Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Defendant Cesar Meneses appealed after a jury found him guilty of four counts of committing a lewd act upon a child under 14 years of age and found true, as to each count, the multiple victim sentencing enhancement allegation. Meneses argued: (1) the trial court erred by instructing the jury regarding consideration of evidence of charged sex offenses with CALCRIM No. 1191B; and (2) the prosecutor committed error in her closing and rebuttal arguments. Meneses further argued, to the extent his trial counsel’s failure to object on these grounds results in forfeiture of these arguments on appeal, he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed as to all issues. View "California v. Meneses" on Justia Law

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Winn was convicted of first-degree murder for the stabbing death of Derrington after Derrington had Winn and his wife evicted from their home. Derrington was the ex-husband of Winn’s wife. The jury also found true a deadly weapon enhancement; Winn admitted he had previously served five prior prison terms. The trial court imposed a total term of 31 years to life in prison. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that the trial court erred by admitting a photograph of the victim taken prior to the offense, while the victim was still alive; that the trial court erred during a post-verdict “Marsden” hearing by failing to inquire into Winn’s claim that his counsel deprived him of the opportunity to testify in his defense; and that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to lodge objections to the photograph. The court stated that the evidence against Winn was overwhelming and his claim of self-defense was not credible. Had Winn testified, the prosecution likely would have introduced evidence of his numerous prior convictions, which included multiple felonies relevant to impeach his credibility. View "People v. Winn" on Justia Law

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Franswa Merchant was convicted by jury of kidnapping, battery, and dissuading a witness after he careened down the freeway refusing his girlfriend’s, Lisa S., pleas to stop or let her out. He allegedly pulled Lisa’s hair, and flung her cell phone out the window as she tried to call 911. Lisa did not appear at trial. Applying the forfeiture-by-wrongdoing exception to the Sixth Amendment right to confrontation, the court admitted her statements to law enforcement on the day of the incident. It further allowed the prosecution to introduce evidence of Merchant's prior acts of domestic violence against Lisa and his former girlfriend, J.C. Merchant challenged the admission of both categories of evidence. Finding no error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Merchant" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant O.C., appealed an order denying her petition to seal her juvenile court records and related records in the custody of law enforcement and other agencies. She claimed the court was required to seal her records under Welfare & Institutions Code section 786 because she satisfactorily completed her juvenile court probation in April 2011. The Court of Appeal affirmed denial. O.C. was not qualified to seal her records under section 781 because: (1) she was convicted of six felonies in May 2018, after the juvenile court’s jurisdiction over her terminated in April 2011; and (2) in denying O.C.’s sealing petition, the court found that O.C. had not obtained rehabilitation since April 2011, based on the facts underlying her six felony convictions. View "In re O.C." on Justia Law

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Michael Damion Jude Medrano was convicted by jury on one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second degree robbery, and one count of assault with force likely to produce great bodily harm. Medrano was 19 years old when he committed the offenses. He was sentenced to 25 years to life, plus seven. Medrano was sentenced in December 2017, one and one-half years after the California Supreme Court decided California v. Franklin, 63 Cal.4th 261 (2016), which held that when a juvenile offender receives an indeterminate life sentence, the offender must be “given adequate opportunity at sentencing to make a record of mitigating evidence tied to his youth.” The Court remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether the juvenile offender had been given an adequate opportunity to make such a record. Medrano asked the Court of Appeal to give him the same relief that was granted in Franklin. But because Medrano was sentenced one and one-half years after Franklin, and because nothing in the record indicated Medrano lacked an adequate opportunity at sentencing to make a record of mitigating youth-related evidence, the Court found no basis to order the same relief that the Supreme Court granted in Franklin. It noted, however, that the Supreme Court recently held that a juvenile offender whose conviction and sentence were final could file a motion under Penal Code section 1203.01 for the purpose of making a record of mitigating youth-related evidence. View "California v. Medrano" on Justia Law

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In a published opinion reversing the trial court's order granting petitioner's motion to dismiss and overruling People v. Ward (1986) 188 Cal.App.3d Supp. 11, the Superior Court Appellate Division held that suppression of illegally obtained evidence cannot be litigated on a motion to dismiss under Penal Code section 991. Petitioner argued that the Fourth Amendment demands a mechanical application of the exclusionary rule at a probable cause hearing under section 991 in the event the magistrate determines evidence was obtained via an unlawful detention. The Court of Appeal held that this argument conflates several unrelated principles, and in doing so blurs the lines between various objectives trial courts must discharge as well as the procedures trial courts are required to use to achieve those objectives. The court explained that a Fourth Amendment violation may lead to an exclusionary rule analysis, but there is no guarantee evidence will be excluded. Accordingly, the court agreed with the Appellate Division that suppression of illegally obtained evidence cannot be litigated on a motion to dismiss under section 991 and denied the writ petition. View "Barajas v. Appellate Division of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County" on Justia Law

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After defendant instructed a mother to engage in acts of a sexual nature with her three-year-old son, a jury found him guilty of oral copulation with a child 10 years old or younger and other related charges. In the published portion of this opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the trial court prejudicially erred by instructing the jury that defendant, rather than the mother who directly perpetrated the acts, had to be 18 years old or older. View "People v. Vital" on Justia Law

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Following a traffic stop, officers searched Brandon Lee's car without a warrant and discovered 56 grams of cocaine, a firearm, and other items associated with selling narcotics. After Lee was charged with various drug and weapons offenses, he filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the warrantless vehicle search. The trial court granted Lee's motion, rejecting the State's contentions that the search was proper under the automobile exception as supported by probable cause or, alternatively, as an inventory search of a vehicle following an impound. The Court of Appeal determined the trial court properly concluded that Lee's possession of a small amount of marijuana was of little relevance in assessing probable cause. Because the other factors relied on by the State were also of minimal significance, the Court concluded that even considering the totality of circumstances known to the officer, there did not exist " ' "a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found." ' " The Court likewise found no error in the trial court's conclusion that the search was not valid as an inventory search. The Court therefore affirmed the order granting Lee's motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the unlawful search of his car. View "California v. Lee" on Justia Law

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A death row inmate petitioned for a writ of mandate to vacate the superior court's discovery order in a habeas corpus proceeding. In the petition for writ of habeas corpus, petitioner claimed that the jury at his capital trial impermissibly considered the opinion of at least one alternate juror in deciding his guilt. In the petition for writ of mandate, petitioner argued that the superior court abused its discretion in ordering discovery regarding the statements of any alternative jurors petitioner had interviewed. The Court of Appeal held that discovery in habeas proceedings following an order to show cause may exceed the scope of the criminal discovery scheme. However, the court held that the qualified work product protection applies to discovery beyond that scope and -- at this juncture of the proceedings -- precludes the superior court's discovery order. Accordingly, the court granted petitioner's requested relief. View "Jimenez v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Junior Tejeda was twice found incompetent to stand trial for murder and robbery charges due to his persistent belief that his actions were controlled by a "mind control project" run by the federal government. He was later found competent after the trial court determined he could compartmentalize any lingering delusion and separate it from his defense. But at trial Tejeda took the stand against his counsel's wishes, admitted guilt for the murder and robbery, and explained that "the project" controlled his actions. The trial court did not declare a doubt as to Tejeda's competency, and he was convicted and sentenced to multiple life terms. The California Supreme Court's recent decision in California v. Rodas, 6 Cal.5th 219 (2018) compelled the Court of Appeal to conclude that the trial court should have declared a doubt as to Tejeda's competency once it became clear he could no longer separate his delusion from his defense, as that was the entire basis for his prior competency finding. On this record, the trial court's failure to do so required reversal for retrial "if and when Tejeda is found competent." View "California v. Tejeda" on Justia Law