Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions of kidnapping, robbing, raping, torturing, and murder but reversed his death sentence, holding that multiple prospective jurors were improperly excused for cause. Defendant in this case was a black man sentenced to death for murdering a white woman. The prosecutor struck four black male jurors, leaving no black man on the jury. The Supreme Court held (1) under the standards of Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510 (1968) and Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412 (1985), the trial court erred by excusing jury candidates on the ground that they could not fairly and impartially consider whether death was the appropriate punishment; but (2) the trial court properly rejected Defendant’s Armstrong’s Batson claims. View "People v. Armstrong" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction of first degree murder and sentence of death on the murder count, holding that no reversible error occurred in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress; (2) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant’s challenges for cause concerning a prospective juror or Defendant’s motion for additional peremptory challenges; (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in deciding not to sequester the jury; (4) Defendant’s child pornography charge was validly joined with his kidnapping and murder charges; (5) assuming the trial court erred in allowing certain testimony, the error was harmless; (6) any other error in the trial court’s evidentiary rulings was harmless; (7) the trial court did not commit prejudicial error in its instructions to the jury; and (8) Defendant’s challenges to the constitutionality of California’s death penalty law were unavailing. View "People v. Westerfield" on Justia Law

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In this case concerning the line separating shoplifting from burglary after the approval of Proposition 47, the Supreme Court held that entering an interior room that is objectively identifiable as off-limits to the public with intent to steal therefrom is not shoplifting but instead remains punishable as burglary. In approving Proposition 47, voters created a new misdemeanor offense called “shoplifting,” which was defined as an act that had formerly been punishable as felony burglary. At issue in this case was whether a person who enters a store during regular business hours and proceeds to a private back office with intent to steal from that office has committed the crime of shoplifting or burglary. Defendant in this case petitioned the superior court to redesignate two of his four felony burglary convictions as shoplifting misdemeanors under Proposition 47. The trial court denied the petition, and the Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that where Defendant’s burglary convictions were based on entries into back offices that were objectively identifiable as off-limits to the public with an intent to steal therefrom, Defendant was not entitled to redesignate his burglary convictions as misdemeanors under Proposition 47. View "People v. Colbert" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal rejecting Defendant’s argument that insufficient evidence supported the juvenile court’s finding that Defendant’s use of a knife with a dull tip and slightly erred edge, referred to as a “butter knife,” violated Cal. Penal Code 245(a)(1), holding that the evidence was insufficient to sustain a finding that the knife at issue was used as a “deadly weapon” for purposes of the statute. Section 245(a)(1) prohibits assaulting another person with a deadly weapon or instrument other than a firearm. On appeal, defendant argued that the juvenile court erred in finding that she violated the statute because she had not used the butter knife at issue in a manner that was “capable of producing and likely to produce death or great bodily injury.” See People v. Aguilar, 16 Cal.4th 1023, 1029 (1997). The Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) consistent with settled principles, for an object to qualify as a deadly weapon based on how it was used, the defendant must have used the object in a manner both “capable of producing” and “likely to produce” each or great bodily injury; and (2) even if Defendant’s use of the butter knife were capable of causing great bodily injury, there was no substantial evidence that it was likely to do so. View "In re B.M." 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 sentencing him to death, holding that, in an effort to manage Defendant’s disruptive behavior, the trial court did not err and that, with respect to Defendant’s remaining claims, either there was no error or any error was not prejudicial. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial court did not err in barring Defendant from the courtroom for the entirety of his capital trial based on his misconduct; (2) the trial court did not err in finding that Defendant forfeited his right to testify at the guilt phase and waived that right at the penalty phase; (3) the trial court did not err in failing to appoint new counsel; and (4) Defendant’s remaining allegations of error were either without merit or did not warrant reversal. View "People v. Johnson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court held in this criminal proceeding that a prosecutor’s dismissal of a grand juror violates Cal. Penal Code 939.5 because only the grand jury foreperson may dismiss a grand juror and that a defendant may seek dismissal of an indictment on the ground that the prosecutor violated section 939.5 by filing a pretrial motion under Cal. Penal Code 995(a)(1)(A), but the defendant must show that the error reasonably might have had an adverse effect on the impartiality or independence of the grand jury. A prosecutor dismissed a grand juror outside the presence of other jurors and the trial court. Thereafter, the grand jury returned an indictment against Defendant. Defendant moved to set aside the indictment under section 995, arguing that the prosecutor’s dismissal of the juror violated his rights to an impartial and independent grand jury. The trial court denied the motion, and the court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Defendant failed to show that the prosecutor’s error in dismissing the juror reasonably might have had an adverse effect on the impartiality or independence of the grand jury, the motion failed on the facts before the Court. View "Avitia v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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At issue in this case was whether the district attorney prosecuting a civil commitment petition under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), Cal. Well. & Inst. Code 660-6609.3, may obtain copies of the treatment records supporting updated or replacement evaluators’ opinions about an individual’s suitability for designation as an SVP and whether those records may be shared with a mental health expert retained by the district attorney to assist in the prosecution of the SVP petition. The Orange County District Attorney filed a petition to commit Richard Anthony Smith as an SVP. The SDSH performed updated and replacement evaluations and concluded that Smith no longer qualified as an SVP. Ultimately, the trial court denied the request of the district attorney asking for an order permitting his retained expert to review the SDSH evaluations. The Court of Appeals, however, directed the trial court to vacate its order and enter a new order granting the request. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a recent amendment to the SVPA allows the district court to obtain otherwise confidential records, and the district court may then disclose those records to its retained expert, subject to an appropriate protective order, to assist in the cross-examination of the SDSH evaluators or mental health professionals retained by the defense and in prosecuting the SVP petition. View "People v. Superior Court of Orange County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal concluding that the value of a forged instrument under Cal. Penal Code 473 subdivision (b) is its face value and not the intrinsic value of the instrument itself, holding that because forgery requires the intent to defraud and the stated value of the forged check indicates the severity of the intended fraud, when the check contains a stated value, that amount is its value for this purpose. The recent initiative measure, Proposition 47, makes specified types of forgery misdemeanors if the value of the forged instrument does not exceed $950. Defendant pleaded guilty to forgery under section 475, subdivision (a) for forging a signature on a check made out in the amount of $1,500 and was placed on probation. When Defendant later violated the terms of his probation he requested the court to resentence him as a misdemeanant under the recently enacted Proposition 47, arguing that the check’s value was less than $950. The court denied the request, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that “value” means stated value. View "People v. Franco" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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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