Justia California Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeal affirming the judgment of the trial court denying Appellant's request for expungement of his misdemeanor conviction under Cal. Penal Code 1203.4a, subd. (a), holding that a person may live "an honest and upright life" even if that person has been in custody since completing the sentence imposed for the misdemeanor. Defendant completed his term of imprisonment for his misdemeanor conviction in 2012 and had been in federal immigration custody up until he brought his action. While in immigration custody, Defendant sought expungement of the conviction under section 1203.4a(a), alleging that he had obeyed all laws since being convicted and had participated in fire camp and Alcoholics Anonymous. The trial court denied the request, concluding that custodial time did not qualify as honest and upright living for expungement purposes. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding that conduct while in custody is relevant to determining whether a defendant has satisfied the honest and upright life requirement of section 1203.4a. View "People v. Maya" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In this case concerning the sequence in which Montrose Chemical Corporation, which was sued by causing environmental damage in the Los Angeles area, may access its excess insurance policies covering the period from 1961 to 1985, the Supreme Court held that Montrose may seek indemnification under any excess policy once it has exhausted the underlying excess policies in the same policy period. Montrose purchased primary and excess comprehensive general liability insurance to cover its operations at its Torrance facility from defendant insurers between 1961 and 1985. Montrose's primary insurance was exhausted in litigation due to environmental contamination allegedly caused by Montrose's operation of this facility. At issue was whether Montrose was required to exhaust other insurance coverage from other policy periods. The Supreme Court held (1) Montrose was entitled to access otherwise available coverage under any excess policy once it has exhausted directly underlying excess policies for the same policy period; and (2) an insurer called on to provide indemnification may seek reimbursement from other insurers that would have been liable to provide coverage under excess policies for any period in which the injury occurred. View "Montrose Chemical Corp. of California v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in its entirety the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first degree murder and of conspiracy to commit murder and sentencing Defendant to death, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the admission of Defendant's surreptitiously recorded jailhouse statement did not violate Defendant's Sixth Amendment right to counsel, his Fifth Amendment right to counsel and privilege against self-incrimination, his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable detention, his rights under the Sixth Amendment's confrontation clause, or attendant protections under Evidence Code sections 352 and 1101; (2) one instance of prosecutorial misconduct committed at the guilt phase was not prejudicial; and (3) Defendant was not entitled to relief on his remaining claims of guilt phase and penalty phase error. View "People v. Fayed" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters (Convention) does not apply when parties have agreed to waive formal service of process in favor of a specified type of notification. Defendant, a company based in China, and Plaintiff entered into a contract providing that the parties would submit to the jurisdiction of California courts and to resolve disputes between them through California arbitration. The parties further agreed to provide notice and service of process to each other through Federal Express or a similar courier. Plaintiff later sought arbitration. Defendant neither responded nor appeared for the arbitration, and the arbitrator awarded Plaintiff $414,601,200. Defendant moved to set aside default judgment for insufficiency of service of process, arguing that Plaintiff's failure to comply with the Convention rendered the judgment confirming the arbitration award void. The motion was denied. The court of appeal reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the Convention applies only when the law of the forum state requires formal service of process to be sent abroad; and (2) because the parties' contract constituted a waiver of formal service under California law in favor of an alternative form of notification, the Convention does not apply. View "Rockefeller Technology Investments (Asia VII) v. Changzhou SinoType Technology Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeal ruling that Proposition 47's revision to Cal. Penal Code 496, making the offense of receiving stolen property a misdemeanor when the value of the property is $950 or less, does not extend to convictions for receiving a stolen vehicle under section 496d, holding that Proposition 47's amendment to section 496(a) did not affect convictions for receiving stolen property under section 496d. Proposition 47 amended section 496, the general statute criminalizing receipt of stolen property, by making the offense a misdemeanor if the value of the property does not exceed $950. Proposition 47, however, did not amend 496d. Defendant pleaded guilty to unlawfully buying, receiving, concealing, selling or withholding a stolen vehicle in violation of section 496d. Defendant filed a motion under Proposition 47 to reduce his convictions to misdemeanors. The trial court denied the motion, and the court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Proposition 47's revision to section 496 does not extend to convictions under section 496d. View "People v. Orozco" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In this case involving whether Proposition 47 requires a court to draw a distinction under Cal. Veh. Code 10851 between permanent and temporary vehicle takings, the Supreme Court held that a person who has unlawfully taken a vehicle in violation of section 10851 is not disqualified from Proposition 47 relief because the person cannot prove he or she intended to keep the vehicle away from the owner indefinitely. Proposition 47 reduced felony offenses consisting of theft of property worth $950 or less to misdemeanors. While liability for theft generally requires that the defendant have an intent permanently to deprive the owner of possession, section 10581 does not distinguish between temporary takings and permanent ones. At issue in this case was whether Proposition 47 grant sentencing relief to people who take vehicles permanently but denies relief to people who take vehicles temporarily. The Supreme Court answered the question in the negative and reversed the superior court's denial of resentencing for Defendant's 10851 conviction, holding that Proposition is neither categorically inapplicable to section 10851 convictions nor is a defendant not entitled to resentencing because he lacked the intent permanently to deprive the vehicle's owner of its possession. View "People v. Bullard" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal affirming the judgment entered for Employer in this labor dispute, holding that employees do not lose standing to pursue a claim under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), Cal. Lab. Code 2698 et seq., if they settle and dismiss their individual claims for Labor Code violations. Employee sued Employer in a putative class action alleging several causes of action and seeking civil penalties under PAGA. Employer successfully moved to compel arbitration of the "individual claims" for Employee's own damages. The court dismissed Employee's class claims. After arbitration was complete, Employee accepted Employer's statutory offer to settle Employee's individual claims. Employee then dismissed his individual claims, leaving only the PAGA claim for resolution. Employer then moved for summary adjudication. The district court granted the motion, concluding that Employee was no longer an "aggrieved employee" with PAGA standing because his rights had been "completely redressed" by the settlement and dismissal of his own claims. The court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Plaintiff's settlement of individual Labor Code claims did not extinguish his PAGA standing; and (2) claim preclusion did not apply under these circumstances. View "Kim v. Reins International California, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal concluding that a felony for misuse of personal identifying information under Cal. Penal Code 530.5, subdivision (a) can be reduced to misdemeanor shoplifting under Proposition 47, holding that a conviction for misuse of identifying information is not subject to reclassification as misdemeanor shoplifting. Defendant was convicted of two felony counts of misusing personal identifying information in violation of section 530.5, subdivision (a). Defendant later moved to reclassify his felony convictions to misdemeanors under Proposition 47. The trial court granted Defendant's motion. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that misuse of personal identifying information is not a "theft" offense under Cal. Penal Code 459.5, subdivision (b). View "People v. Jimenez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeal's judgment ordering four of Defendant's sentence enhancements stricken, holding that a convicted defendant who is placed on probation after imposition of sentence is suspended, and who does not timely appeal from the order granting probation, may take advantage of ameliorative statutory amendments that take effect during a later appeal from a judgment revoking probation and imposing sentence. In three separate cases, Defendant pleaded guilty to drug-related offenses and admitting having sustained four prior felony drug-related convictions for purposes of sentence enhancement under Cal. Health & Safety Code former 11370.2. The trial court later revoked probation and imposed a prison sentence that included four three-year prior drug conviction enhancements under former section 11370.2(c). Thereafter, the governor signed Senate Bill No. 180, which revised section 11370.2 so that Defendant's prior drug-related convictions no longer qualified Defendant for sentence enhancement. The Supreme Court remanded the case for reconsideration in light of the revised statute. On remand, the court of appeal concluded that Defendant could take advantage of the revisions to the statute that rendered the sentence enhancements inapplicable to Defendant's prior drug-related convictions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Legislature must have intended section 11370.2's ameliorative changes to operate in cases like this one. View "People v. McKenzie" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that the admission of expert testimony did not violate the prohibition against communication of case-specific hearsay set forth in People v. Sanchez, 63 Cal.4th 665 (2016) and that sufficient evidence supported Defendant's conviction for possession of alprazolam, holding that the court of appeal did not err. Sanchez held that an expert cannot relate case-specific hearsay to explain the basis for his or her opinion unless the facts are independently proven or fall within a hearsay exception. In the instant case, an expert told the jury that he identified the controlled substance Defendant was charged with possessing by comparing the visual characteristics of the pills seized against a database containing descriptions of pharmaceuticals. On appeal, Defendant argued that the expert related inadmissible case-specific hearsay. The court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the expert related no inadmissible case-specific hearsay in testifying to the contents of a drug identification database; and (2) substantial evidence supported Defendant's conviction. View "People v. Veamatahau" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law