Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of California
by
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of first-degree murder and kidnapping and sentence of death, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief. Specifically, the Court held (1) the superior court did not err in exercising its jurisdiction in this matter; (2) the trial court did not err in the voir dire proceedings; (3) Defendant's argument that there was a material variance between the kidnap alleged in the indictment and the prosecutor's argument regarding his actual offense was unavailing; (4) the trial court did not err in admitting Defendant's custodial confession; (5) the trial court did not err by compelling Defendant to testify as a foundation for testimony by Defendant's expert that his confession was false; (6) the trial court did not err by limiting expert witness testimony; (7) the trial court did not err by compelling Defendant to undergo a prosecution-conducted psychiatric examination; (8) the prosecutor did not commit misconduct during the guilt phase closing argument; (9) there was no instructional error; (10) there was sufficient evidence to support the kidnap-murder special circumstance; (11) Defendant's claims of prosecutorial misconduct during the penalty phase closing argument lacked merit; and (12) Defendant's remaining penalty phase claims were unavailing. View "People v. Hoyt" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder and sentence of death for one murder and life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for the other murder, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial court did not err in admitting Defendant's convictions because there was no basis to conclude Defendant's Miranda waiver was anything other than knowing, intelligent, and voluntary; (2) any error in instructing the jury was harmless; (3) Defendant's challenges to the constitutionality of California's death penalty scheme were unavailing; and (4) the potential errors in the instructions were harmless, and even considered together, the errors did not warrant reversal. View "People v. Leon" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal affirming Defendant's conviction of four felony counts of accessory after the fact to murder and one misdemeanor count of contempt of court, holding that a witness's refusal to testify in the face of a valid subpoena, while punishable as contempt, does not by itself amount to harboring, concealing, or aiding a principal within the meaning of Cal. Penal Code 32. On appeal, Defendant argued that her failure to testify did not support the accessory conviction because her silence did not fulfill the "overt or affirmative assistance" requirement of the crime of accessory. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed, holding that Defendant's silence did not constitute overt or affirmative assistance and did not transform her misdemeanor offense of contempt into four felony offenses of accessory after the fact to murder. View "People v. Partee" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal affirming the judgment of the trial court dismissing this complaint filed by Plaintiffs, two therapists and one counselor, alleging that the basic norm of confidentiality protected by the psychotherapist-patient privilege applies to admissions by certain patients of downloading or electronically viewing child pornography, holding that Plaintiffs asserted a cognizable privacy interest under the California Constitution and that their complaint survived demurrer. Specifically, Plaintiffs claimed that the 2014 amendment to Cal. Pen. Code 11165.1(c)(3), which requires Plaintiffs to report to law enforcement and child welfare authorities patients who have admitted to downloading or electronically viewing child pornography, violated their patents' right to privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Cal. Const. art. I, 1. Defendants filed demurrers, arguing that Plaintiffs failed to establish a valid constitutional privacy claim. The trial court dismissed the complaint, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Plaintiffs' allegations satisfied the threshold inquiry for a cognizable privacy claim. View "Mathews v. Becerra" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's convictions involving one of the witnesses that testified during Defendant's trial, holding that the trial court violated Defendant's right of confrontation under the Sixth Amendment by positioning a computer monitor so that the witness could not see Defendant while the witness testified and Defendant could not see the witness. Defendant was convicted of multiple sex offenses involving several minor victims. Three of the victims testified with the repositioned monitor. The court of appeal affirmed Defendant's convictions. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) as to one of the witnesses, Defendant's constitutional right of confrontation was violated when he could not see the witness and the witness testified because the trial court repositioned a computer monitor on the witness stand to allow the witness to testify without seeing Defendant; (2) as to the other two witnesses, Defendant forfeited his claim by failing to object to the trial court's action; and (3) Defendant failed to establish that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. View "People v. Arredondo" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court granted review in this criminal case to determine the continued viability of Cal. Penal Code 632(d) in light of the limits placed on the exclusion of evidence by the "Right to Truth in Evidence" provision of the California Constitution, holding that nothing in the amendments to section 632 evidenced an intent on the part of the Legislature to render surreptitious recordings once again inadmissible in criminal proceedings. Defendant was convicted of two counts of committing a lewd and lascivious act upon a child. The conviction was largely based on a secretly recorded conversation that violated section 632. The court of appeal, however, found that section 632(d), which prohibits the admission of "evidence obtained...in violation of this section...in any judicial, administrative, legislative, or other proceeding," had been abrogated by the Right to Truth in Evidence constitutional provision, which instructs that "except as provided by statute hereafter enacted...relevant evidence shall not be excluded in any criminal proceeding." The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) to the extent section 632(d) demanded suppression of relevant evidence in a criminal proceeding, it was abrogated by the voters' approval of Proposition 8; and (2) none of the Legislature's subsequent amendments to section 632 revived the exclusionary remedy of section 632(d). View "People v. Guzman" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed, as modified in this opinion, the judgments of the trial court convicting James David Beck and Gerald Dean Cruz of four counts of first degree murder and entering judgments of death based on the murders, holding that certain true findings as to Defendants' convictions of conspiracy to commit murder were unauthorized. Defendants were convicted of four counts of first degree murder and of conspiracy to commit murder. The jury also found true a multiple murder special circumstance allegation and allegations of personal use of a deadly weapon. The trial court entered judgments of death. The Supreme Court vacated the multiple murder special circumstances true findings as to conspiracy to commit murder, as well as the death sentences imposed for that count, and otherwise affirmed, holding (1) the trial court erred in imposing a death sentence based upon Defendants' conspiracy convictions because conspiracy to commit murder alone cannot make a defendant death eligible; and (2) there was error but no prejudice in some of the trial court's instructions, the prosecutor's argument during the penalty phase, the imposition of the death penalty for the convictions of conspiracy to commit murder, and in the admission of certain testimony, but these errors were not prejudicial when considered individually or cumulatively. View "People v. Beck" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first degree murder and sentencing him to death, holding that there were four possible errors during the penalty phase of trial, but none of those errors was prejudicial. Defendant was convicted of first degree murder, and the jury found true the special circumstance allegation that Defendant committed the murder while engaged in a home invasion robbery. The prosecution retried the penalty phase, and, after a second penalty phase, the trial court sentenced Defendant to death. The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's sentence, holding that the trial court's errors regarding the admission of certain testimony regarding Defendant's remorselessness, the admission of hearsay testimony, an erroneous instruction, and the failure to transfer a certain exhibit to the jury were not prejudicial. The dissent would have reversed on the grounds that the prosecution disproportionately excused black prospective jurors during the jury selection process. View "People v. Johnson" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his allegations of error. Defendant was convicted of first degree murder with special circumstances of murder in the commission of forcible sodomy, murder in the commission of a lewd act on a child, and murder by torture. The trial court sentenced Defendant to death. On appeal, Defendant asserted multiple claims of error. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) there was no prejudicial error during the guilt phase of trial; and (2) the only errors committed during the penalty phase were two instances of prosecutorial misconduct in argument to the jury, and these errors were not prejudicial either individually or cumulatively. View "People v. Rhoades" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the opinion of the court of appeal reversing the judgment of the trial court ruling that the search of Defendant's car was invalid on the basis that the search was authorized under In re Arturo D., 27 Cal.4th 60 (Cal. 2002), holding that the desire to obtain a driver's identification following a traffic stop does not constitute an independent, categorical exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement, and to the extent Arturo D. held otherwise it should no longer be followed. Acting on a tip about Defendant's erratic driving, a police officer approached Defendant after she parked and exited her car. The police detained Defendant for unlicensed driving and, without asking her name, searched the car for Defendant's personal identification. The trial court held that the search was invalid under Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009). The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the search was authorized under the Supreme Court's pre-Gant decision in Arturo D. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the warrantless search of Defendant's vehicle in this case violated the Fourth Amendment. View "People v. Lopez" on Justia Law