Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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J.R. told Napa County Officer Adams that she was assaulted by her ex-boyfriend, Stewart. J.R. “seemed hysterical” and said Stewart threatened to “bash her face in using his head,” then as the argument continued, he “headbutted her in the face.” Adams did not notice visible injuries. A witness stated that Stewart threatened to “beat her down,” then unsuccessfully attempted to punch J.R., and immediately headbutted her in the face. Another witness saw Stewart headbutt J.R. Stewart told Adams that he and J.R. were dating and had a five-year-old daughter together. He denied any physical altercation. Stewart stated that J.R. threatened to “put him in jail.” Stewart was cooperative and calm.Stewart pleaded no contest to felony assault by means likely to cause great bodily injury; other charges were dismissed. Stewart was placed on three years’ probation. The court of appeal held that Stewart is entitled to a one-year reduction in his probation period. While his appeal was pending, Assembly Bill 1950 amended Penal Code 1203.1(a), to limit felony probation to a maximum term of two years, absent circumstances not applicable here; the court determined that the amendment applies retroactively. Given Stewart’s history of alcohol and drug abuse, mental health issues, and commission of a domestic violence offense, a probation condition prohibiting marijuana use is reasonably related to future criminality and not disproportionate. View "People v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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A trial court denied Robbie Viehmeyer’s petition for writ of habeas corpus, a petition based on the contention that Viehmeyer was eligible for early parole consideration under subdivision (a) of section 32 to article I of the California Constitution. While being pursued on foot by two police officers, Viehmeyer fired a semiautomatic pistol four times directly at the head of one of the officers. Viehmeyer was convicted of attempted voluntary manslaughter with an enhancement for personal use of a firearm, assault with a firearm on a peace officer with enhancements for personal use and personal discharge of a firearm, possession of a firearm by a felon, and the unlawful taking of a vehicle. For purposes of sentencing, the trial court selected assault with a firearm on a peace officer as the primary offense. Viehmeyer served the full term for the primary offense, which section 32(a) defined as “the longest term of imprisonment imposed by the court for any offense, excluding the imposition of an enhancement.” Viehmeyer remained incarcerated on the sentences imposed on the personal discharge of a firearm enhancement, the counts for possession of a firearm and unlawful taking of a vehicle, and for the sentencing enhancements for prior convictions. Viehmeyer argued that, pursuant to section 32(a), he was eligible for early parole consideration and relied on In re Mohammad, 42 Cal.App.5th 719 (2019), review granted Feb. 19, 2020, S259999 (Mohammad), to support that argument. The Attorney General contended Viehmeyer was not eligible for early parole consideration because of (1) the conviction for attempted voluntary manslaughter, which is a violent felony under Penal Code section 667.5(c) by virtue of the use of a firearm in its commission, and (2) the personal discharge of a firearm enhancement attendant to the assault conviction. The Court of Appeal agreed with the Attorney General and denied relief. View "In re Viehmeyer" on Justia Law

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Defendants Gerquan Clark and Anthony Brown robbed three men at gunpoint. Defendants were tracked to a local retail store using a phone app on one of the cell phones they had stolen. At a showup, one of the victims identified both defendants, and another identified Clark. At trial, both victims identified Clark as the man who pointed the gun at them, and one victim identified Brown as the other man. Police never found the gun. At trial, defendants asserted the prosecution had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the object used during the robbery was a real gun. Nonetheless, a jury found defendants guilty of three counts of robbery in the second degree with firearm enhancements. Additionally, the jury found each defendant guilty of possession of a firearm by a felon. The trial court sentenced Clark to an aggregate term of 21 years and Brown to an aggregate term of 12 years. On appeal, defendants claimed their felon in possession of a firearm convictions and the firearm enhancements had to be reversed because: (1) the trial court erred in admitting evidence of Clark’s prior uncharged act involving possession of a firearm pursuant to Evidence Code section 1101 (b); and (2) the prosecutor committed misconduct in urging the jurors to use that prior uncharged act as propensity evidence. Brown separately claimed: (3) the prosecutor committed misconduct in vouching for the prosecution and disparaging defense counsel; and (4) that cumulative error required reversal. The Court of Appeal reversed the convictions of felon in possession of a firearm as to both defendants and all firearm enhancements, finding the trial court erred in admitting evidence of Clark’s prior uncharged act pursuant to Evidence Code section 1101 (b), and the evidentiary error was prejudicial as to the felon in possession of a firearm count and the firearm enhancements. Because the possession conviction and firearms enhancements were reversed, the Court did not reach defendant’s allegations the prosecutor committed misconduct. As for Brown’s separate prosecutorial misconduct claim, the Court concluded the prosecutor committed misconduct in vouching for the prosecution and disparaging defense counsel, but these instances of misconduct did not prejudice Brown. Brown’s cumulative error contention was meritless. Finally, because of Senate Bill 136 (Stats. 2019, ch. 590, sec. 1), the Court struck Brown’s prior prison term enhancement and remanded for resentencing as requested by the parties. View "California v. Clark" on Justia Law

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Defendant Daniel Clapp plead no contest to concealing the true extent of his physical activities and abilities from his employer, the Department of the California Highway Patrol (CHP), and the State Compensation Insurance Fund (SCIF). Consistent with a resolution negotiated by the parties, the trial court granted defendant three years’ probation, and as a condition of probation, ordered him to pay restitution. Following a hearing, defendant was ordered to pay $30,095.68 to SCIF for temporary disability benefits and $81,768.01 to CHP for benefits wrongfully obtained. He was also ordered to pay $1,350 and $70,159 to SCIF and CHP respectively for investigative costs. Defendant appealed the restitution award as to investigation costs contending that, as public investigative agencies, neither SCIF nor CHP was entitled to reimbursement for the costs of investigating his claim. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded that as direct victims of defendant’s fraud, both CHP and SCIF were indeed entitled to restitution for investigative costs incurred in an effort to justify discontinuance of payments and recoup money defendant fraudulently obtained. View "California v. Clapp" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal agreed with petitioner that Penal Code section 3051, subdivision (h), which excludes One Strike offenders from the procedures for youth offender parole hearings, violates his right to equal protection of the laws because such procedures are generally available to similarly situated offenders and no rational basis exists to deny them to One Strike offenders. Therefore, the court concluded that petitioner is entitled to a youth offender parole hearing during his 25th year of incarceration. The court's determination renders moot his argument that his sentence violates the Eighth Amendment’s proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. View "In re Woods" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Tyrone Douglas was convicted of two nonviolent felonies and a violent felony. The trial court chose one of the nonviolent felonies as the primary offense, imposed sentence for that offense, imposed but stayed sentence on the other nonviolent felony offense, and imposed a consecutive term for the violent felony. After Douglas’s sentencing, California voters passed Proposition 57, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, which added section 32 to article I of the California Constitution. Douglas petitioned or habeas relief, challenging a regulation adopted by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) that limited the parole-consideration benefit of section 32(a)(1) to inmates who were convicted only of nonviolent felonies, thus excluding from early parole consideration anyone convicted of one or more violent felonies plus one or more nonviolent felonies (“mixed- offense inmates”). In support of his challenge to the CDCR regulation, Douglas cited In re Mohammad, 42 Cal.App.5th 719, review granted February 19, 2020, S259999 (2019), which held that because the unambiguous text of section 32(a)(1) provided for early parole consideration for inmates convicted of nonviolent felony offenses, regardless of whether they were also convicted of a violent offense, a mixed-offense inmate is eligible for early parole consideration under section 32(a)(1). Although the Court of Appeal found the language of section 32(a)(1) supported an interpretation that mixed-offense inmates were entitled to early parole consideration, such an interpretation would lead to absurd results the voters did not intend. Accordingly, the Court concluded that a person convicted of a violent felony offense and sentenced to state prison was ineligible for early parole consideration under section 32(a)(1). The petition for writ of habeas corpus was denied. View "In re Douglas" on Justia Law

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In two separate trials involving two different victims, juries found Defendant-appellant Michael Brugman guilty of three counts of corporal injury to someone with whom he had a dating relationship; three counts of violating a protective order; one count of assault with a deadly weapon; one count of making a criminal threat; one count of rape of an unconscious person; and one count of false imprisonment. The trial court found that the corporal injury counts were committed within seven years of a previous conviction for aggravated assault, some of the counts were committed while Brugman was out on bail, and that Brugman incurred a serious felony prior and a prison prior. The trial court sentenced Brugman to a prison term of 25 years, 8 months. On appeal, Brugman contended: (1) the trial court prejudicially erred in denying his request for a pinpoint instruction with respect to the count of assault with a deadly weapon; (2) insufficient evidence supported the convictions for assault with a deadly weapon and making a criminal threat; and (3) the trial court abused its discretion by not striking Brugman’s prior strike, or the five-year enhancement for Brugman’s serious felony prior. Concluding that Brugman’s arguments lacked merit, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Brugman" on Justia Law

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A riot occurred at Pelican Bay State Prison. Several correctional officers were seriously injured. The defendants were charged with torture, mayhem, assault by a state prisoner, and battery by a state prisoner on a nonprisoner. At the preliminary hearing, the magistrate dismissed the complaint. The trial court denied a motion to reinstate the complaint, finding the record was devoid of evidence that the defendants did any specific thing.The court of appeal reversed in part. Participation in a riot is a criminal offense; a previous agreement between the aggressors is not necessary. The evidence was sufficient to entertain a reasonable suspicion that the defendants committed the target crime of rioting in the yard of a maximum-security prison and that, taken as a whole, the riot involved the use of force or violence by numerous inmates against correctional officers who were significantly outnumbered. Given the particular circumstances of this prison riot and the scope of force and violence used, a person of ordinary prudence could have entertained a reasonable suspicion that mayhem, battery, and assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury were reasonably foreseeable, and hence natural and probable, consequences of the target crime of riot. View "People v. Abelino" on Justia Law

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Defendant Scott Pettigrew challenged his conviction for the first degree murder of Mimie Cowen, contending substantial evidence did not support the jury’s finding that the murder was premeditated, and the trial court erred prejudicially by instructing the jury with a standard “flight” instruction that it could consider defendant’s postarrest suicide attempts as evidence of a consciousness of guilt. In addition, defendant argued there was no evidence to support the trial court’s implied finding that he had the ability to pay a $514.58 “booking fee,” and the court erred when calculating presentence credits to be applied to his state prison sentence of 25 years to life. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal concluded defendant’s conviction for first degree murder was supported by substantial evidence of premeditation. In addition, because there was no evidence defendant fled to avoid arrest or tried to escape from custody, the Court agreed with defendant that the trial court erred by instructing the jury on flight. However, the Court concluded the error was harmless. In the unpublished portion of its opinion, the Court concluded the trial court’s order imposing a “booking fee” without finding defendant had the ability to pay, if error, was harmless. And the Court accepted the State’s concession that defendant was entitled to an additional 21 days of presentence credit. Because the Court found no reversible error, judgment was affirmed as modified to accurately reflect defendant’s presentence custody credits. View "California v. Pettigrew" on Justia Law

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On December 18, officers stopped a pickup truck that was driving at about 35 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone, while straddling the white line. Southard emerged and ran; officers tased and arrested Southard. On December 25, Southard and his minor son were passengers in a car driven by Bonde that was stopped because the license plate lights were not working. Officer Krueger recognized Southard and was aware of the December 18 incident. Bonde’s license came back as suspended but Krueger did not cite him. Krueger requested backup. Southard refused orders to exit the car and was verbally aggressive. After several bites by a police dog and strikes with an officer’s baton, three officers tased Southard and pulled him out of the car.Southard was convicted of seven counts of obstructing a peace officer and forcible resistance of an officer—charges that require the People to prove the officers were acting lawfully—and one misdemeanor count of possession of methamphetamine. The court of appeal reversed. The trial court committed prejudicial error when it gave a special instruction based on language from an appellate opinion that acted to remove the lawful performance element of the resisting charges and gave CALCRIM No. 250 that acted to remove the knowledge element of the charged offenses. The court “reminded” trial courts of the danger of instructing a jury with language from an opinion that has nothing to do with jury instructions. View "People v. Southard" on Justia Law