Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment convicting Defendant of the first degree murders of her three children, vacated two of the jury’s three multiple-murder special-circumstance findings, reversed Defendant’s sentence of death, and remanded the matter for a new penalty determination. The Supreme Court held (1) the trial court did not commit reversible error in denying Defendant’s request for self-representation under Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975), and no other prejudicial error occurred during the guilt phase proceedings; (2) two of the three multiple-murder special-circumstance allegations were erroneously charged and found true in this case; and (3) the trial court erred in excusing a prospective juror for cause based solely on her written questionnaire responses concerning her personal views on the death penalty, requiring reversal of Defendant’s penalty judgment. View "People v. Buenrostro" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first-degree murder and sentencing him to death, holding that Defendant suffered no prejudice in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant’s guilty plea was valid because Cal. Penal Code 1018 allows advisory counsel to satisfy the statutory requirements imposed on counsel in the case of a defendant who has exercised the right to self-representation; (2) the restraints placed on Defendant during the penalty trial and the denial of any writing instrument did not violate Defendant’s right to participate in his own defense or any other constitutional rights; and (3) Defendant’s challenges to California’s death penalty scheme and standard jury instructions were unavailing. View "People v. Miracle" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal and remanded with directions to reverse Defendant’s judgment of conviction, holding that the trial court erred in failing to suspend the criminal trial and initiate competency proceedings when defense counsel declared a doubt about her client’s competence. Here, Defendant, a formerly incompetent defendant, was restored to competence primarily through administration of medication. At the start of Defendant’s jury trial, Defendant began exhibiting signs of incompetence, and the trial court learned that Defendant had stopped taking his medication. After counsel declared a doubt as to Defendant’s competence the trial court conducted a brief colloquy with Defendant. The court then ruled that the trial could proceed. Defendant was ultimately convicted on several counts and sentenced to multiple life terms. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court’s failure to suspend proceedings and conduct a formal investigation into Defendant’s incompetence violated Defendant’s constitutional guarantee of due process. View "People v. Rodas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in its entirety the judgment of the trial court imposing a sentence of death after a jury convicted Defendant of first degree murder, holding that no reversible error occurred in the proceedings below. Defendant was convicted of first degree murder, robbery, and grand theft. The jury found that the murder occurred during a robbery and that Defendant personally used a firearm. The jury then returned a verdict of death. The trial court imposed that sentence, as well as an aggregate determinate sentence of eight years four months. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that no prejudicial error occurred during the pretrial proceedings, the guilt phase proceedings, or the penalty phase proceedings. Further, the Court held that Defendant’s death judgment did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment in light of his youth and intellectual shortcomings, that Defendant’s challenges to the constitutionality of California’s death penalty statute failed, and that Defendant’s claim of cumulative prejudice must be rejected. View "People v. Powell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first degree murder and sentencing him to death following a second penalty proceeding, holding that there was no error requiring reversal. Specifically, the Court held (1) the Ireland merger doctrine did not bar Defendant’s convictions for torture murder and mayhem murder; (2) the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant’s convictions for torture murder and rape murder; (3) the trial court’s admission of gang affiliation evidence during the guilt phase of trial was harmless; (4) the evidence supported the special circumstance findings of torture murder and mayhem murder; (5) the jury’s finding that Defendant was sane at the time of the killing did not require reversal; (6) the trial court did not err in admitting evidence of Defendant’s possible gang affiliation and racist beliefs during the penalty phase; (7) imposition of the death penalty on a mentally ill defendant does not violate the Eighth Amendment; and (8) Defendant’s constitutional challenges to California’s imposition of the death penalty failed. View "People v. Powell" on Justia Law

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After issuing an order to show cause with respect to Petitioner habeas claim that prejudicial juror misconduct occurred when a juror did not timely disclose a history of childhood abuse, the Supreme Court discharged the order to show cause and held that Petitioner was not entitled to relief. Petitioner was convicted of four counts of first degree murder and was sentenced to death. Petitioner then filed this amended habeas corpus petition alleging that the jury foreperson had committed misconduct by concealing that he was abused as a child. The Supreme Court issued an order to show cause and ordered a reference hearing directing a referee to answer four questions. After an evidentiary hearing, the referee found that there was no prejudicial juror misconduct because the juror’s nondisclosure was neither intentional nor deliberate and that juror was not biased against Petitioner. The Supreme Court agreed generally with the referee’s findings and held that Petitioner failed to establish that he was entitled to habeas corpus relief on his claim of prejudicial juror misconduct. View "In re Manriquez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the sentence of death imposed in connection with Defendant’s conviction for the first degree murder of a police officer and the attempted murder of a police officer, holding that the trial court, over defense objection, erroneously excused for cause a prospective juror based on his written response to questions about his view on capital punishment, requiring reversal of the penalty verdict. After finding that Defendant did not have an intellectual disability, and following a penalty trial, the jury returned a verdict of death. The trial court imposed a judgment of death after denying the automatic motion to modify the verdict. The court also imposed a prison sentence on the other counts for which Defendant was convicted and enhancement allegations. The Supreme Court held (1) the trial court erred in excusing a prospective juror based on his questionnaire responses, an error that automatically compelled reversal of the penalty phase; and (2) the trial court’s judgment is affirmed in all other respects. View "People v. Woodruff" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant, after a jury trial, of murdering James Madden and sentencing Defendant to death. On appeal, Defendant raised a number of issues, most of which focused on purported errors made by the trial court. Defendant also took issue with the Supreme Court’s decision not to supplement the appellate record with the trial transcripts of his codefendants and also challenged the constitutionality of California’s death penalty scheme. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court in its entirety, holding that there was no reversible error in this case. View "People v. Spencer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendants Joseph Adam Mora and Ruben Rangel of two counts of murder and two counts of attempted robbery and sentencing Defendants to death. On appeal, Defendants argued that several errors during the guilt and penalty phases of their trial warranted reversal of their convictions. The Supreme Court disagreed with the exception of a guilt phase instructional error. The Court held (1) the trial court erred by permitting the jury to find the multiple murder special circumstance try without finding that either defendant intended to kill or actually killed either victim, but the error was harmless; and (2) no error or assumed error, whether considered separately or collectively, merited reversal. View "People v. Mora" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in its entirety the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first degree murder and sentencing him to death. Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder for killing his girlfriend’s twenty-one-month-old granddaughter, assault resulting in the death of a child under eight years old, and committing lewd and lascivious conduct on a child under the age of fourteen. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the admission of testimony from child witnesses was not in error and did not violate Defendant’s due process rights; (2) the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant’s murder conviction; (3) the trial court did not err in admitting evidence of a witness’s broken leg; (4) the trial court did not improperly coerce a death verdict; (5) the trial court’s response to a jury question, coupled with the prosecutor’s argument, did not allow the jury to consider inadmissible evidence during its penalty determination; (6) the prosecutor did not commit error under Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609 (1965); and (7) the admission of rebuttal character evidence was not in error. View "People v. Lopez" on Justia Law