Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
by
After being informed he was not eligible for early parole consideration, Luther Haynes filed a petition for habeas corpus, alleging he was unlawfully precluded from Proposition 57 parole consideration because of his status as a sex offender registrant. Haynes was required to register as a sex offender due to: (1) two prior felony convictions for sex offenses committed in the 1980’s; and (2) a felony conviction for annoying or molesting a child, for which he presently was serving an indeterminate third strike sentence. The trial court granted the habeas petition, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) appealed. Whether the CDCR may exclude from Proposition 57 parole consideration otherwise eligible inmates, who have prior convictions requiring sex offender registration, was under review by the California Supreme Court. The Court of Appeal concluded that based on the language of article I, section 32 of the California Constitution, Proposition 57 parole consideration had to be based on Haynes' current offense, not past convictions. Haynes did not show the challenged regulations were unconstitutional as applied to an offender whose sole current offense was a Penal Code section 647.6 conviction. The Court declined to resolve the broader issue of whether the CDCR could categorically exclude from eligibility for early parole consideration of all inmates currently serving sentences of having prior convictions for any offense requiring sex offender registration "because there are unquestionably violent crimes which require sex offender registration." The Court reversed the trial court's order granting Haynes' habeas petition. View "In re Haynes" on Justia Law

by
When Hall was pulled over for a vehicle equipment violation in 2018, a police officer observed in the car “a clear plastic baggie” of what appeared to be marijuana. Based on this observation, two police officers searched Hall’s car and found a gun in a closed backpack, resulting in criminal charges against Hall for carrying a loaded firearm in a public place, carrying a concealed firearm in a vehicle, and having no license plate lamp.The trial court denied Hall’s motion to suppress the evidence found in the search. The court of appeal reversed that denial. Since the passage of Proposition 64 in 2016, it has been legal for persons 21 years of age and older to possess and transport small amounts (up to 28.5 grams) of marijuana, Health & Saf. Code 11362.1(a)(1). The lawful possession of marijuana in a vehicle does not provide probable cause to search the vehicle. Under Proposition 64, a driver is not permitted to “[p]ossess an open container or open package of cannabis or cannabis products” but there was no evidence in this case that the plastic baggie observed by the officers was an “open container.” View "People v. Hall" on Justia Law

by
After receiving a citizen’s tip that Black males in a Mercedes were “acting shady,” four San Diego Police Department (SDPD) officers drove to the scene in two marked vehicles, activating emergency lights in one. Parking behind the Mercedes, the officers positioned themselves beside each of its four doors and asked the three teenagers inside for their names and identification. A records check later indicated that the driver was on probation subject to a Fourth Amendment waiver. The officers searched the vehicle and recovered a loaded firearm and sneakers linking the minors to a recent robbery. The minors moved to suppress the evidence found in the car, claiming their initial detention was not supported by reasonable suspicion. Finding the encounter was consensual rather than a detention, the juvenile court denied the motions. Two of the minors pleaded guilty to a subset of the charges originally filed. In a consolidated appeal, two of the minors, Edgerrin J. and Jamar D. challenged the denial of their motions to suppress, arguing the juvenile court erred in finding the encounter consensual, and claimed the citizen’s tip did not establish reasonable suspicion to detain them. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed on both points. However, the Court found conflicting evidence as to whether officers knew other facts that might furnish reasonable suspicion for the stop, or justify the detention and search pursuant to Edgerrin’s active Fourth Amendment waiver. Because the rationale for its ruling made it unnecessary for the juvenile court to address these other issues, judgment was reversed and remanded for a new hearing to permit it to assess witness credibility and reach factual findings in the first instance. View "In re Edgerrin J." on Justia Law

by
In 2015, a jury convicted Daniel of second-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. In 2018, Senate Bill 1437 altered liability for murder under the theories of felony murder and natural and probable consequences and established a procedure, Penal Code section 1170.95, for eligible defendants to seek resentencing. Daniel filed a petition for relief, alleging that he was convicted of murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine or the felony murder doctrine and could no longer be convicted of murder because of Senate Bill 1437’s changes to the law.The trial court summarily denied the petition, reasoning that the jury was not instructed on either theory of liability and the record showed Daniel was the actual killer. The court of appeal affirmed. Although the judge who ruled on the petition failed to appoint counsel and was not the sentencing judge, both violations of section 1170.95, the errors were harmless. A court’s failure to appoint counsel after a petitioner files a facially sufficient petition for relief is not prejudicial error when records in the court’s own file—here, the jury instructions— demonstrate that the petitioner is ineligible for relief as a matter of law. View "People v. Daniel" on Justia Law

by
In 1969, then 20-year old Williams and two juveniles committed an attempted robbery of a milkman; the milkman was fatally shot. Williams was convicted of first-degree murder. The court noted that the overwhelming evidence that Williams was present and participated. After serving seven years, Williams was released on parole. In 1979, he committed another murder. Williams was convicted of second-degree murder.In 2019, Williams sought to vacate his 1969 conviction. He cited the sentencing transcript in which the court had stated the crime was “senseless and cruel" but "not deliberate and premeditated,” and the expression of “some doubt" that Williams "did the actual killing’” and a 2014 decision by former Governor Brown reversing a favorable parole recommendation, stating that “Williams’ crime partners shot and killed a milkman.” The court found Williams not eligible for resentencing because he could have been found guilty of first-degree murder under the newly-amended Penal Code 189 as a major participant who acted with reckless indifference to human life in the commission of felony murder.The court of appeal affirmed. The robbery was planned at Williams's home. Williams held the gun, which contained at least three bullets; the court could reasonably infer that Williams had a reasonable expectation that death could result. He had an opportunity to act as a restraining influence on the attempted robbery and the juveniles. After the shooting, the three fled without calling for assistance or attempting to render aid to the victim who did not die at the scene. View "People v. Williams" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal held that custody credits do not accrue with each Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS) flash incarceration or jail sanction, thereby shortening the PRCS three-year supervision period. The court stated that the very thought of custody credits whittling down a PRCS supervision period is counter-intuitive and counterproductive.The court exercised its discretion to resolve the appeal, despite claims of mootness, rejecting defendant's claims that custody credits accrue with each PRCS flash incarceration and jail incarceration, and the custody credits automatically shorten the three-year PRCS supervision period. The court explained that PRCS was enacted to rehabilitate nonviolent felons at the local level, not to reward the felon with custody credits that can theoretically reduce the PRCS supervision period to zero. Furthermore, the word "supervision" in PCRS means just that. Because PRCS supervision is not a sentence, the supervision period is not shortened by custody credits. Finally, the court held that this appeal is consistent with People v. Espinoza (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 635. The court affirmed the order revoking PRCS and ordering 180 days county jail, and order denying motion to terminate PRCS supervision. View "People v. Shelp" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-appellant Gerard Gallo was charged by information with elder abuse under Penal Code section 368(b)(1) (count 1) and murder under section 187(a) (count 2). He was convicted by jury as charged, for which the trial court sentenced him to a total indeterminate term of 15 years to life on count 2. The court also imposed a determinate term of three years on count 1, but stayed the sentence pursuant to section 654. After defendant appealed, in an unpublished opinion the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. Almost seven years later, defendant petitioned for resentencing under section 1170.95 in pro. per. The State moved to dismiss the petition, arguing defendant was the actual killer, thus, not entitle do relief. The State stated that defendant punched his father in the face and his father died. When the trial court asked if this was a “single-defendant murder case,” the prosecutor responded, “Yes.” Thereafter, the trial court denied defendant’s petition for resentencing. Defendant was appointed counsel for appealing that denial. Counsel filed a "Wende" brief; defendant did not file a supplemental brief. The Court of Appeal determined "Wende's constitutional underpinnings do not apply to appeals from the denial of postconviction relief," and it had no independent duty to review the record for reasonably arguable issues, but could undertake review "in the interests of justice." Because defendant was the sole killer, and a jury found defendant guilty of second degree murder under section 187 (a), section 1170.95 did not apply to defendant. Thus, the Court independently reviewed the record for potential error, and was satisfied appointed counsel fully complied with their responsibilities as counsel, and no arguable issue was presented. View "California v. Gallo" on Justia Law

by
After defendant was convicted of first degree murder under the provocative act doctrine, he filed a petition in the superior court under Penal Code section 1170.95, which permits a defendant convicted of murder under the felony-murder rule or natural and probable consequences doctrine to be resentenced.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of the petition, holding that provocative act murder is not a natural and probable consequence theory. The court also held that first degree provocative act murder does not fall within the felony murder rule. Because the right to counsel under section 1170.95 does not attach until the petitioner makes a prima facie showing of eligibility under the statute, defendant failed to demonstrate eligibility under the statute. Therefore, remand is not appropriate in this case. View "People v. Swanson" on Justia Law

by
In June 2015, defendant William Roseberry began serving a five-year term in state prison for willfully inflicting corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant. While serving that time, defendant brought a controlled substance into prison. In December 2015, for defendant’s in-prison offense and pursuant to Penal Code section 1170.1(c), a trial court imposed a three-year prison term consecutive to the five-year term defendant was already serving for the corporal injury offense. Appealing that second sentence, defendant contended the trial court: (1) contravened Penal Code section 1170.1 (c) because only one-third of the base term should have been imposed; and (2) erred by failing to pronounce a single determinate term of imprisonment, “treat[ing] this case as a stand-alone case, which it was not.” Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed defendant's sentence. View "California v. Roseberry" on Justia Law

by
Bankers posted a bond for the release of Al-Zetawi, who was in custody on felony animal-cruelty charges. Al-Zetawi did not execute a waiver of his right to personally attend all proceedings. He appeared at nine proceedings before the court scheduled trial for June 4, 2018. On March 8, Al-Zetawi sought a continuance; he appeared at the March 13 hearing, stating he planned to travel to Jordan for surgery. The court denied the motion. Al-Zetawi appeared at a March 20 pretrial conference; the court ordered him to return on June 4th. On May 31, Al-Zetawi moved to continue the trial date. Al-Zetawi did not appear at the June 1 hearing. His attorney stated that he was supposed to return the day before but was detained in Jordan because of medical issues. The court denied the request.On June 4, Al-Zetawi did not appear. The court forfeited his bail, issued a warrant, denied Bankers’ motions to toll the six-month bail-forfeiture period to secure Al-Zetawi’s appearance, and entered summary judgment on the bond. Bankers argued that the court lost jurisdiction of the bond when Al-Zetawi failed to appear on May 29 and June 1 and the court neither declared a forfeiture of the bail nor found sufficient excuse for his absences. The court of appeal affirmed. While the judge did not state explicitly that she considered Al-Zetawi’s non-attendance at the hearings to be sufficiently excused, she clearly considered the failure to have ordered him to be present to provide an excuse. View "People v. Bankers Insurance Co." on Justia Law