Justia California Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's motion to modify the jury's verdicts of burglary and first degree murder, first degree forcible rape, second degree robbery and false imprisonment by violence and sentencing Defendant to death, holding that considering assumed errors altogether, reversal was not warranted. Defendant, an African-American, was charged with raping and murdering a White woman. On appeal, Defendant argued, among other things, that the prosecutor improperly exercise peremptory challenges to excuse two prospective jurors, who were African-American, in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, and People v. Wheeler, 22 Cal.3d 258, 276-277. The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions and sentence, holding (1) substantial evidence supported the trial court's conclusion that the prosecutor struck the potential jurors for reasons other than his race; (2) there was no error in the trial court's decision to excuse two jurors for cause; (3) there was no merit to Defendant's allegations of error during the guilt phase; and (4) any assumed errors during the competency phase and penalty phase were not prejudicial and, considered cumulatively, did not require reversal. View "People v. Miles" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeal reversing the judgment of the trial court granting a petition for writ of mandate directing the City of Hayward to refund to a records requester the charges for approximately forty hours its staff spent editing out exempt material from digital police body camera footage, holding that the trial court was correct to disallow the City's charge for time its staff spent responding to the requests. The City claimed that its costs for time its employees spent responding to Plaintiff's requests were chargeable as costs of data extraction under Cal. Gov't Code 6253.9, subdivision (b)(2). The Supreme Court held that the City must bear its own redaction costs because the term "data extraction" does not cover the process of redacting exempt material from otherwise disclosable electronic records. View "National Lawyers Guild v. City of Hayward" on Justia Law

Posted in: Communications Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal, holding that, under the facts of this case, a witness's observation of a company's name and logo appearing on an invoice was circumstantial evidence of identity, not proof of matters asserted in the document, and therefore, Defendant's hearsay objection was properly rejected. Plaintiffs sued Defendants, entities involved in the distribution and use of pipes containing asbestos, claiming that Defendants were liable for his mesothelioma. Only Keenan Properties, Inc.'s liability was at issue in this appeal, and the question turned on whether Keenan was the source of the pipes. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiffs, and a judgment of $1,626,517 was entered against Keenan. The court of appeal reversed, concluding that descriptions of Keenan sales invoices were hearsay. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court was correct in admitting testimony describing the invoices because the testimony did not convey hearsay. View "Hart v. Keenan Properties, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal finding that the trial court acted within its discretion when it denied bail to Petitioner, holding that the trial court's decision to order Petitioner detained was not an abuse of discretion. Petitioner was charged with felony offenses involving acts of violence and sexual assault. The trial court denied bail. Petitioner challenged the no-bail order by filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus. The court of appeal upheld the trial court's findings and denied relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) a reasonable fact finder could conclude that Petitioner was guilty of at least one of the offenses for which he was charged beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) a court could conclude by clear and convincing evidence that there was a substantial likelihood that Petitioner's release could result in great bodily harm to others; and (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ordering Petitioner detained on this basis. View "In re White" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeal reversing Defendant's conviction of two counts of assault by an inmate with a deadly weapon and other offenses, holding that the prosecutor impermissibly vouched for testifying officers' credibility. Specifically, the court of appeals held that the prosecutor impermissibly vouched for witness credibility by asserting in closing argument that two testifying officers would not lie because each would not put his "entire career on the line" and would not subject himself to "possible prosecution for perjury." The court further held that the error was prejudicial. The Attorney General petitioned for review solely on the question of whether the prosecutor's argument constituted impermissible vouching. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the prosecutor's closing argument constituted improper vouching; and (2) while the court of appeals appears to have overstated the import and effect of the prosecutor's remarks, the Attorney General did not argue harmlessness, and this Court expresses no view on the appellate court's conclusions that the statements were prejudicial. View "People v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court held that the juvenile court may exercise jurisdiction in a formal wardship proceeding on the basis of the minor having four or more truancies within one school year under Cal. Welf & Inst. Code 601(b) if a fourth truancy report has been issued to the appropriate school official, even if the minor has not been previously referred to a school attendance review board (SARB) or a similar truancy mediation program. The district court filed a wardship petition against A.N., a high school student, in the juvenile court, alleging that A.N. was a habitual truant and that she was within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. After a hearing, the juvenile court sustained the wardship petition. A.N. appealed, arguing that the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction because, at the time the petition was filed, she had not yet appeared before a SARB and because she and her parents had not received a fourth truancy report. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because A.N.’s school had sent at least four truancy reports to the superintendent of the school district before the wardship petition was filed, the juvenile court possessed jurisdiction over A.N. View "In re A.N." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of three counts of first degree murder and his sentence of death, holding that the three or four minor errors at Defendant's trial were harmless and did not interfere with his due process right to a fair trial. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) no error occurred during jury selection; (2) Defendant was not prejudiced by any misstatements by the prosecutor; (3) assuming certain evidence was inadmissible, the court's admonition to the jury and the court's instruction cured the resultant harm; (4) the trial court erred in admitting testimony that the victim was afraid of Defendant, but the error was harmless; and (5) Defendant's remaining allegations of error were without merit. View "People v. Flores" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal with instructions to remand to the trial court to reduce Defendant's forgery conviction to a misdemeanor, holding that the mere fact that a defendant possessed separate stolen identification and forged instruments together at the same time did not provide a sufficient connection between the two offenses to bar him from a sentence reduction pursuant to Cal. Penal Code 473(b). Among the offenses that Proposition 47 amended was forgery not exceeding $950 dollars. Proposition 47 included an exception providing that the sentencing reduction for forgery was not applicable to a defendant convicted both of forgery and identity theft. In People v. Gonzalez, 6 Cal.5th 44 (2018), the Supreme Court held that the exception applies only when there is a meaningful connection between a defendant's forgery conviction and his identity theft conviction. In this case, the Supreme Court held (1) a meaningful connection between forgery and identity theft for purposes of the exception requires a facilitative relationship between the two offenses; and (2) where Defendant merely possessed two separate items of contraband at the same time, a "meaningful relationship" was not established, and Defendant was entitled to a sentence reduction. View "People v. Guerrero" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court held that section Cal. Penal Code 459.5(b) prohibits charging shoplifting and theft of the same property, even in the alternative, and that, as a general rule, section 459.5(b) prohibits a prosecutor from charging theft when there is probable cause that a defendant has committed shoplifting of the same property. Defendant stole items worth $496.37. Defendant was charged with shoplifting and theft but was convicted solely of theft. Defendant appealed, arguing that he had been charged in violation of section 459.5(b), which provides that no person who is charged with shoplifting may also be charged with burglary or theft of the same property. The court of appeal concluded that Defendant had been improperly charged but that Defendant was not prejudiced by his trial counsel's failure to object to the charges because section 459.5(b) permitted the prosecutor to amend the information to charge shoplifting and theft in the alternative. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeal (1) correctly concluded that Defendant was charged in violation of section 459.5(b)'s prohibition on charging a person with shoplifting and theft of the same property; but (2) erred in concluding that section 459.5(b) would have permitted the prosecutor to charge Defendant with shoplifting and theft in the alternative. View "People v. Lopez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court decided in this case that when the government seeks civil penalties as well as an injunction or other equitable remedies under the unfair competition law (UCL), Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 17200 et seq., or the false advertising law (FAL), Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 17500 et seq., the causes of action are to be tried by the court rather than a jury. In the current writ proceeding in this case, the court of appeal concluded that the jury trial provision of the California Constitution should be interpreted to require a jury trial in any action brought under the UCL or FAL in which the government seeks civil penalties in addition to injunctive or other equitable relief. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the causes of action established by the UCL and FAL at issue in this case are equitable in nature and are properly tried by the court rather than by a jury; and (2) the United States Supreme Court decision in Tull v. United States, 481 U.S. 412 (1987), relied upon by the court of appeal below, does not govern this case. View "Nationwide Biweekly Administration, Inc. v. Superior Court of Alameda County" on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law