Articles Posted in Criminal 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

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The Supreme Court affirmed in its entirety the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of four counts of first degree murder and sentencing him to death for two of the murders and to life without parole for the double murder of the other victims, holding that no reversible error occurred in the proceedings below. On appeal, Defendant raised a number of allegations of error regarding pretrial issues, the guilt phase of trial, and the penalty phase. In affirming the judgment, the Supreme Court held that the trial court committed several harmless errors and that, considered cumulatively, there was no reasonable possibility that these errors affected the jury’s verdicts. View "People v. Gomez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal 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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In this case centering around who pays for the duties the Sexually Violent Predators Act (SVPA), Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code 6600 et seq., imposes on county governments, the Supreme Court held that the Commission on State Mandates erred when it treated The Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Act: Jessica’s Law (Proposition 83) as a basis for terminating the State’s obligation to reimburse county governments for the costs of implementing the SVPA. Originally, the State was obligated to reimburse county governments for the costs of implementing the SVPA. In 2011, the Commission identified six county duties that no longer constituted reimbursable state mandates. Six counties (the Counties) filed a petition for writ of administrative mandate and a complaint for declaratory relief challenging this decision. The superior court denied relief, but the Court of Appeal reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that simply because certain provisions of the SVPA had been restated without substantive change in Proposition 83, the Commission erred when it treated the initiative as a basis for terminating the State’s obligation to reimburse the Counties. The Court remanded the matter for the Commission to determine how the initiative’s expanded definition of an SVP may affect the State’s obligation to reimburse the Counties. View "County of San Diego v. Commission on State Mandates" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal 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 held that the passage of Proposition 47, which reclassified various drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, did not entitle Appellants, juveniles who were declared wards of the court based on conduct that was felonious when committed but was now reclassified from felonies to misdemeanors, to have their DNA samples and profiles removed from the databank maintained by the California Department of Justice (Department). The Department maintains a databank of DNA samples and genetic profiles collected from certain juvenile offenders who have been declared wards of the court. Juveniles declared wards based on felony conduct must submit samples but need not do so for most misdemeanor offenses. After the passage of Proposition 47, Appellants argued that because their acts are now misdemeanors, they were entitled to have their DNA samples and profiles expunged from the databank through the procedure established by the Legislature. The motions for expungement were denied. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Proposition 47 did not authorize the relief sought by Appellants, nor did the statutory scheme allowing retention of Appellants’ samples in the databank deprive them of equal protection under the state and federal Constitutions. View "In re C.B." on Justia Law

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At issue was what relationship, if any, must exist between a person’s convictions for forgery and identity theft for the identity theft conviction to result in denial of the relief an individual could otherwise receive under Cal. Penal Code 473(b). Defendant pled guilty to multiple offenses, including four counts of check forgery and one count of identity theft. After Proposition 47 was enacted, Defendant filed a petition to reduce his forgery convictions to misdemeanors under section 473(b). The trial court denied the petition because forgery is therefore ineligible for reclassification as a misdemeanor for “any person who is convicted both of forgery and of identity theft.” The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that section 473(b) precludes relief only if the identity theft offense is “transactionally related” to a forgery conviction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there must be a connection between both the forgery and the identity theft convictions to disqualify an offender from resentencing. Because Defendant’s offenses were unrelated, they were not subject to exclusion under section 473(b), and Defendant was eligible for resentencing. View "People v. Gonzales" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal 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