Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Chavez was convicted for leaving the scene of an accident resulting in permanent, serious injury to another person (Veh. Code 20001(a), (b)(2)) and was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. At trial, nine months after the accident, the victim had undergone two surgeries to repair broken bones in his leg, the bones had not healed, and he still had an open wound. The victim testified that he found it difficult to walk, balance, and sleep as a result of his injuries and that he had been unable to return to work. The victim’s treating surgeon opined it was “likely” the victim’s leg would never be as good as it was before the accident and would “probably not” ever be as good as his other leg,Chavez challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury’s finding that the victim had suffered a permanent, serious injury, i.e., “the loss or permanent impairment of function of a bodily member or organ” and argued that the medical expert’s opinions were based on conjecture and speculation. The court of appeal affirmed. The long duration of an injury, such as a broken ankle that has not fully healed after more than six months, may support an inference that the injury is permanent. View "People v. Chavez" on Justia Law

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Brown, charged with misdemeanor loitering with the intent to commit prostitution, moved to suppress evidence resulting from statements she made to the arresting officer. At the hearing on Brown’s motion, the prosecutor requested a continuance, informing the court that his sole witness would not appear because, on his own initiative, he had released the officer from the subpoena to interview a witness in an unrelated investigation. The court denied that motion as lacking in good cause and granted Brown’s motion to suppress.The prosecution moved for reconsideration, citing “Ferrer,” which held that when it is reasonably foreseeable that denial of the prosecutor’s request for a continuance under section 1050 will result in dismissal of the case, the court may not deny the requested continuance of a defendant’s section 1538.5 motion. The trial court vacated its prior ruling and denied Brown’s motion. The appellate division of the Santa Clara County Superior Court, concluding it was bound by Ferrer, affirmed.The court of appeal declined to follow Ferrer and reversed. If a trial court finds that the request for a continuance of a motion to suppress lacks good cause under section 1050(e), the trial court has the authority to deny the requested continuance on that basis even if this decision may foreseeably result in a dismissal of the prosecution. View "People v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Silas and Whitley, brothers and members of a San Francisco street gang, suspected Zinn, a fellow gang member, had stolen guns from them. The brothers attacked Zinn outside his and Dow’s (Zinn’s girlfriend) apartment building, where Whitley and Chaney—Whitley’s girlfriend—also lived. Zinn and Dow ran. Silas and Whitley pursued them in separate cars. One car was driven by Michaels, the brothers’ cousin. Minutes later, both victims were shot to death on the side of the road, in an unincorporated area of Contra Costa County.Silas, Whitley, Michaels, and Chaney, all of whom are Black, were tried for the murders. Zinn and Dow were also Black. During jury selection, defendants brought unsuccessful Batson-Wheeler motions to challenge the prosecutor’s exercise of peremptory strikes against three Black prospective jurors, including one who expressed support for Black Lives Matter. The jury, which had two Black members, returned convictions.The court of appeal remanded for a new trial. The Batson-Wheeler motion involving the prospective juror who expressed support for BLM was improperly denied. Defendants established a prima facie case of discrimination at the first stage of the analysis, and the prosecutor’s proffered reasons for the strike—that the juror was hostile when asked about supporting BLM and had “anti-prosecution issues”—should not have been credited. Insufficient evidence supported the conclusion that the peremptory strike was not “ ‘motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent.’ ” The error was structural, requiring reversal. View "People v. Silas" on Justia Law

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Defendant, formerly a physical therapist, was charged with sexual penetration by foreign object (count 1); sexual penetration by foreign object of a person incapable of giving legal consent because of a mental disorder or developmental or physical disability (count 2); sexual battery (count 3); lewd conduct by a caretaker upon a dependent person by use of force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury on the victim or another person (count 4); and lewd conduct by a caretaker upon a dependent person (count 5). Defendant pleaded guilty to count 5 and the remaining charges were dismissed. Defendant received a one-year jail sentence, of which 364 days were suspended, one day of credit for time spent in custody awaiting sentencing, and three years' felony probation.In a partially published opinion, the Court of Appeal remanded to the trial court to modify the term of probation to conform with Assembly Bill No. 1950, which limits the maximum probation term a trial court is authorized to impose for most felony offenses to two years, and permit the People and trial court an opportunity to withdraw from the plea agreement. The court also concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied defendant's withdrawal motion, and because the case will be remanded for modification of the length of defendant's probation term, defendant's Dueñas argument is moot. View "People v. Montoya" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Steven Ray Eynon pled guilty to premeditated first degree murder and admitted that the murder was committed during a robbery. The information alleged that a codefendant was the actual killer. In 2019, Eynon petitioned to vacate his murder conviction under Penal Code section 1170.95. The trial court denied the petition without issuing an order to show cause. On appeal, the State argued that Eynon was ineligible for relief because he “admitted he acted with a premeditated and deliberate intent to kill the victim.” The Court of Appeal rejected the State's argument because it mischaracterized Eynon’s factual admissions: Eynon admitted he was guilty, on an unspecified theory, of a premeditated and deliberate murder, but he did not admit that he acted with premeditation, deliberation, or intent to kill. In so holding, the Court agreed with California v. Rivera, 62 Cal.App.5th, review granted June 9, 2021, S268405 (2021), which rejected an argument similar to the one presented here. "Nothing in Eynon’s record of conviction refutes the allegation in his section 1170.95 petition that he is eligible for relief." The Court accordingly reversed the order denying his petition, and remanded with directions to issue an order to show cause under section 1170.95(c). View "California v. Eynon" on Justia Law

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In 2008, defendant Antonio Barboza was initially convicted of first degree murder with a gang special circumstance. The trial court reduced the conviction to second degree murder, struck the special circumstance, and sentenced defendant to 15 years to life plus 25 years to life for the murder and a vicarious firearm enhancement. On direct appeal, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. In June 2019, defendant filed a petition for resentencing in the trial court pursuant to Penal Code section 1170.95, and received appointed counsel. The court subsequently found defendant had not set forth a prima facie case for relief because the jury’s special circumstance finding required that defendant personally harbored an intent to kill. The Court of Appeal found, however, that the court erred by using the jury’s findings as to first degree murder with the special circumstance, as the court struck those findings and entered a conviction for second degree murder at the time of sentencing. Accordingly, defendant presented a prima facie case for relief and was entitled to a hearing on his 1170.95 petition. The Court thus reverses, and directed the trial court on remand to issue the appropriate order to show cause. View "California v. Barboza" on Justia Law

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Defendant Alfred Lopez-Vinck appealed after a jury convicted him of three counts of robbery and three counts of assault with a deadly weapon. Lopez-Vinck and his girlfriend and co-defendant Misty Lynn Probert were both convicted of charges arising from an incident in which Probert shoplifted various items from a Kohl’s store. After Probert exited the store and was approached by three loss prevention officers, Lopez-Vinck, got out of his vehicle, took out a knife, pointed it in the direction of the loss prevention officers, and moved toward them while aggressively yelling at them to back up. Probert walked past the loss prevention officers while still in possession of the stolen merchandise, got into Lopez-Vinck’s car, and the two drove off together. On appeal, Lopez-Vinck contended insufficient evidence supported his convictions for assault with a deadly weapon, arguing that he did not engage in any act that was likely to cause injury and he did not have the present ability to injure anyone. He also argued his convictions for assault with a deadly weapon had to be modified to convictions for the lesser offense of brandishing because, he claimed, brandishing was a more specific statute that applied to his conduct and preempted the assault statute. In addition, Lopez-Vinck contended the trial court erred, and violated his right to due process, by imposing various fines and fees without first finding that he had the ability to pay them. Finally, he asserts that the minute order and abstract of judgment must be corrected to reflect the court’s oral pronouncement with respect to striking his prison prior. The Court of Appeal concluded only that Lopez-Vinck’s final contention had merit; the case was therefore remanded for the trial court to correct the minute order and abstract of judgment to reflect that the court struck Lopez-Vinck’s prison prior. The Court also found a recent recent ameliorative amendment to the law entitled Lopez-Vinck to have vacated any portion of the fee imposed pursuant to Government Code section 29550.1. View "California v. Lopez-Vinck" on Justia Law

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Defendant Amit Bharth was convicted by jury on two counts of forcible rape, assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury, and false imprisonment. The jury also found true the allegation that defendant personally inflicted great bodily injury. Defendant was sentenced to 23 years, 8 months in prison. The sole issue on appeal was whether the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion for a mistrial, which was based on his contention that the court permitted testimony by the victim that violated his confrontation clause rights. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed defendant's convictions. View "California v. Bharth" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal concluded that Penal Code section 3051, subdivision (h) does not violate equal protection, and the exclusion of offenders sentenced under the Three Strikes law from youth offender parole consideration is rationally related to a legitimate penal interest. The court also concluded that it lacks jurisdiction to rule on appellant's clam that the imposition of the five-year enhancement under Penal Code section 667, subdivision (a) resulted in an unauthorized sentence. Accordingly, the court affirmed the postjudgment order. View "People v. Moore" on Justia Law

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Defendant Michael Barefield appealed his convictions of corporal injury, assault with a deadly weapon, and false imprisonment, arising from his attack against a former girlfriend. He claimed the trial court erred by: (1) admitting evidence in violation of the marital testimony privilege; (2) admitting propensity evidence; (3) admitting fresh complaint evidence; (4) not staying his sentence on the false imprisonment count; and (5) using the firearm possession to impose the upper-term sentence on the assault count and a firearm enhancement. Although the trial court admitted evidence in violation of the marital privilege, the Court of Appeal found the error was harmless. Finding no other reversible error, the Court affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Barefield" on Justia Law