Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress the results of a blood test on the grounds that the blood testing was a warrantless search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The court agreed with defendant that there could be no implied consent to a warrantless blood draw upon threat of criminal penalty, but held that Birchfield v. North Dakota (2016) 579 U.S. ___, [136 S.Ct. 2160], did not mandate the invalidation of his actual consent. The court explained that Birchfield prohibits a court from finding implied consent where an arrestee's only choice is to consent to a warrantless blood test or be prosecuted for refusing to do so. In this case, the blood test was not defendant's only choice. Rather, defendant was given a choice of tests to choose from and the arresting officer stated that he was subject to criminal penalties only if he refused all options. Furthermore, the trial court held a hearing on the issue of actual consent and found consent to be voluntary. Finally, the court rejected defendant's contention that the Legislature's decision to amend California's implied consent law, Assembly Bill No. 2717, in response to Birchfield strongly indicated that he could not have freely and voluntarily consented. View "People v. Nzolameso" on Justia Law

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A warrant issued for the search of Klugman’s residence and his dental practice, authorizing the seizure evidence of child pornography. Officers seized extensive electronic evidence contained on multiple devices. Klugman was charged with knowingly possessing images of minors engaging in or simulating sexual conduct. In a motion to suppress, Klugman cited the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, sections 1538.5 and 1546.4(a), asserting that the warrant lacked particularity and probable cause and “contained no limiting time periods, specific accounts, precise descriptions of the types of information, or particular electronic devices that could be seized. Nor did it contain any safeguards such as sealing or the appointment of a referee to preserve the privacy of seized information unrelated to the purpose of the warrant. Instead, it authorized a ‘complete dump’ of all electronic devices ... including thousands of patient records.” The court of appeal affirmed. Even disregarding timeliness issues, the trial court did not err. The reports based on information derived from third parties were not conclusory, were not stale, and were reliable and corroborative; inferences from tips were reinforced by the opinion of the affiant, a 20-year veteran who relied on his training, experience, and conversations with other officers and with the computer forensics expert. While the warrant for Klugman’s equipment did not dictate that medical information about Klugman’s patients be sealed in compliance with HIPAA, investigating officers previewed material at the scene, “thus addressing the issue noted in the statute.” View "Klugman v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed defendant's conviction for attempted premeditated murder of two police officers and possession of a firearm by a felon. In the published portion of the opinion, the court held that People v. Dueñas (2019) 30 Cal.App.5th 1157, was wrongly decided, and that a constitutional challenge to the imposition of fines, fees, and assessments should be based on the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment instead of the due process rationale utilized in Dueñas. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "People v. Aviles" on Justia Law

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A.W. committed five counts of felony vandalism. The court declared minor a ward of the state and ordered him to serve 37 days in juvenile hall. The sole question on appeal was whether the evidence supported a finding that, for each count, “the amount of defacement, damage, or destruction [was] four hundred dollars ($400) or more,” as required to elevate the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony. The Court of Appeal determined the only competent testimony on that issue came from an employee of the City of Palmdale who helped prepare an analysis of the average cost to clean up an instance of graffiti. The Court determined: (1) use of an average, by itself, was not enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the amount of damage inflicted by minor was equal to the average cleanup cost, rather than some other number; (2) the calculation included the cost of law enforcement, which, though proper in certain restitution settings, was not a proper consideration in assessing the damage minor inflicted under the applicable statute; and (3) Palmdale’s methodology for calculating the average cost is flawed. The Court reversed adjudication in part with direction to reduce the felony counts to misdemeanors. View "In re A.W." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the superior court's order denying defendant's petition for recall of his sentence pursuant to Penal Code, section 1170.126. The court held that the trial court's determination that defendant intended to inflict great bodily injury was supported by substantial evidence. In this case, the trial court properly inferred defendant's intent from the circumstances surrounding the battery, and actual infliction of great bodily injury is not a prerequisite to finding intent to cause such injury. View "People v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed defendant's conviction for criminal threats against the mother of his daughter. The court held that defendant's threats against his child's mother constitute domestic violence under Family Code section 6211, a statutory section expressly cross-referenced in Penal Code section 136.2, subdivision (i)(1), and therefore the trial court properly issued the protective order. The court also held that the due process analysis in People v. Dueñas (2019) 30 Cal.App.5th 1157, did not support its broad holding and was distinguishable on its facts from this case. View "People v. Caceres" on Justia Law

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Hughes fired five shots while officers were in his apartment responding to a domestic dispute and a report that Hughes might be suicidal. He was convicted of attempted murder of a peace officer and three counts of assault with a firearm on a peace officer. The jury also found that Hughes personally and intentionally discharged a firearm in committing all four offenses. In a prior appeal, the court conditionally reversed Hughes’s convictions and remanded for the trial court to conduct an in-camera “Pitchess” hearing. If a new trial was not ordered, Hughes was to be resentenced. Hughes requested that the court of appeal examine the Pitchess records produced and deemed undiscoverable on remand. He also argued that recently enacted mental health diversion statutes (Penal Code 1001.36) apply retroactively to nonfinal cases. The court of appeal held that section 1001.36 applies retroactively and agreed that a conditional reversal and remand is appropriate so the court may consider his diversion eligibility. If on remand the court determines Hughes is not eligible for section 1001.36 relief, his convictions and sentence are reinstated, and the trial court is directed to stay the sentence for the firearm enhancement to count four. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to disclose records from the officers’ personnel files. View "People v. Hughes" on Justia Law

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People v. Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal.4th 665, explicitly prohibited the introduction by an expert of case-specific hearsay. Plaintiff filed a writ petition challenging the trial court's finding of probable cause in a Sexually Violent Predators Act proceeding. The Court of Appeal agreed with plaintiff that the trial court erred by allowing expert testimony of case-specific facts relating to a 2012 incident, and that the trial court improperly relied on the incident in finding probable cause. The court held that the People failed to meet their burden of proof at the probable cause hearing, and the trial court's finding of probable cause was not supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the SVP petition must be dismissed and the court granted the writ petition. View "Bennett v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County" on Justia Law

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Reliable hearsay evidence in arrest and probation reports is admissible to prove ineligibility for Proposition 64 -- which reduces or eliminates penalties for marijuana offenses -- relief. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order denying defendant's application to have his 1996 felony transportation of marijuana conviction dismissed or redesignated as an infraction pursuant to Proposition 64. The court rejected defendant's contention that, in determining his eligibility for the requested relief, the trial court erroneously considered inadmissible hearsay evidence in arrest and probation reports. View "People v. Hall" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted by jury for discharging a firearm with gross negligence (count 1), unlawfully causing a fire to an inhabited structure or property (count 2), unlawfully setting fire to property of another (counts 3 & 4), three counts of corporal injury to a spouse (counts 6, 12, 13), assault with a deadly weapon (count 7), dissuading a witness from reporting a crime (count 9), misdemeanor false imprisonment (count 10), and battery on a spouse (count 11). Defendant also entered a plea to felony vandalism (count 5). The Court of Appeal held that the newly enacted mental health diversion statute, Penal Code, section 1001.36, cannot be applied on appeal after conviction and sentence. Even assuming that section 1001.36 is retroactive, defendant was not eligible for mental health diversion because he did not suffer from a qualifying mental disorder that played a significant role in the commission of the charged offenses. However, the court held that the act of setting fire to a pile of property, some of which belonged to wife and some of which belonged to the landlord, does not support two convictions for the same offense. Accordingly, the court reversed count 4 and the six-month jail sentence on count 4 was stricken. The sentence remained the same and the judgment, as modified, was affirmed. View "People v. Torres" on Justia Law