Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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During a retrial of a second degree murder charge, after a previous jury failed to reach a verdict on that charge but convicted defendant of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, the trial court erred if it informed the new jury of such specific convictions that resulted from the previous jury's deliberations. However, the trial court does not err if, pursuant to Penal Code sections 1093 and 1127, it instructs the retrial jury along the following lines: "Sometimes cases are tried in segments. The only question in this segment of the proceedings is whether the prosecution has proved the charge of murder. In deciding this question, you must not let the issue of punishment enter into your deliberations. Nor are you to speculate about whether the defendant may have been, or may be, held criminally responsible for his conduct in some other segment of the proceedings." In this case, the defense requested a specific instruction informing the jury of defendant's gross vehicular manslaughter conviction, and the trial court refused such an instruction. However, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment because defendant was not prejudiced by this error where the evidence was overwhelming. View "People v. Hicks" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is required to discharge the People of the burden of establishing that a petitioner is ineligible for resentencing under the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012. The Court of Appeal reasoned that applying a reasonable doubt standard to proof of ineligibility for resentencing preserves the parallel structure between the prospective and retroactive application of the Three Strikes law as contemplated by the Reform Act. Furthermore, placing on the People a burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt to establish ineligibility for resentencing, while permitting the court to exercise its broader discretion to protect public safety, is an approach that comports with the overall structure and language of the Act and its dual intent. View "People v. Frierson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The trial court violated Defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial when it found a disputed fact about the conduct underlying Defendant’s assault conviction that had not been established by virtue of the conviction itself. Defendant was convicted of second degree robbery and transportation of a controlled substances, among other offenses. The prosecution sought an increased sentence from the maximum term of imprisonment on the ground that Defendant had previously been convicted of a “serious felony” under Cal. Penal Code 667(a) that was also a strike for purposes of the Three Strikes law. That conviction was for assault with a deadly weapon or with force likely to produce great bodily injury. The trial court determined that Defendant did commit the assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced her to a term of eleven years’ imprisonment. On appeal, Defendant argued that her increased sentence rested upon an exercise in judicial fact-finding that violated her Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. The Supreme Court disapproved of People v. McGee, 38 Cal.4th 682 (Cal. 2006) insofar as it suggested that the trial court’s factfinding was constitutionally permissible and held that Defendant’s increased sentence rested on an exercise in judicial fact-finding that violated her Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. View "People v. Gallardo" on Justia Law

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Defendant was found incompetent to stand trial and was involuntarily committed for three years. Defendant was never made the subject of a conservatorship. Shortly after his release, the district court obtained a superseding indictment with identical charges under a new case number, as permitted by Cal. Penal Code 1387. When Defendant was rearrested under the new indictment, he argued that because he had already been committed for the three years authorized by Cal. Penal Code 1370(c), the trial court lacked the authority to order his rearrest. The Supreme Court held (1) defendants in Defendant’s position can be rearrested on charges that are refiled under 1387; but (2) if the trial court again determines that a defendant is not competent to stand trial, the defendant may be recommitted only for a period not exceeding the remaining balance, if any, of the three years authorized by section 1370(c). View "Jackson v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant’s automatic motion to modify the jury’s verdict of death and imposing a judgment of death in this case in which Defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of first degree murder under the special circumstances of multiple murder and murder in the course of a robbery. In affirming, the Supreme Court held (1) Defendant’s counsel provided constitutionally effective assistance; (2) the trial court did not prejudicially err in denying Defendant’s motion to change venue; (3) no prejudicial error occurred during jury selection; (4) Defendant’s challenges to the admission of certain testimony were unavailing; (5) reliance on evidence in aggravation of two crimes of violence Defendant committed when he was seventeen years old and of his conviction for one of those crimes did not violate Defendant’s rights under the Eighth Amendment; (6) there was no error in excluding evidence of the impact of Defendant’s execution on his family; and (7) none of Defendant’s remaining arguments warranted relief from the judgment. View "People v. Rices" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of two counts of first degree murder and one count of second degree murder and sentencing him to death. The court held (1) Defendant was not deprived of the right to a jury drawn from a fair cross-section of the community; (2) the trial court did not err in ruling that evidence of an uncharged murder would be admissible to impeach Defendant’s witness under certain circumstances; (3) the trial court did not err in ruling that the prosecution could admit evidence that Defendant had attempted to escape from jail; (4) the trial court did not err in admitting the victim’s statement that Defendant was into “heavy stuff” or in admitting victim impact evidence; (4) there was no prejudicial error in the jury instruction; (5) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant’s requests for a separate penalty phase jury and sequestered voir dire; (6) Defendant was not prejudiced by any improper argument by the prosecutor; (7) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting photographs of the victims or evidence that Defendant will kill a guard to escape; and (8) Defendant’s sentence was constitutional. View "People v. Henriquez" on Justia Law

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On a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, as on direct appeal, error under People v. Chiu, 325 P.3D 972 (Cal. 2014), requires reversal unless the reviewing court concludes beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury actually relied on a legally valid theory in convicting the defendant of first degree murder. Petitioner was convicted of first degree murder. The jury was instructed on both a direct aiding and abetting theory and a natural and probable consequences theory. After Petitioner was convicted, the Supreme Court held in Chiu that a natural and probable consequences theory of liability cannot serve as a basis for a first degree murder conviction. Petitioner filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus arguing that he was entitled to have his conviction reduced to second degree murder under Chiu. The court of appeal acknowledged that the jury instruction on natural and probable consequences was error under Chiu but affirmed the first degree murder conviction on the ground that it was supported by sufficient evidence. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded with directions to grant Petitioner habeas corpus relief, holding that the Chiu error in this case was prejudicial. View "In re Martinez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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A person convicted before Proposition 47’s (the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act”) passage for vehicle theft under Cal. Veh. Code 10851 may be resentenced under Cal. Penal Code 1170.18 if the person can show the vehicle was worth $950 or less. As approved by voters in 2014, Proposition 47 added Cal. Penal Code 490.2, which provides that “obtaining any property by theft” is to be punished as a misdemeanor if the value of the property taken is $950 or less. Cal. Penal Code 1170.18 establishes procedures under which a person serving a felony sentence at the time of Proposition 47’s passage may be resentenced to a misdemeanor term. At issue was the application of these provisions to a prior conviction under Cal. Veh. Code 10851 - taking or driving a vehicle without the owner’s consent. The Supreme Court held that the lower courts in this case erred in holding that a defendant with a Cal. Veh. Code 10851 conviction is categorically ineligible for resentencing under Proposition 47. View "People v. Page" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of two counts of first-degree murder and other crimes and sentencing him to death but remanded the case to the trial court for reconsideration of Defendant’s restitution fine. The court held (1) although Defendant’s absent from portions of the proceedings violated his statutory right to be present, the error was harmless; (2) the trial court did not violate Defendant’s right to an impartial jury by excusing a prospective juror for cause because of her views on the death penalty; (3) the trial court did not err in admitting Defendant’s confession; (4) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding evidence of a conditional plea offer as mitigation during the penalty phase; (5) Defendant’s challenges to California’s death penalty scheme were unavailing; and (6) the trial court applied the wrong statute in imposing Defendant’s restitution fine. View "People v. Wall" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of death imposed by the trial court in connection with Defendant’s conviction of first degree murder, holding that Defendant’s waiver of his right to a jury trial on penalty was invalid. The court also vacated as unauthorized Defendant’s sentence of death in connection with the conviction of second degree murder and directed the superior court to issue an amended judgment reflecting the appropriate sentence of fifteen years to life. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in all other respects and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "People v. Daniels" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law