Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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The case revolves around a defendant, Tara Shawnee Pritchett, who was on probation for two misdemeanor offenses. In September 2021, a detective conducted a warrantless search of Pritchett's room, believing she was on searchable probation. The search resulted in the discovery of U.S. currency and what was believed to be fentanyl. Pritchett was subsequently charged with one felony count of possession for sale of a controlled substance. However, Pritchett moved to suppress the evidence obtained from the search, arguing that her probation had been automatically terminated by Assembly Bill No. 1950 (AB 1950), which limited the maximum term of probation for most misdemeanor offenses to one year.The trial court granted Pritchett's motion to suppress the evidence. It concluded that Pritchett's probation had automatically terminated when AB 1950 became effective on January 1, 2021, several months before the search. The court also ruled that the "good faith" exception to the exclusionary rule did not apply, leading to the dismissal of the charge against Pritchett.The People appealed the trial court's decision to the Court of Appeal of the State of California, First Appellate District. They argued that the trial court erred in concluding that Pritchett's probation had terminated automatically due to AB 1950. They also contended that the "good faith" exception to the exclusionary rule should apply because the detective had made objectively reasonable efforts to determine Pritchett's probation status.The appellate court agreed with the People's latter contention and reversed the trial court's decision. The court found that the detective had acted in objectively reasonable good faith by relying on court records to verify Pritchett's probation status prior to conducting the search. The court concluded that applying the exclusionary rule in this case would not serve its purpose of deterring unlawful police conduct. Therefore, the court directed the trial court to set aside the order granting Pritchett's motion to suppress and to enter a new order denying the motion. View "People v. Pritchett" on Justia Law

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The defendant, Takeya Lashay Koontzy, pleaded no contest to fleeing the scene of an injury accident and was placed on probation with the condition that she pay victim restitution in an amount to be determined. Due to the victim’s delay in providing documentation of her damages and failure to appear on multiple dates set for restitution hearings, the trial court did not determine the amount of restitution before the termination of Koontzy’s probation. More than two years post-termination, the court ordered Koontzy to pay $86,306.12 in victim restitution.Koontzy argued that the trial court was without authority to modify the amount of restitution owed to the victim following the termination of probation. She relied on People v. Martinez to argue that the court’s jurisdiction to do so was not extended by Penal Code section 1202.461 because the restitution was not for losses incurred “as a result of the commission of a crime.”The Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District agreed with Koontzy, distinguishing the present case from their decision in People v. McCune, in which there was no dispute that the restitution was properly imposed under section 1202.4. The court concluded that the trial court erred in modifying the restitution order after termination of Koontzy’s probation. The court reasoned that the restitution order in this case was for losses due to the accident rather than losses due to Koontzy’s criminal conduct in leaving the scene. Thus, the trial court was not authorized to impose the restitution obligation under section 1202.4. Because the order was not imposed under section 1202.4, section 1202.46 did not provide a basis to extend jurisdiction to modify restitution following termination of probation. Instead, the restitution order was a condition imposed under section 1203.1, and it was subject to the limitations in section 1203.3 permitting modification of probation conditions only during the term of probation. The trial court’s April 2023 restitution order was reversed. View "P. v. Koontzy" on Justia Law

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The case involves David Arias, who was convicted of two counts of sexual abuse against a minor. During the trial, the defense challenged the prosecutor's use of a peremptory strike against a prospective Black female juror. The trial court ruled that a prima facie case of discrimination was established, but accepted the prosecutor's reasons for the strike without further discussion. Arias was convicted and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.The trial court's decision was appealed to the Court of Appeal of the State of California, First Appellate District. The appellate court found that the trial court's denial of the defense's challenge to the prosecutor's peremptory strike was improper. The prosecutor's reasons for the strike did not withstand scrutiny. The appellate court concluded that the record lacked sufficient evidence on which the trial court could have reasonably relied to accept the prosecutor's reasons for striking the juror without further probing and explanation. As a result, the appellate court reversed the trial court's decision. View "P. v. Arias" on Justia Law

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The case involves a minor, Randy C., who was stopped by police for driving a car with illegally tinted windows. During the stop, the officer smelled unburnt marijuana and observed a marijuana blunt on the passenger's lap. The officer conducted a search of the vehicle, finding a handgun in the glove compartment and an AR-15 firearm in the trunk. Randy C. was subsequently charged with multiple felony offenses, including possession of an assault weapon by a minor and possession of a concealed firearm and ammunition in a vehicle by a minor. He moved to suppress the evidence, arguing there was no probable cause to search the vehicle.The juvenile court denied Randy C.'s motion to suppress the evidence. Following this ruling, Randy C. admitted to the felony offenses charged, and the remaining counts were dismissed pursuant to a negotiated plea deal. The juvenile court declared wardship and committed Randy C. to juvenile hall for 274 days with 55 days of credit for time served. Randy C. appealed the denial of his motion to suppress, arguing that the search and seizure conducted by police were unlawful.The Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District affirmed the juvenile court's decision. The court held that the officer had probable cause to search the vehicle based on the smell of unburnt marijuana and the observation of a marijuana blunt in the passenger's lap, which was considered an open container of marijuana in violation of the law. The court rejected Randy C.'s argument that the marijuana blunt was not an "open container" within the meaning of the law, concluding that the paper wrapping enclosing the marijuana presented no barrier to accessing the marijuana, thereby facilitating its consumption. View "In re Randy C." on Justia Law

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The case involves Diana Lovejoy, who was convicted of conspiring with her co-defendant, Weldon McDavid, to murder her ex-husband, Greg Mulvihill. She was also found guilty of attempted murder after McDavid shot and wounded Mulvihill. Several years after her convictions were final, she sought to be resentenced pursuant to current Penal Code section 1172.6, claiming that both convictions may have been based on a theory of imputed malice. The trial court disagreed and denied her petition for relief without an evidentiary hearing.The Superior Court of San Diego County affirmed Lovejoy's convictions. The court concluded that Lovejoy’s conviction for conspiracy to commit murder was necessarily based on a jury finding that she personally harbored an intent to kill, making her ineligible for relief under the statute. Lovejoy appealed this decision.The Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District Division One State of California, affirmed the lower court's decision. The appellate court concluded that Lovejoy's conviction for conspiracy to commit murder was necessarily based on a jury finding that she personally harbored an intent to kill, making her ineligible for relief under the statute. The court also found that Lovejoy's conviction for attempted murder was not based on a now-impermissible theory, i.e., the natural and probable consequences doctrine. Therefore, the court affirmed the order denying Lovejoy’s petition for resentencing. View "People v. Lovejoy" on Justia Law

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The case involves a defendant who was convicted of first-degree murder with special circumstances and an enhancement for personally and intentionally discharging a firearm causing great bodily injury or death. The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that his trial counsel exhibited racial bias towards him in violation of the California Racial Justice Act of 2020 (RJA) by advising him to use Ebonics and slang when he testified. He also contended that the trial court erred in imposing two sentence enhancements and a parole revocation restitution fine after sentencing him to life without the possibility of parole.The Court of Appeal of the State of California, First Appellate District, Division Five, found that the defendant's trial counsel did not exhibit racial bias. The court noted that the counsel's advice to the defendant to "speak how you speak" when testifying was a valid tactical decision aimed at ensuring the defendant appeared authentic and genuine before the jury. The court also found that the defendant had not demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that his counsel's advice indicated racial animus or bias towards him. Therefore, the court concluded that there was no violation of the RJA.The court also found that the defendant's claim that his enhancements should have been stricken was forfeited for failure to request that the trial court strike the enhancements under section 1385. However, the court agreed with the defendant and the People that the trial court improperly imposed a parole revocation restitution fine. The court modified the judgment to strike the parole revocation restitution fine and affirmed the judgment in all other respects. View "P. v. Coleman" on Justia Law

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In 2019, Miguel Garcia pleaded no contest to second degree robbery and possession of a firearm by a felon, admitting he personally and intentionally discharged a firearm. His 12-year sentence included seven one-year prior prison term sentence enhancements. At a resentencing hearing, the superior court dismissed the prior prison term enhancements but resentenced Garcia to the same 12-year sentence by imposing the firearm enhancement that had been previously stricken, finding Garcia continued to pose a threat to public safety. Garcia appealed, challenging the superior court’s finding that imposition of a lesser sentence would endanger public safety.The Superior Court of Los Angeles County had initially sentenced Garcia to 12 years, including seven one-year enhancements for prior prison terms. However, due to changes in the law, these enhancements were later deemed invalid and Garcia was resentenced. At the resentencing hearing, the court dismissed the prior prison term enhancements but maintained the 12-year sentence by imposing a previously stricken firearm enhancement, citing Garcia's continued threat to public safety.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Seven reviewed the superior court’s finding that reducing Garcia’s sentence would endanger public safety for an abuse of discretion. The court considered the nature of the offense, Garcia’s multiple prior felony convictions of increasing seriousness, his failure to appear for sentencing, and his participation in a prison riot in which he beat another inmate. The court found that the superior court did not abuse its discretion in its decision. However, the court directed the superior court to correct a clerical error in the abstract of judgment to reflect that Garcia was sentenced to a concurrent term of two years on count 2 for possession of a firearm by a felon. The court affirmed the resentencing order. View "People v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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The case involves Sacramento Municipal Utility District (District) and David Kwan. The District opened an electrical service account for Kwan, which was later found to be diverting power to support a cannabis grow operation. The trial court held Kwan liable for aiding and abetting utility diversion and awarded treble damages plus attorney fees. Kwan appealed, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to prove his knowledge of the power theft and challenging the monetary awards.Previously, the District filed a complaint against Kwan for power theft, conversion, and account stated. After a trial and a retrial, the court found Kwan liable for aiding and abetting utility diversion. Kwan claimed he was a victim of identity theft and had no connection to Sacramento. However, the District provided evidence contradicting Kwan's defense, including phone records, equipment purchases, and cash payments.In the Court of Appeal of the State of California Third Appellate District, the court affirmed the trial court's decision. The court found substantial evidence that Kwan aided and abetted power diversion, including his purchase of equipment that could be used to grow cannabis, his phone calls to a Sacramento number, and cash deposits made during the period of power theft. The court also upheld the monetary awards, finding no error in the trial court's calculation of damages, its decision to treble damages, or its decision to award attorney fees. The court concluded that the District had established the fact of the proximately caused injury from the date of account creation with reasonable certainty. View "Sacramento Municipal Utility Dist. v. Kwan" on Justia Law

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The defendant, John Fay, was living unhoused outside a public library when he got into a verbal altercation with Anthony Davis, who was intoxicated. The altercation escalated, and Fay punched Davis multiple times in the head. Davis died at the scene, with the cause of death being a combination of blunt head trauma and acute alcohol intoxication. Fay admitted to intending to hurt Davis but denied intending to kill him. A jury convicted Fay of second-degree murder.During the jury's deliberations, they were divided on how to apply the instructions on implied malice. The prosecutor argued that a defendant has the mental state for implied malice if he is aware that his conduct is dangerous to others, but does not "care if someone is hurt or killed." The court informed the jury that this statement was based on "case law decisions." Shortly afterward, the jury found Fay guilty of second-degree murder, and he was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.In the Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division One, Fay contended that the prosecutor's statement regarding the mental state for implied malice was a misstatement of the law, which the court erroneously accepted in its response to the jury's question. The court agreed with Fay, stating that the prosecutor's statement set the bar too low for implied malice, as it suggested that the mens rea for implied malice could be satisfied if the defendant acted with conscious disregard for harming another, rather than endangering life. The court found that the prosecutor's misstatement, combined with the court's endorsement of that misstatement, allowed the jury to apply an incorrect legal principle to the evidence and convict Fay on an invalid theory of law. The court concluded that these errors were not harmless and reversed the judgment. View "People v. Fay" on Justia Law

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Monica Berlin was charged with felony stalking and six misdemeanors, including two restraining order violations and four protective order violations. In March 2020, the trial court suspended criminal proceedings and placed Berlin on mental health diversion. After successfully completing the diversion program, Berlin moved to dismiss the criminal charges in March 2022. However, the prosecution argued that the case could not be dismissed until the court awarded restitution. The court scheduled further proceedings on the motion to dismiss and the restitution issue.The trial court ruled in May 2022 that it had the authority to award restitution. Berlin's counsel objected, arguing that the court could not award restitution after the end of the period of diversion. After the court rejected her argument, Berlin's counsel stated that Berlin would prefer to withdraw from diversion and avoid a restitution award by winning an acquittal at trial. In August 2022, the trial court ordered Berlin to pay over $17,000 in restitution to the victim and the California Victim Compensation Board, dismissed the criminal charges, and ordered the case sealed.The Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District Division Five reversed the trial court's restitution orders. The appellate court found that the trial court had ordered the restitution after the end of the statutory maximum two-year period of diversion, which was not permitted under the relevant statute. The statute only allowed the trial court to order restitution "during the period of diversion." Therefore, the trial court's restitution orders were reversed, but its other orders were affirmed. View "People v. Berlin" on Justia Law