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At issue was the claim and issue preclusive significance in future litigation of a conclusion relied on by the trial court and challenged on appeal but not addressed by the appellate court. The Supreme Court overruled People v. Skidmore, 27 Cal. 287 (1865), holding that Skidmore reflects a flawed view of preclusion and that stare decisis does not compel continued adherence to Skidmore. Plaintiff sued both Dr. Haitham Matar and Dr. Stephen Nahigian for professional negligence and alleged that Matar was vicariously liable for Nahigian’s alleged tort. The trial court granted summary judgment for both defendants in two successive judgments. In the first judgment with respect to Nahigian, the trial court concluded that the suit was untimely and that there was no genuine issue regarding causation. In the second judgment, the trial court concluded that the court’s earlier no-causation determination precluded holding Matar liable for Nahigian’s conduct. The court of appeals affirmed the first judgment on statute of limitations grounds without reaching the no-causation ground. As to Matar, the court of appeal reversed, concluding that claim preclusion was unavailable because Plaintiff sued both defendants in a single lawsuit and that Skidmore was inapplicable to issue preclusion. The Supreme Court held that Skidmore must be overruled and that Matar was not entitled to summary judgment on preclusion grounds. View "Samara v. Matar" on Justia Law

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At issue was how to assess the validity of a stipulation entered into by Defendant, through counsel, that admitted all of the elements of a charged crime, making it tantamount to a guilty plea, when Defendant was neither advised of, nor expressly waived, his privilege against self-incrimination or his rights to a jury trial and confrontation. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal’s judgment affirming Defendant’s conviction of misdemeanor driving when his driver’s license was suspended or revoked. The Court held (1) the test set forth in People v. Howard, 1 Cal.4th 1132 (1992), that a plea is valid notwithstanding the lack of express advisements and waivers if the record affirmatively shows that it is voluntary and intelligent under the totality of the circumstances applies in cases where there is a total absence of advisements and waivers; and (2) applying that test, the record failed affirmatively to show that Defendant understood his counsel’s stipulation had the effect of waiving Defendant’s constitutional rights. View "People v. Farwell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of the first degree murder of a twelve-year-old boy, finding true the special circumstance that the murder was committed while Defendant was engaged in the commission of a lewd and lascivious act on the child, and sentencing Defendant to death. Specifically, the Court held (1) there was not substantial evidence of Defendant’s present incompetence that required the trial court, on its own motion, to declare a doubt and conduct a competence hearing during the penalty phase of trial; (2) Defendant’s constitutional challenge to the death penalty for mentally ill defendants was unavailing; (3) there was sufficient evidence of first degree murder and sufficient evidence to support a true finding on the special circumstance allegation; (4) Defendant’s argument that the trial court erred in excluding testimony regarding the victim’s relationships lacked merit; (5) the challenged jury instructions were not improper; (6) there was no reasonable possibility that the prosecutor’s comments during the penalty phase affected the jury’s verdict; and (7) Defendant’s challenges to California’s death penalty scheme failed. View "People v. Ghobrial" on Justia Law

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In this habeas case, the Supreme Court held that Juror No. 045882, who, during Petitioner’s criminal proceedings, intentionally concealed that he had previously been convicted of public fighting and was then on probation, was not actually biased against Petitioner and that no prejudicial misconduct occurred. Petitioner was convicted of two counts of first degree murder and was sentenced to death. While his appeal was pending, Petitioner filed this habeas petition, alleging that Juror No. 045882 committed misconduct. This Court issued an order instructing the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to show cause why the Court should not grant Petitioner relief based on juror misconduct. A referee appointed by the Court concluded that the juror at issue was not actually biased. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed and discharged the order to show cause, holding that there was no substantial likelihood that the juror harbored actual bias against Petitioner. View "In re Cowan" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury on murder with malice aforethought or lesser included offenses of murder with malice aforethought, or defenses applicable to murder with malice aforethought, was harmless due to the jury’s finding true a robbery-murder special circumstance allegation. Defendants were convicted of first degree felony murder. The jury found true a special circumstance allegation that the murder was committed during a robbery. The amended information had accused Defendants of murder with malice aforethought, a term encompassing two kinds of offenses. This accusation triggered the trial court’s duty to instruct the jury on lesser included offenses of murder with malice aforethought if substantial evidence had been presented to support a jury finding of the lesser included offense rather than first degree murder. The trial court instructed the jury only on first degree felony murder and failed to instruct the jury on murder with malice aforethought, lesser included offenses of murder with malice aforethought, or on defenses applicable to murder with malice aforethought, as requested by Defendants. The Supreme Court held that the jury’s finding on the robbery-murder special circumstance rendered harmless the trial court’s instructional errors. View "People v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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When a third party sues an employer for the negligent hiring, retention, and supervision of an employee who intentionally injured that third party, the suit alleges an “occurrence” under the employer’s commercial general liability policy so long as the injury can be considered “accidental.” Jane Doe alleged that Construction Company negligently hired, retained, and supervised an employee, who allegedly sexually abused Doe. Construction Company tendered the defense to Insurer. Insurer sought declaratory relief in federal court contending that it had no obligation to defend or indemnify Construction Company. The commercial general liability policy at issue provided coverage for “bodily injury caused by an “occurrence.” “Occurrence” was defined as an “accident.” The district court granted summary judgment to Insurer, reasoning that Doe’s injury was not caused by an “occurrence” because the alleged negligent hiring, retention, and supervision were acts too attenuated from the injury-causing conduct committed by the employee. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the causal connection between Construction Company’s alleged negligence and the injury inflicted by its employee was close enough to justify the imposition of liability on Construction Company. View "Liberty Surplus Insurance Corp. v. Ledesma & Meyer Construction Co., Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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As modified in this opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction for murdering two people during the commission of a robbery and his sentence of death. On appeal, the Supreme Court found only one error during the guilt and penalty phases of Defendant’s trial - the admission of Defendant’s pretrial statement in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436. Specifically, the Court held that detectives violated Miranda by continuing to question Defendant after he invoked his right to remain silent, but the statements were not coerced. The Court then determined that this sole error was harmless. The Court modified the judgment of the trial court by reducing the $10,000 restitution fine to $6,000 and, as modified, affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "People v. Case" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first degree murder, rape, and other crimes and sentencing Defendant to death. On appeal, the Court held (1) the trial court did not commit prejudicial error during jury selection; (2) no prejudicial error occurred during the guilt phase of trial; (3) none of the errors identified by the Court during the penalty phase of trial was prejudicial individually, and they did not have any cumulative effect; and (4) Defendant’s challenges to California’s death penalty law were unavailing. View "People v. Hardy" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in its entirety the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of three counts of first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, second degree robbery, and assault with a firearm and sentencing Defendant to death for the three murders. On appeal, the Supreme Court held (1) no prejudicial error occurred during jury selection; (2) during the guilt phase, the Confrontation Clause was violated through the admission of certain out-of-court statements, but the errors were not prejudicial; and (3) several errors were committed during the penalty phase, including the erroneous admission of certain statements and the erroneous admission of testimony by victim family members about the appropriate penalty, but the errors did not affect the penalty phase verdict. View "People v. Penunuri" on Justia Law

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The California Table Grape Commission’s advertisements and related messaging represent government speech, as opposed to private speech, and the Ketchum Act’s (Cal. Food & Agric. Code 65500) scheme providing that the Commission’s activities are funded by assessments on shipments of California table grapes does not violate Plaintiffs’ rights under Cal. Const. art. I, 2. Plaintiffs, five growers and shippers of California table grapes, brought suit arguing that the collection of assessments under the Act to subsidize promotional speech on behalf of California table grapes as a generic category violates their right to free speech under Cal. Const. art. I, 2(a). Plaintiffs claimed specifically that the table grapes they grow and ship are exceptional and that the assessment scheme requires them to sponsor a viewpoint that they disagree with. The Supreme Court held that Plaintiffs failed to advance a viable claim under article I, section 2. Specifically, the Court held that there was sufficient government responsibility for and control over the messaging at issue for the communications to represent government speech that Plaintiffs can be required to subsidize without implicating their article I, section 2 rights. View "Delano Farms Co. v. California Table Grape Commission" on Justia Law