Justia California Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of first degree murder and other crimes. The jury found true special-circumstance allegations. After a penalty phase, the jury returned a verdict of death.The trial court denied Defendant’s motion for modification of his sentence to life without the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) no prejudicial error occurred during the pretrial phase of trial or during the guilt phase of trial; (2) substantial evidence supported Defendant’s convictions; (3) no prejudicial error occurred during the penalty phase of trial; and (4) Defendant’s challenges to the constitutionality of California’s death penalty scheme were unavailing. View "People v. Brooks" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded no contest to two counts of nonforcible lewd conduct. The trial court placed Defendant on probation, ordered him to register as a sex offender, mandated his participation in an approved sex offender management program, and imposed two probation conditions that were the subject of this appeal - (1) that Defendant waive any privilege against self-incrimination and participate in polygraph examinations, pursuant to Cal. Penal Code 1203.067(b)(3); and (2) that Defendant waive any psychotherapist-patient privilege, pursuant to Cal. Penal Code 1203.067(b)(4). Defendant appealed, arguing that conditioning probation on the waiver of his privilege against self-incrimination and on his participation in polygraph examinations violated his Fifth Amendment rights and, like the waiver of his psychotherapist-patient privilege, was unconstitutionally overbroad. The Court of Appeal upheld the validity of the subdivision (b)(4) and (b)(3) conditions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the probation conditions challenged in this case were not unconstitutional where they enabled those charged with monitoring the probation to obtain the information they need while otherwise safeguarding the probation’s privacy and protecting the probation from compelled self-incrimination. View "People v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of two counts of robbery. The jury found true allegations that Defendant personally used a firearm during both robberies. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court committed reversible error by failing to instruct the jury on the elements of robbery. The Attorney General conceded the error but argued that it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the error was reversible per se. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) under the circumstances of this case, the trial court’s failure to give the standard jury instruction on the elements of robbery was not reversible per se but was reversible unless harmless beyond a reasonable doubt; and (2) the error in this case was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "People v. Merritt" on Justia Law
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In People v. Hosner, the Supreme Court held that an indigent criminal defendant facing retrial is presumptively entitled to a full and complete transcript of the prior proceedings. Defendant in this case was an indigent pro se defendant charged with making criminal threats, among other offenses. A jury deadlocked on the charges, the court declared a mistrial, and retrial was set. At a pretrial hearing, the trial court granted Defendant’s motion for a “complete record of trial transcripts.” Defendant received a transcript that included all witness testimony from the first trial but omitted the opening statements and closing arguments. The court then denied Defendant’s request for a transcript of the opening statements and closing arguments. After a trial, the jury found Defendant guilty as charged. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that Hosner’s presumption applies only to transcripts of witness testimony and not to transcripts of opening statements and closing arguments. The Supreme Court affirmed on different grounds, holding (1) a defendant facing retrial is presumptively entitled to a full transcript of the previous trial, including opening and closing statements; (2) when a defendant is denied only a portion of the transcript, the harmless error rule applies; and (3) the error was harmless in this case. View "People v. Reese" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a minor, filed a complaint against Huntington Beach Union High School District (District), alleging that he was injured in a school football game. Plaintiff’s personal injury action accrued on October 31, 2011, the date of his diagnosis. Plaintiff did not file a claim within six months, as required by Cal. Gov't Code 911.2(a), but presented the District with an application to file a late claim nearly one year after the claim accrued. Because the District took no action on the application, it was deemed denied on December 8, 2012 by operation of law. Under Cal. Gov't Code 946.6(b), a petition for relief from the obligation to present a claim before brining suit must be filed within six months after a late claim application is either denied or deemed denied. Plaintiff did not file such a petition until October 28, 2013. The trial court rejected the petition. The court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff missed the six-month window for petition the trial court for relief, and therefore, the trial court properly dismissed the petition as untimely. View "J.M. v. Huntington Beach Union High School District" on Justia Law
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In 2008, Leticia Flethez, a former employee of San Bernardino County, filed an application with San Bernardino County Employees Retirement Association (SBCERA) for a service-related disability retirement and allowance. In 2010, SBCERA granted Flethez’s application for service-related disability retirement benefits, effective as of the date of his initial application in 2008. Flethez challenged the starting date for his benefits. An administrative hearing was held, but SBCERA maintained the original 2008 date as the effective date of Flethez’s disability retirement benefits. Flethez filed a petition for writ of mandate seeking a writ ordering SBCERA to grant him service-related disability retirement benefits effective as of his last day of work with the County. The superior court issued a peremptory writ ordering SBCERA to grant Flethez a service-connected disability retirement allowance retroactive to 2000. As part of Flethez’s damages, the superior court awarded Flethez prejudgment interest under Cal. Civil Code 3287(a), to be retroactively calculated from the same starting date. The Court of Appeal reversed the judgment to the extent it awarded section 3287(a) interest on all of Flethez’s retroactive disability retirement benefits starting from the first date of those benefits. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the superior court erred in its award of prejudgment interest. View "Flethez v. San Bernardino County Employees Retirement Ass’n" on Justia Law

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Petitioner requested disclosure of thirty-two categories of public records from the City of San Jose, its redevelopment agency and executive director, and other elected officials and their staffs, seeking documents concerning redevelopment efforts in downtown San Jose. Included in the request was emails and text messages sent or received on private electronic devices used by the mayor, two city council members, and their staffs. The City disclosed certain communications but did not disclose communications made suing the individuals’ personal accounts. Petitioner sued for declaratory relief under the California Public Records Act (CPRA), arguing that messages communicated through personal accounts are public records. The trial court granted summary judgment for Petitioner and ordered disclosure. The Court of Appeal, however, issued a writ of mandate. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a city employee’s writings about public business are not excluded from CPRA simply because they have been sent, received, or stored in a personal account. Remanded. View "City of San Jose v. Superior Court" on Justia Law
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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of two counts of first degree murder, two counts of assault by a life prisoner with malice aforethought, and possession of a sharp instrument by a prisoner. The jury also found that Defendant had suffered two prior felony convictions within the meaning of the “Three Strikes” law. The jury returned a death verdict. The trial court sentenced Defendant accordingly. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) no reversible error occurred during either the guilt phase or penalty phase of trial; and (2) Defendant’s attacks on the constitutionality of California’s death penalty statute and related standard jury instructions were unavailing. View "People v. Delgado" on Justia Law

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In 1995, the Fish and Game Commission added to the list of endangered species coho salmon in streams south of San Francisco. In 2004, it joined this coho population with coho from San Francisco north to Punta Gorda. Since then, the Commission has included coho salmon south of Punta Gorda in its endangered species list. In this case, Plaintiffs filed a petition asking the Commission to delist coho salmon south of San Francisco from the list of endangered species, arguing that these fish did not qualify for listing because they were not “native” within the meaning of the California Endangered Species Act. The court of appeal denied relief on a procedural basis, concluding that Plaintiffs’ argument attacked the Commission’s final listing decisions in 1995 and 2004 as having no basis and that a petition to delist a species may not be employed to challenge a final determination of the Commission. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a delisting petition may, based upon new evidence, challenge an earlier listing decision; and (2) therefore, the court of appeal incorrectly limited the scope of the delisting petition. View "Central Coast Forest Ass’n v. Fish & Game Commission" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued Bakewell Hawthorne, LLC and JP Morgan Chase Bank, NA, claiming that he fell and was injured on property owned by Bakewell and leased by Chase. Plaintiff made no disclosure of expert witnesses, but in response to Bakewell’s motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff submitted the declarations of two experts. Bakewell objected to the introduction of these declarations. The trial court sustained the objection because Plaintiff had failed to disclose the experts. The court then granted summary judgment for Bakewell. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that when the time of exchanging expert witness information has expired before a party moves for summary judgment, and a party objects to a declaration from an undisclosed expert, the admissibility of the expert’s opinion must be determined before the summary judgment motion is resolved. View "Perry v. Bakewell Hawthorne, LLC" on Justia Law