Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Yanez pled no contest to possessing more than one kilogram of methamphetamine for sale (Health & Safety Code 11378; 11370.4(b)(1)) and admitted a prior strike conviction. The court had imposed home detention subject to electronic monitoring as a condition of reducing Yanez’s bail from $480,000 to $100,000. By the time of his sentencing hearing, Yanez had spent 555 days on electronic home detention, in a program authorized by Alameda County. The trial court sentenced Yanez to serve five years and eight months in state prison. Although the court granted him custody credits for his home confinement (Penal Code 2900.5(a)), it deemed him ineligible for conduct credits. No statute provides for such credits but post-judgment home detainees are eligible for conduct credit under Penal Code 4019. The court of appeal reversed. The disparity in eligibility for conduct credits between pretrial and post-judgment electronic monitoring home detainees violates equal protection; the pre-sentencing time Yanez spent on home detention is eligible for conduct credits notwithstanding the Legislature’s failure to provide for them in section 4019. View "People v. Yanez" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Manuel Bracamontes was sentenced to death in 2005 for the kidnapping and murder of nine-year-old Laura Arroyo. His automatic appeal was pending with the California Supreme Court. In anticipation of a future petition for writ of habeas corpus, Bracamontes filed a motion with the San Diego County Superior Court to preserve evidence that may be relevant to such a petition. His motion sought a preservation order covering relevant physical and documentary evidence in the hands of the prosecution, various government entities, and four private individuals or entities that were the subject of this proceeding: Norman Sperber, a forensic dentist and tool mark expert; Rod Englert, a retired police officer and crime scene reconstructionist; and Orchid Cellmark, Inc. (Cellmark) and Serological Research Institute, Inc. (SERI), two forensic laboratories that conduct DNA testing and analysis. Bracamontes relied on California v. Superior Court, 2 Cal.5th 523 (Morales, 2017), which held that a court had jurisdiction to order preservation of evidence potentially subject to postconviction discovery under Penal Code section 1054.9.1 The superior court granted Bracamontes's motion in large part, but it declined to issue preservation orders to Sperber, Englert, Cellmark, or SERI, determining that evidence in the possession of these private parties would not be subject to postconviction discovery under section 1054.9 and therefore the court had no jurisdiction to order its preservation. Bracamontes challenged the superior court's determination by petition for writ of mandate, and the Court of Appeal summarily denied the petition. The California Supreme Court then granted review and transferred the matter back to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration. After reconsideration, the appellate court concluded the superior court erred by denying the preservation order directed at Cellmark and SERI; these entities participated in the investigation of Arroyo's murder at the behest and under the direction of law enforcement. “Sperber and Englert, by contrast, were retained solely for their testimony at trial as independent expert witnesses.” The Court therefore granted the petition in part and denied it in part. View "Bracamontes v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Charged with a misdemeanor, Daws waived his statutory right to be brought to trial within 45 days during an off-the-record conversation in chambers. When the case was called, Daws’s counsel stated that his client intended to withdraw his time waiver and requested a trial date within 30 days. The court rejected this request, explaining that Daws must provide two days’ written notice to the prosecution before withdrawing his time waiver. The court scheduled trial for 80 days later, but invited Daws to provide two days’ written notice to withdraw his time waiver and have an earlier trial date. Daws declined to do so, waited for 30 days to elapse, and then filed an unsuccessful motion to dismiss The court of appeal denied a petition for relief. Penal Code section 1382 requires a defendant to provide “proper notice” to all parties before withdrawing a time waiver in open court but does not specify what is “proper.” Trial courts have inherent authority to determine by local rule or as a matter of courtroom practice what “proper notice” means, so long as the required notice is consonant with the defendant’s right to a speedy trial under the California Constitution and the Sixth Amendment; two days’ written notice meets that standard. View "Daws v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Defendant Robert Michael Gangl was convicted of multiple offenses after he stole a car and then stole the arresting officer’s patrol vehicle, led officers on a high-speed chase, and eventually robbed a man in his own home as he tried to elude capture. The trial court sentenced defendant to an aggregate term of 18 years in state prison. Defendant raised several alleged sentencing errors on appeal. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal had to decide what an amendment to Proposition 36 meant, and whether it changed the long-standing rule that trial courts could use discretion to sentence a prior serious or violent felony offender concurrently to multiple current convictions or whether the trial court was mandated to sentence that offender consecutively to all of his current convictions. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court had the discretion to sentence a serious or violent felony offender concurrently to his or her current serious or violent felony convictions when those felonies were committed on the same occasion and arise out of the same set of operative facts. Those serious or violent felonies must then be sentenced consecutively to the sentences for nonserious and nonviolent convictions. View "California v. Gangl" on Justia Law

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Robert Tran was convicted by jury of reckless driving. He was sentenced to three years' probation with 30 days in custody. Tran appealed, contending the trial court erred in denying his pretrial motion to suppress evidence obtained from the warrantless search of his backpack and seizure of his dashboard camera. Tran claimed exigent circumstances did not exist; thus, law enforcement was not excused from first obtaining a warrant. After review, the Court of Appeal determined the seizure of Tran's dashboard camera was constitutional, and that the trial court did not err in denying Tran's motion to suppress. View "California v. Tran" on Justia Law

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Ruth Zapata Lopez was charged with two misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence with a prior conviction for driving under the influence. The Public Defender was appointed to represent her, and his deputy successfully moved to suppress evidence. The trial court then dismissed both counts in the interest of justice. The State appealed the suppression order. California Rules of Court, rule 8.851(a) and (b) allow the appellate division to appoint counsel only for an indigent defendant who has been “convicted of a misdemeanor.” Nevertheless, the Public Defender filed a request with the appellate division to appoint counsel for Lopez on appeal. The California Supreme Court has already held that, when the State appeals a suppression order in a misdemeanor case, the defendant, if indigent, has a right to appointed counsel. The Supreme Court remanded to the Court of Appeal to determine whether the Public Defender’s appointment for purposes of trial continued for purposes of the appeal, or whether, on the other hand, the appellate division had to appoint new counsel. The Court of Appeal held the appellate division had to appoint new counsel, because the trial court was not statutorily authorized to appoint the Public Defender under these circumstances. View "Gardner v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Jhyy Demond Chubbuck, was convicted by a jury of one count of unlawful taking or driving a vehicle. In a bifurcated proceeding, the trial court found defendant had suffered a strike prior pursuant to Penal Code sections 667(b)-(i) and 1170.12(a)-(d), as well as a prison prior pursuant to Penal Code section 667.5(b). Defendant was sentenced to three years, doubled for the strike prior, and an additional one year for the prison prior, for a total of seven years in state prison. On appeal, defendant contended: (1) his conviction had to be overturned because the motorized equipment he allegedly drove or took did not qualify as a “vehicle” under Vehicle Code section 10851; (2) the jury’s verdict finding that he “took” or “drove” a vehicle in violation of Vehicle Code section 10851 was not supported by substantial evidence; and (3) the trial court’s finding that he suffered an offense qualifying as a strike under Penal Code sections 1170.12 and 667(b)-(i) was not supported by substantial evidence. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Chubbuck" on Justia Law

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Defendant Ricky Lee Cobbs was one of several young men who confronted "Kenny W." at the home of his fiancée. Defendant discovered his gun was missing. While defendant and others were kicking and beating Kenny W., one of the men pulled out a gun, and shot Kenny W. through the heart. At trial with codefendant Undrey Turner, the prosecution argued defendant was guilty of first degree murder on either of two theories: felony murder based on attempted robbery, and murder as the natural and probable consequence of assault and battery. On appeal, Cobbs argued his conviction for murder as the natural and probable consequence of assault and battery was invalid under California v. Chiu, 59 Cal.4th 155 (2014) and In re Martinez, 3 Cal.5th 1216 (2017), and both theories were invalid following changes enacted under Senate Bill No. 1437 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.) (Stats. 2018, ch. 1015, sec. 2 (SB 1437).) He contended the Court of Appeal should have vacated his conviction and directed the trial court to conduct further proceedings consistent with sections 188 and 189. The Attorney General agreed the first degree murder conviction was invalid under Chiu and Martinez, but argued the remedy should be the same as was provided in Chiu and Martinez: reverse the first degree murder conviction, and give the State the option of retrying the first degree murder count or reducing the conviction to second degree murder. The Court of Appeal agreed with the Attorney General, as SB 1437 applied retroactively only through its resentencing provision, which did not apply in this habeas proceeding. Accordingly, the Court vacated the first degree murder conviction and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Cobbs" on Justia Law

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Defendant Lonnie Schmidt managed a home foreclosure rescue operation, doing business as Second Opinion Services and Financial Services Bureau Limited. Following a lengthy jury trial in which he represented himself, defendant was convicted on four counts of prohibited practices by a foreclosure consultant, ten counts of filing false instruments, six counts of identity theft, and five counts of attempted grand theft. Defendant was sentenced to a total of 28 years in prison, plus one year to serve in the county jail. On appeal, defendant argued, and the State conceded: (1) insufficient evidence supported some of defendant’s convictions for grand theft; (2) the evidence did not support some of defendant’s convictions for filing false instruments; and (3) the trial court should have stayed his sentence for second degree burglary and attempted grand theft. The Court of Appeal agreed as to all these contentions and reversed judgment and sentence regarding those counts. The Court remanded the case for resentencing in light of this decision. View "California v. Schmidt" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Aslam was charged with offering a false document (Penal Code 115(a)) and perjury (118(a)), both felonies, based on his submission of a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) form. A jury convicted him of offering a false document but acquitted him of perjury. Aslam moved to vacate his section 115 conviction, arguing that the prosecution was required to charge him under Vehicle Code section 20, a more specific statute that makes it a misdemeanor to knowingly make a false statement in a document filed with the DMV. The court agreed, allowed the prosecution to add a Vehicle Code count to the information, then vacated the section 115 conviction. Aslam unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the Vehicle Code count, citing the five-year limitations period. The California Supreme Court denied his petition for review, “without prejudice to petitioner raising a claim" under its Kellett decision, which generally requires a single prosecution when “the prosecution is or should be aware of more than one offense in which the same act or course of conduct plays a significant part." The trial court rejected Aslam's motion to dismiss the Vehicle Code count based on Kellett and on double jeopardy. Aslam argued Section 20 is a lesser included offense of perjury, for which he had already been acquitted. The court of appeal denied relief, noting that Aslam waited until after trial to raise the Vehicle Code issue and that dismissal is not equivalent to acquittal. View "Aslam v. Superior Court" on Justia Law