Justia California Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court decided two questions of law related to meal periods for employees and, in light of its holdings, reversed the judgment of the court of appeals.Plaintiff filed a class action lawsuit against Defendant alleging various wage and hour violations, including that meal period claim at issue on this appeal. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendant, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion, holding (1) an employer cannot engage in the practice of adjusting the hours that an employee has actually worked to the nearest present time increment in the meal period context; and (2) time records showing noncompliant meal periods raise a rebuttable presumption of meal period violations, including at the stage of summary judgment. View "Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court upheld Senate Bill 1391 as a permissible amendment to Proposition 57 and reversed the judgment in the case, holding that the Legislature acted within its authority.Proposition 57, which was passed in the November 2016 general election, allowed prosecutors to move to transfer some minors as young as fourteen years old from juvenile court to adult criminal court. Senate Bill 1391, enacted in 2018, amended Proposition 57 to prohibit minors under the age of sixteen from being transferred to adult criminal court. The court of appeal held that Senate Bill 1391 was invalid because it was inconsistent with Proposition 57. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the amendment was fully consistent with and furthered Proposition 57's purposes of promoting rehabilitation of youthful offenders and reducing the prison population, and therefore, Senate Bill 1391 was a constitutional amendment to Proposition 57. View "O.G. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for five counts of murder, one count of residential burglary, and three counts of residential robbery with enhancements for personal use of a firearm and Defendant's death sentence, holding that there was no reasonable possibility that any assumed error could have affected the verdict.Specifically, the Supreme Court assumed potential errors in the trial court's failure to admonish support persons each time they accompanied a witness and in admitting hearsay during the penalty phase of trial. The Court, however, found no reasonable possibility that either assumed error could have affected the verdict. The Court further concluded that no cumulative prejudice rendered Defendant's trial unfair and therefore affirmed Defendant's convictions and his sentence of death. View "People v. Chhoun" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of first degree murder and sentence of death, holding that any errors, found or assumed, were not prejudicial.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) at the guilt phase, assuming that the trial court erred in admitting certain DNA evidence, the error was not prejudicial; (2) at the penalty phase, assuming the trial court erred in admitting evidence of potential animal abuse, the error was not prejudicial; (3) any error in imposing a parole revocation fine was harmless; (4) even when viewed in combination, the guilt phase and penalty phase errors were not prejudicial; and (5) the abstract of judgment reflected a clerical error, which will be corrected. View "People v. Baker" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first degree murder, attempted murder, and other offenses, and sentencing Defendant to death, holding that any errors that occurred during the trial proceedings were not prejudicial.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) during the guilt phase, there was error with respect to the prosecutor's misstatement of the reasonable doubt standard and with respect to defense counsel's agreement with the prosecutor on a certain point of law, but there was no reasonable probability that the prosecutor's or defense counsel's misstatements were prejudicial; (2) at the penalty phase, the prosecutor's comment about Defendant during penalty phase arguments bordered on "inflammatory" rhetoric, but any error was not prejudicial; and (3) the cumulative effect of these errors did not rise to the level of prejudice necessary to reverse Defendant's conviction or sentence. View "People v. Johnsen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of first degree murder and sentence of death, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the trial proceedings.Defendant was convicted of the first degree murder of San Leandro Police Officer Nels Niemi. The jury returned a verdict of death, and the trial court sentenced Defendant accordingly. The court also ordered Defendant to pay a restitution fine of $10,000. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) there was no error in the guilt phase of the proceedings; (2) there was no cumulative effect of any purported errors occurring at the penalty phase; and (3) the trial court did not violate any statutory or constitutional law by imposing restitution. View "People v. Ramirez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal concluding that William Palmer was entitled to release from all forms of custody, including parole supervision, holding that to the extent Palmer's continued incarceration at some point became constitutionally excessive, that alone did not justify ending his parole under the current statutory scheme.Palmer first sought release on parole in 1995. The Board of Parole Hearings denied parole. Palmer continued to seek release. After the Board's tenth denial, Palmer filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus alleging that the thirty years he had served on a life sentence for an aggravated kidnapping committed when he was a juvenile was constitutionally excessive. The Board subsequently ordered Palmer released on parole. Ruling on Palmer's writ, the court of appeals concluded that Palmer's now-completed term of imprisonment had become unconstitutional and ended his parole. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, in the absence of any persuasive argument from Palmer that his parole term had become constitutionally excessive, his parole remained valid. View "In re Palmer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court responded to a question posed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit by answering that the Court's decision in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court, 4 Cal.5th 903 (2018), applies retroactively.In Dynamex, the Supreme Court held that the standard commonly known as the "ABC test" applies under California law in determining whether workers should be classified as employees or independent contractors for purposes of obligations imposed by California's wage orders. In concluding that the standard set forth in Dynamex applies retroactively the Supreme Court relied primarily on the fact that Dynamex addressed an issue of first impression and did not change a settled rule upon which the parties had relied. The Court further concluded that the retroactive application of the ABC test to cases pending at the time Dynamex became final was not improper or unfair. View "Vasquez v. Jan-Pro Franchising International, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Defendant could be convicted of an attempt to commit trafficking of a minor under Cal. Penal Code 236.1(c) for attempting to recruit as a prostitute "Bella," who was, in fact, an undercover detective.Bella had identified herself to Defendant as a seventeen-year-old girl but was actually an undercover detective. Defendant was convicted of human trafficking of a minor, attempted pimping of a minor, and pandering. The court of appeal reversed Defendant's human trafficking conviction, holding that Defendant could not be convicted under section 236.1(c) but only under the general law of attempt. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding that, in light of the statutory language and the state's long-standing application of attempt law, Defendant could be convicted of an attempt under the trafficking statute. View "People v. Moses" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal granting Petitioner's petition for habeas corpus relief on the grounds that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did not have the authority to exclude from nonviolent offender parole consideration inmates with prior sex offense convictions requiring registration, holding that this categorial exclusion violates Cal. Const. art. I, 32.After the electorate approved Proposition 57, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging the Department's determination that he did not qualify for nonviolent offender parole consideration. The trial court denied the petition. The court of appeal granted habeas relief, holding that the amended regulations improperly excluded Petitioner from nonviolent offender parole consideration based on his two prior sex offense convictions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) nonviolent offender parole eligibility must be based on an inmate's current conviction; and (2) an inmate may not be excluded from nonviolent offender parole consideration based on a current conviction for a registrable felony offense that the Department's regulations have defined as nonviolent. The Court directed the Department to treat as void and repeal California Code of Regulations, 3491(b)(3) and 3496(b). View "In re Gadlin" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law