Articles 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

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These three consolidated cases presented similar issues concerning Proposition 47’s effect on felony-based enhancements in resentencing proceedings under Cal. Penal Code 1170.18. Proposition 47, or the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, reclassified as misdemeanors offenses that were previously felonies or “wobblers” and added section 1170.18, which permits allows defendants previously convicted of felony offenses that Proposition 47 reduced to misdemeanors to petition to have those felony convictions resentenced or redesignated as misdemeanors. The Supreme Court held that Proposition 47’s directive that the resentenced or redesigned offense “be considered a misdemeanor for all purposes” permits defendants to challenge felony-based Cal. Penal Code 667.5 and Cal. Penal Code 12022.1 enhancements when the underlying felonies have subsequently been resentenced or redesignated as misdemeanors. The Court further held that such challenges may be brought in a resentencing procedure under section 1170.18 or may be brought on a petition for writ of habeas corpus, under which instance relief is limited to judgments that were not final at the time the initiative took effect. Finally, those convicted under Cal. Penal Code 1320.5 cannot obtain similar relief. View "People v. Buycks" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal 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, as modified, the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first degree murder, conspiracy to commit robbery and burglary, and two counts of residential burglary, including the judgment of death, and modified the judgment by striking a one-year enhancement the trial court imposed for the finding that Defendant had served one prior prison term. The Supreme Court held that no prejudicial error occurred during the guilt phase of trial or the penalty phase of trial, with the exception of the one-year enhancement for the prior prison term, holding that because the prison term was served for two of the convictions for which the Court also enhanced the sentence, the enhancement for the prior prison term must be stricken. View "People v. Anderson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law