 for criminal prosecution as adults was unconstitutional because it did not further the intent and purpose of Proposition 57. The Court of Appeal disagreed and denied the State's petitions for mandamus relief. View "California v. Superior Court (K.L.)" on Justia Law

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Bankers posted a $25,000 bail bond for the defendant for misdemeanor charges. Defendant had a court date of July 19, at 1:30 p.m. On July 19, during the afternoon session, the trial court stated on the record that defense counsel "just walked in at 3:40. He indicates that he called, and he didn’t leave his name…. five minutes ago, I issued warrants …. Now that [defense counsel] has appeared, … the bench warrant issued is recalled.... The bond is reinstated since we never sent notice ... no fault of the defendant’s and no costs.” The box on the minute order for “Bail Forfeited” appears to have been checked and then crossed out; the order indicates the court gave the defendant a new court date and did not order a bench warrant. On October 25, neither the defendant nor his attorney appeared. The trial court forfeited the bail bond; the clerk mailed a notice of bail forfeiture the following day. In May 2017, Bankers moved to vacate the bond forfeiture and exonerate the bail bond based on the clerk’s failure to mail a notice of forfeiture following the July 19 hearing, Penal Code 1305(b). The court of appeal affirmed the denial of Bankers’ motion. The trial court retained jurisdiction over the bond. A trial court may correct a finding of forfeiture, just as it may correct other matters brought to its attention, during a calendar session. View "People v. Bankers Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Tanner Polk, an inmate at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, was found in his cell with eight small pieces of cut-up and numbered paper, along with a greeting card. The correctional officer had learned from other prison officers during routine training that a current trend in the prisons was the possession of methamphetamine-infused paper. A preliminary test at the prison revealed the presence of methamphetamine on one piece of paper and on a small corner of the greeting card. The paper was tested at a laboratory, and some of the papers were found to contain methamphetamine; the remainder of the greeting card tested negative. Defendant was found guilty of possession of methamphetamine while in prison. Defendant admitted he had suffered one prior serious or violent felony conviction. Defendant was sentenced to six years in state prison. On appeal, defendant argued: (1) insufficient evidence was presented to support that he possessed a usable amount of methamphetamine and he had knowledge that it was methamphetamine, to support his conviction of violating Penal Code section 4573.6; (2) the correctional officer should not have been allowed to testify as to whether the papers contained a usable amount of narcotics as his testimony was speculative and lacked foundation; (3) the trial court deprived defendant of a right to present a defense by refusing to allow him to properly address the quantity of methamphetamine found on the papers; (4) cumulative errors warrant dismissal; and (5) the trial court erred by denying his Romero motion to dismiss his prior strike conviction. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed conviction. View "California v. Polk" on Justia Law

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Defendant Douglas McShane's teenage daughter ran away from home. At the daughter’s urging, three of her friends tried to steal defendant’s truck. Defendant stumbled across the theft in progress, chased the thieves, and after finding them in a nearby field, shot and killed one of them, a 15-year-old boy. As a result of these tragic events, defendant was convicted of second degree murder with an enhancement for personally and intentionally discharging a firearm, causing death. He was sentenced to a total of 40 years to life in prison. Defendant appealed, contending: (1) the trial court erred by failing to instruct on voluntary manslaughter on a heat of passion theory; (2) the trial court erred by refusing to instruct the jury that it could consider voluntary intoxication in determining whether defendant had the intent to kill; (3) under Penal Code section 1001.36, which became effective while this appeal was pending, defendant was entitled to a remand so the trial court could consider granting him pretrial mental health diversion; and (4) under Senate Bill No. 620 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.), which also became effective while this appeal was pending, defendant was entitled to a remand so the trial court could consider striking the firearm enhancement. The Court of Appeal agreed defendant was entitled to a remand for consideration of whether to strike the firearm enhancement. Otherwise, the Court found his other contentions lacked merit. View "California v. McShane" on Justia Law

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Defendant Shelly John was permitted to plead guilty to felony offenses alleged against her. The trial court accepted a stipulation she was insane at the time she committed the offenses, and she should serve her sentence in a state hospital where her sanity could be restores. Less than five months after defendant’s commitment, she moved to withdraw her plea. The trial court denied the motion as untimely, presumably because it believed judgment had already been entered. In her brief, defendant argued, and the State conceded, defendant’s motion was timely because judgment had not yet been entered, and the case should be remanded for the trial court to consider the motion on its merits. Although the Court of Appeal agreed with the parties that judgment was never entered and, consequently, defendant’s motion to withdraw her guilty plea was timely filed, it concluded nonetheless the root of the problem in this case was the unauthorized and illegal plea bargain the trial court should not have accepted in the first place. Therefore, rather than merely reverse and remand for a hearing on the merits of defendant’s motion to withdraw her plea, the Court determined the proper remedy was to vacate the plea agreement in its entirety and return the parties to the status quo ante. On remand, the defendant will be permitted to enter a new plea and, if the parties again negotiate a plea agreement, the trial court must determine whether it is lawful and should be accepted. View "California v. John" on Justia Law

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Five defendants, all of whom were serving a sentence for a conviction of Penal Code section 4573.6, an offense that is no longer a crime pursuant to the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act (Health & Saf. Code, § 11361.8), filed a petition requesting relief under Proposition 64 and an accompanying motion to dismiss. The superior court denied each of the petitions. The defendants appealed. The Court of Appeal determined the plain language of Health and Safety Code section 11362.1, enacted as part of Proposition 64, provided that possession of less than an ounce of cannabis in prison was no longer a felony. Smoking or ingesting cannabis in prison remained a felony and prison regulations forbade possession. “The Attorney General uses arcane rules of statutory construction, twists the meaning of the words of the statute, urges us to disapprove of cases directly on point, and makes a host of policy arguments why we should not apply the plain language of the statute. The question of law we review de novo is whether the plain language of the statute leads to an absurd result. We conclude it does not. A result is not absurd because the outcome may be unwise. Cognizant of the humble role of the courts in construing statutes, not rewriting them to subscribe to our version of sound public policy, we reverse the trial court’s denial of defendants’ petitions for relief under Health and Safety Code section 11361.8.” View "California v. Raybon" on Justia Law

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After being charged with several felony offenses, defendant-respondent Martell Kidd was twice unsuccessful in having the evidence against him suppressed on motions brought pursuant to Penal Code section 1538.5, first at the preliminary hearing and then after his arraignment on the information. He raised the suppression issue again, however, in a motion to set aside the information pursuant to Penal Code section 995, which was heard by a different superior court judge. This time, Kidd was successful; the section 995 motion was granted on the ground that the evidence against him should have been suppressed as the product of a constitutionally unreasonable search and seizure, resulting in the dismissal of all charges. The State appealed, arguing Kidd’s section 995 motion was an inappropriate request to relitigate a matter that had previously been considered and decided by a different superior court judge, and that it should have been denied on that basis. In the alternative, the People contend the motion should have been denied on its merits. The Court of Appeal rejected these arguments, finding that the suppression issue was properly raised again in Kidd’s section 995 motion. View "California v. Kidd" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted defendant Salvador Gutierrez of nine counts of committing lewd and lascivious acts upon a child. In a bifurcated proceeding, the court found true that defendant had been convicted of two serious felonies and two prior strike offenses, and found one of defendant's prior convictions brought him within the One Strike law. The court thus sentenced defendant to 205 years to life in state prison. Defendant appealed, arguing: (1) his counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the use of an Arizona conviction for impeachment purposes because it was not a crime of moral turpitude; and (2) the court violated his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial when it determined that this child molestation conviction constituted a serious felony and strike prior under California law because the court had made factual findings regarding the underlying offense. As set forth in a prior decision, the Court of Appeal rejected defendant's first argument, but agreed with his second, finding a lack of substantial evidence to support the court's finding that his Arizona conviction constituted a serious felony or strike prior under California law. The case was remanded for resentencing. The judgment was affirmed in all other respects. Upon resentencing, defendant received a term of 35 years plus 100 years to life in prison. In this case, defendant contended for the first time that his new sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment because at the age of about 69 (when he filed his opening brief), the court's sentence meant "he will die in prison before he even complet[es] the determinate part of his sentence." Defendant contends his sentence "'shocks the conscience and offends fundamental notions of human dignity' [citation]" because he committed the offenses for which he is being punished about "10 to 15 years" ago, which punishment "was enhanced due to an offense [he] committed in 1988." The Court of Appeal determined defendant forfeited this claim by his failure to raise it either in connection with Gutierrez I or in the trial court following remand. To forestall a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel with respect to this specific issue, the Court further concluded defendant's sentence did not violate either the federal or state constitutional prohibition on cruel and/or unusual punishment View "California v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law