Articles Posted in Supreme Court of California

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant of one count of first degree murder, thirteen counts of robbery, and two counts of attempted robbery and sentencing Defendant to death. The trial court found true the special circumstance allegation that Defendant committed the murder during the commission of a robbery. The conviction and sentence were rendered after bench trials for the guilt phases and penalty phases. The Supreme Court held (1) Defendant entered a knowing and intelligent jury waiver; (2) because there was no basis for concluding that Defendant would have chosen a jury trial for the special circumstance allegation had the trial judge avoided an error under People v. Memro 700 P.2d 446 (Cal. 1985), the error was harmless; (3) Defendant’s waiver of a jury trial for the penalty phase was adequate, and no reaffirmation of the waiver before the state of the penalty phase was required; (4) the trial court did not err in considering certain aggravating evidence at the penalty phase; and (5) Defendant’s miscellaneous challenges to the death penalty are rejected. View "People v. Sivongxxay" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied Petitioner's petition for writ of habeas corpus seeking relief on the ground of juror misconduct, holding that Petitioner failed to prove his claim of misconduct. Petitioner was sentenced to death for the first degree robbery-murder of Joey Anderson. Petitioner petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus claiming that a holdout juror in the penalty deliberations switched her vote to a death sentence after soliciting her husband’s advice regarding how to vote. The Supreme Court issued an order to show cause on this claim of jury misconduct. After an evidentiary hearing, a referee found that the alleged juror misconduct did not occur. The Supreme Court discharged the order to show cause and, by separate order, denied Petitioner’s petition for writ of habeas corpus, concluding that the referee’s findings were supported by substantial evidence, and Petitioner failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence his claim that juror misconduct occurred. View "In re Bell" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of seven counts of first degree murder committed in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the special circumstances of multiple murder and murder during the attempted commission or commission of the crimes of rape and burglary. Defendant was sentenced to death. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant’s Batson/Wheeler challenges to the prosecutor’s exercise of peremptory challenges against two African-American prospective jurors; (2) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress incriminating statements he made while in custody because the police did not violate Defendant’s right to remain silent under Miranda; (3) the trial court did not err in refusing to instruct the jury on the defense of unconsciousness; (4) the admission of victim impact testimony did not violate Defendant’s constitutional rights; and (5) the trial court erred in restricting Defendant’s lack of future dangerousness argument during the penalty phase, but the error was harmless. View "People v. Parker" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether Defendant’s hand gesture unaccompanied by words or sound qualified as a “statement, made verbally” under Cal. Penal Code 422. Section 422 makes it a crime to threaten infliction of great bodily injury or death on another “with the specific intent that the statement, made verbally, in writing, or by means of an electronic communication device, is to be taken as a threat….” The trial court dismissed the criminal threat allegations against Defendant, concluding that the hand gestures could not constitute criminal threats as defined by section 422. The court of appeals reversed the dismissal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a threat made through nonverbal conduct falls outside the scope of section 422; and (2) Defendant’s conduct did not constitute a verbal communication merely because he intended to convey an idea through his conduct. View "People v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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During jury selection proceedings, three defendants joined in a Batson/Wheeler motion, arguing that the prosecutor improperly excluded prospective jurors on account of Hispanic ethnicity. The trial court denied the motion, finding the prosecutor’s reasons for exercising ten of sixteen peremptory challenges to remove Hispanic individuals from the jury panel to be neutral and nonpretextual. The court of appeal upheld the trial court’s denial of Defendants’ joint Batson/Wheeler motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the trial court’s finding that Defendants had not met their burden of proving intentional discrimination with respect to at least one excluded panelist was unreasonable in light of the record of voir dire proceedings, and therefore, Defendants were denied their right to a fair trial and their right to a trial by a jury drawn from a representative cross-section of the community under the state Constitution; and (2) the court of appeal erred in refusing to conduct a comparative juror analysis. View "People v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-taxpayers filed a complaint against the City of Los Angeles and the Director of the Los Angeles Zoo (collectively, the City) alleging that the zoo was abusing its elephants. The trial court granted summary judgment to the City, ruling that the complaint raised nonjusticiable issues of public policy. The court of appeals reversed. After a bench trial, the trial court issued injunctions against the City. The court of appeal affirmed, holding (1) the court of appeal’s earlier decision established law of the case, thus barring the City’s new argument that the claim for equitable relief was precluded by Cal. Civ. Code 3369; and (2) the Legislature authorized taxpayer actions aimed at enjoining government expenditures that support criminal conduct. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) this case is governed by the general rule that law of the case does not apply to arguments that might have been but were not presented and resolved on an earlier appeal; and (2) the Legislature did not intend to overturn the long-established law governing equitable relief for violations of penal law when it amended Civil Code section 3369, but rather maintained the rule that a taxpayer action will not lie to enforce a Penal Code provision. View "Leider v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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Defendant was involved in an accidental collision with a twelve-year-old boy riding on a scooter. Defendant stopped and checked on the boy. Defendant drove off when he saw the boy loaded into an ambulance. Defendant pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an injury accident in violation of Cal. Veh. Code 20001(a). The trial court sentenced Defendant to three years in prison and ordered him to pay $425,654.68 to the victim as restitution for injuries suffered as a result of the accident. The court of appeal reversed the restitution order, concluding that the trial court erred in fixing the amount of restitution. The Supreme Court affirmed. Cal. Penal Code 1202.4 provides that a defendant must pay restitution to the victim for losses incurred “as a result of the commission of a crime.” Here, Defendant’s crime was not being involved in a traffic accident but, rather, was leaving the scene of the accident without presenting identification or rendering aid. Accordingly, the trial court was authorized to order restitution for injuries that were caused or exacerbated by Defendant’s criminal flight from the scene of the accident, but it was not authorized to award restitution for injuries resulting from the underlying accident that involved no criminal wrongdoing. View "People v. Martinez" on Justia Law

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Petitioner committed murder when he was sixteen years old and was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The sentencing court did not give due consideration to the factors in Miller v. Alabama in imposing this sentence. Petitioner did not pursue an appeal. Here, Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking a resentencing hearing at which the court would properly integrate the Miller factors into its sentencing calculus. The superior court granted habeas corpus relief. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that Petitioner could seek recall of his sentence and resentencing to a term of life with the opportunity for parole pursuant to Cal. Penal Code 1170(d)(2), which remedied any constitutional defect in Petitioner’s sentence and therefore precluded habeas corpus relief. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 1170(d)(2) does not provide an adequate remedy at law for Miller error, and Petitioner may obtain a Miller resentencing as a form of habeas corpus relief. Remanded for a resentencing hearing. View "In re Kristopher Kirchner" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of first degree murder with the special circumstances of killing a witness, murder, in the commission of kidnapping, and lying in weight. The jury also found Defendant guilty of kidnapping, rape, and dissuading a witness. After a penalty trial, the jury returned a verdict of death for the murder conviction. The trial court imposed a judgment of death. The Supreme Court reversed the lying-in-wait special-circumstance finding for insufficient evidence but otherwise affirmed the judgment, holding (1) the evidence did not support the lying-in-wait special-circumstance finding, but no other prejudicial error occurred during the guilt phase of trial; and (2) there was no prejudicial error during the penalty phase of trial. View "Poeple v. Becerrada" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a Canadian citizen, pleaded guilty to a drug possession charge. Defendant filed a motion to withdraw the plea on grounds of mistake or ignorance. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that it was insufficient because Defendant had received the standard statutory advisement that a criminal conviction may have the consequences of deportation. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that receipt of the standard statutory advisement that a criminal conviction “may” have adverse immigration consequences does not bar a noncitizen defendant from seeking to withdraw a guilty plea on that basis. Remanded to permit the trial court to determine whether Defendant has shown good cause for withdrawing his plea. View "People v. Patterson" on Justia Law