Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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In 1991, 70-year-old Cary was shot and killed as she made a night deposit of the receipts from the liquor store where she worked. Davis, Taylor, Shackelfoot, and Lawless had planned the robbery. Davis attempted the robbery and shot Cary while the others waited in a car driven by Taylor. A jury convicted Taylor of first-degree felony murder and found that the killing occurred in the commission of an attempted robbery that he aided and abetted “as a major participant” and “with reckless indifference to human life,” a special circumstance requiring a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole (Penal Code 190.2(d)). The reckless indifference finding was based on the fact that after the shooting, Taylor simply drove off, later stating, “Fuck that old bitch.” In 2018, Taylor sought habeas corpus relief to have the special circumstance vacated under the California Supreme Court’s “Banks” and “Clark” decisions, which clarified what it means for an aiding and abetting defendant to be a major participant who acted with reckless indifference to human life. A defendant acts with reckless indifference to human life when he “knowingly creat[es] a ‘grave risk of death.’” The court of appeal granted his petition. Evidence of a defendant’s actions after a murder betraying an indifference to the loss of life does not, alone, establish that the defendant knowingly created a grave risk of death. There was no other evidence that Taylor had such intent. . View "In re Taylor" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of aggravated arson, arson of a structure, arson of an inhabited structure, possession of flammable material, and second degree burglary arising from the 2011 burning down of St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Hacienda Heights. In the published portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the crimes of arson of an inhabited structure and arson of a structure under Penal Code section 451, subdivisions (b) and (c), respectively, are forms of the same offense of simple arson. Therefore, defendant was erroneously convicted of both crimes and the court reversed his convictions on counts 2 and 5. The court remanded for the People to elect on which count they want to proceed. Finally, the court held that defendant can commit aggravated arson without necessarily committing arson, whether of a structure or an inhabited structure. View "People v. Shiga" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed defendant's two convictions for using his car in an assault with a deadly weapon. The court held that substantial evidence supported defendant's conviction where he raced across an intersection without breaking and defendant's relationship with his victims was immediate; the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding no discoverable documents from in camera proceedings; the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying defendant's second Pitchess motion requesting personnel records of two additional deputies; the abstract of judgment must be corrected for errors; because defendant's case was not final when Senate Bill No. 1393 took effect and is not final now, the court remanded for the trial court's discretion as to the felony enhancement; and defendant's Duenas issues were forfeited. View "People v. Bipialaka" on Justia Law

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Senate Bill No. 620 does not contain language authorizing resentencing of convictions after they became final. The Court of Appeal dismissed defendant's appeal challenging the trial court's order denying his motion to strike personal firearms enhancements that were imposed under a judgment that became final before the motion was filed. The court held that the challenged order was not appealable because the court lacked jurisdiction to grant the relief requested in the motion and the order denying the motion did not affect defendant's substantial rights as contemplated in Penal Code 1237, subdivision (b). Absent any new authority to resentence defendant under SB 620, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to grant defendant's resentencing request. View "People v. Hernandez" on Justia Law

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An onlooker called 911 to report that defendant Marcus Washington was walking around flashing a gun. Defendant fled on foot from responding police; officers eventually arrested defendant and recovered a loaded magazine and a firearm in his path of flight. A jury found him guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition, and obstructing a peace officer during the lawful performance of his duties. Defendant admitted a strike prior and a prior prison term, and was sentenced to seven years in state prison. On appeal, defendant contended: (1) because he was indigent, the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion for payment of costs for copying discovery, even though his retained counsel had access to the materials at the district attorney’s office and the written retainer agreement between his mother and counsel provided for payment of routine costs and expenses; (2) the court violated his due process rights by denying him all relevant discovery before trial; (3) the prosecutor committed misconduct during her opening statement and closing remarks by referring to facts not supported by the evidence, and by misstating the law regarding possession of firearms by a felon; (4) insufficient evidence supports his possession convictions; and (5) the court abused its discretion by denying his motion for discovery of the personnel records of a police officer who was not present when defendant was apprehended and who did not testify at trial. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed defendant’s judgment of conviction. View "California v. Washington" on Justia Law

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During his trial for the attempted murder of a police officer, defendant Roberto Flores repeatedly objected to his counsel's decision to admit Flores was driving the car that seriously injured the officer. In his professional judgment, counsel elected to concede the act of driving and instead assert that Flores never formed the premeditated intent to kill necessary for first degree murder. Similarly at a subsequent trial on weapons possession charges, Flores objected when his counsel decided to concede that Flores possessed certain firearms, instead arguing that the possession was not "knowing" because Flores did not understand the prohibited nature of the weapons. On appeal, Flores asked the Court of Appeal to reverse his two convictions, asserting that under McCoy v. Louisiana 138 S.Ct. 1500 (2018), it was structural error for counsel to take a factual position at odds with Flores's insistence that he did not commit the criminal acts alleged by the prosecution. Among other arguments, the State contended the disagreement between Flores and his lawyer amounted to a strategic dispute about how to best achieve an acquittal - traditionally the province of counsel - rather than an intractable conflict about Flores's goal of maintaining his factual innocence of the charged crimes. Based on its reading of McCoy, the Court of Appeal was unable to characterize Flores' statements as presenting a "mere dispute" over trial strategy where counsel's judgment trumped that of the client's. "The record before us demonstrates that counsel overrode Flores's stated goal of maintaining his innocence of the alleged acts. Instead, in pursuit of the understandable objective of achieving an acquittal, he conceded the actus reus of the charged crimes at both trials. Although any reasonable lawyer might agree with counsel's judgment, McCoy instructs that this is a decision for the client to make. Accordingly, we reverse." View "California v. Flores" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted defendant Beau Dearborne of: human trafficking, kidnapping to commit a sex offense, two counts of forcible rape in concert, two counts of forcible oral copulation in concert, second degree robbery, two counts of pimping, and two counts of pandering. The court sentenced defendant to state prison for and aggregate 205 years to life plus 28 years. On appeal, defendant: (1) challenged the evidence presented at trial as insufficient to support his convictions; (2) argued the trial court erred in instructing the jury on "forcible rape;" and (3) the calculation of his sentences. The Court of Appeal concurred with defendant that the trial court had discretion with regard to sentences on several of the charges, and that defendant was entitled to a stay of sentence on the pimping charge. With that, the Court affirmed the convictions and remanded for resentencing. View "California v. Dearborne" on Justia Law

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Easter was charged with killing his wife. His attorney expressed doubts about his competency to stand trial. Proceedings were suspended while Easter was evaluated by medical professionals, one finding him competent to stand trial, the other finding him incompetent. Eight months after the evaluations, a jury found Easter competent. The homicide case resumed. Six months later, on the eve of trial, defense counsel again expressed doubt regarding Easter’s competency. Two judges declined to reinstate competency proceedings. The case proceeded, resulting in a verdict of guilty on the first-degree murder charge with a personal use of a firearm enhancement, a bench finding of guilty on a felon in possession of a firearm charge, and a sentence of 65 years to life in prison. The court of appeal reversed. The court erred in failing to reinstate competency proceedings. Counsel presented substantial evidence that Easter was experiencing new and worsened symptoms constituting a substantial change of circumstances in his mental condition. Counsel, having represented Easter since his arrest, described Easter’s recent communications as consisting of jumbled words and fanciful responses like Scrabble tiles tossed up and landing in random order. Easter could not hold a logical conversation, consult with counsel with a rational degree of understanding, assist in his own defense, or testify. “This is precisely the deficient mental state Penal Code section 1367 is aimed at addressing.” View "People v. Easter" on Justia Law

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In October 2015, Morrison shot Magee several times during an argument. Magee’s girlfriend testified that Morrison pulled the gun from his own waistband and continued to shoot even after Magee was disabled. Morrison claimed Magee pulled the gun from his (Magee’s) waistband and it initially discharged during their struggle; he continued to shoot Magee after gaining control of the gun because he was angry and afraid. The jury convicted Morrison of first-degree premeditated murder and found a firearm enhancement true under Penal Code section 12022.53(d); he was sentenced to prison for 25 years to life on the murder count and 25 years to life for the firearm enhancement. Morrison filed a request to recall the sentence, based on recent amendments to section 12022.53 that gave the court the discretion, effective January 1, 2018, to strike a firearm enhancement. The court recalled the sentence but denied the request to strike the firearm enhancement and reimposed the original sentence. The court of appeal remanded. At the time of resentencing, the trial court did not understand the scope of its discretion. No published case had held an uncharged lesser firearm enhancement could be imposed in lieu of an enhancement under section 12022.53(d) in connection with striking the greater enhancement. The amendment was new and the court apparently never considered that issue. View "People v. Morrison" on Justia Law

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Chioma and Edwards were each convicted on multiple counts arising from their joint 2012 sexual assault and robbery of Jane Doe and robbery of her male friend. With “one-strike” (because they inflicted great bodily injury and personally used a firearm) and other allegations against them, Chioma was sentenced to 129 years to life, and Edwards was sentenced to 95 years to life. Both were 19 years old when they committed these offenses. They challenged their prison sentences as cruel and unusual punishment, and, on equal protection grounds, challenged their exclusion from the Section I. 2 provisions of Penal Code section 30511—which mandates youthful-offender parole hearings for most who receive de facto life sentences for crimes they commit at or before age 25. The court of appeal rejected the’ cruel and unusual punishment challenge but accepted their equal protection arguments and remanded to allow the development of the record with evidence of youth-related factors that will be relevant in a youthful-offender parole hearing. Under the One-Strike exemption to Penal Code 30511, an entire class of youthful offenders convicted of crimes short of homicide is, regardless of criminal history, categorically exempted from an opportunity offered to all youthful first degree murderers except those sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. View "People v. Edwards" on Justia Law