CALIFORNIA CASE LAW UPDATE – Selected California Cases
California Supreme Court (May 1, 2007 – May 31, 2007)
People v. Prince (4/30/2007, S036105) 40 C4th 1179. Death penalty affirmance. Issues addressed: 1) a failure to change the venue; 2) expert opinion evidence of an FBI agent; 3) discovery; 4) the admissibility of evidence of defendant’s statements; 5) exclusion of a victim’s statements concerning conflict with her boyfriend; 6) a witness’s testimony; 7) evidence of defense counsel’s participation in the lineup; 8) admissibility of knives; 9) sufficiency of the evidence; 10) a failure to instruct on second degree murder; 11) testimony of a witness over a claim that the evidence was more prejudicial than probative and should be excluded; 12) exclusion of third party culpability evidence; 13) prosecutorial misconduct; 14) closing the proceedings during certain testimony; 15) cumulative prejudice; 16) a motion for a separate penalty phase jury; 17) a Pitchess motion; 18) victim‑impact evidence; 19) instruction on, and the jury’s consideration of, burglaries not directly related to the murders; 20) a failure to exclude evidence of defendant’s possession of a weapon while he was in custody; 21) challenges to California’s death penalty scheme; and 22) cumulative prejudice.
People v. Leonard (5/17/2007, S054291) 40 C4th 1370. Death penalty affirmance. Issues addressed: 1) competency issues; 2) denial of a motion for a change of venue; 3) admission of defendant’s statements to detectives and his father; 4) admission of defendant’s in‑court admission of guilt; 5) prosecutor’s alleged failure to control a witness; 6) prosecutorial misconduct; 7) midtrial dismissal of a juror; 8) juror misconduct; 9) cumulative guilt phase error; 10) a failure to conduct a new competency hearing during the penalty phase; 11) instructional error; 12) the proportionality of the penalty; 13) the execution of developmentally disabled defendant; and 14) the constitutionality of the state’s death penalty law.
People v. Cook (5/17/2007, S042659) 40 C4th 1334. Death penalty affirmance. Issues addressed: 1) the excusal of a prospective juror; 2) admission of results of electrophoretic testing; 3) destruction of evidence; 4) denial of a motion to exclude pre‑trial and in‑court identifications; 5) admission of defendant’s letter to his landlord; 6) admission of a neighbor’s statement to an officer; 7) prosecutorial misconduct; 8) juror misconduct; 9) jury instructions; 10) refusal to admit, as mitigating evidence in the penalty phase, a pretrial plea offer from the prosecution; 11) proposed penalty instructions; 12) the constitutionality of statutes and jury instructions regarding the burden of proof at the penalty phase; 13) overbreadth and vagueness of a statutory provision; 14) a failure to delete inapplicable sentencing factors; 15) inclusion of restrictive adjectives in list of potential mitigating factors; 16) a lack of written findings regarding aggravators; 17) an equal protection claim; 18) the constitutionality of certain instructions; 19) a failure to provide intercase proportionality review; 20) an international law claim; and 21) cumulative error.
People v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County (Decker) (5/21/2007, S130489) 41 C4th 1: Whenever the design of a person to commit crime is clearly shown, slight acts in furtherance of the design will constitute an attempt.
People v. Lancaster (5/24/2007, S073596) 41 C4th 50. Death penalty affirmance. Issues addressed: 1) defendant’s legal representation; 2) jury selection; 3) admission of evidence; 4) an allegedly improper comment on defendant’s failure to testify under Griffin; 5) jury instruction; 6) amendment of the information; 7) consideration of defendant’s possession of handcuff keys during the penalty phase; 8) a refusal to admit evidence of the victim’s opinion on the death penalty; 9) defendant’s testimony at the penalty phase; 10) admission of taped statements by defendant to police; 11) a statement about a prior robbery; 12) the standard of proof for aggravating factors; and 13) denial of modification of the death sentence.
In re Lemanuel C. (5/24/2007, S144515) 41 C4th 33: The current extended detention scheme set forth in WI 1800 et seq. satisfies the due process and equal protection clauses of the state and federal Constitutions. The scheme’s requirements adequately limit its applicability to youthful offenders whose mental deficiency, disorder, or abnormality causes them to be physically dangerous to the public if not recommitted. Also, a further finding that an inability to control behavior results in “a serious and well‑founded risk of reoffense” is not required to preserve the scheme’s constitutionality.
People v. Knoller (5/31/2007, S134543) 41 C4th 139: Trial court abused its discretion in granting the new trial motion because it erroneously concluded both that: 1) defendant could not be guilty of murder, based on a theory of implied malice, unless she appreciated that her conduct created a high probability of someone’s death; and 2) that a new trial was justified because the prosecution did not charge a codefendant with murder.
People v. Carey (5/31/2007, S058489) 41 C4th 109. Death penalty affirmance. Issues addressed: 1) the exclusion of a juror for cause; 2) admission of autopsy photographs; 3) jury instructions; 4) the trial court’s rejection of proposed penalty phase instructions; 5) the constitutionality of California’s death penalty law; and 6) cumulative error.
Grants Of Review:
Alcala v. Superior Court REV GTD (5/23/2007, S150806) 147 CA4th 1492: (1) Was consolidation of four newly alleged homicides in Los Angeles County with the retrial of a homicide in Orange County authorized by PC 790(b)? (2) Did the Court of Appeal err in directing that two of the four Los Angeles County homicide prosecutions be severed?
People v. Freeman REV GTD (5/23/2007, S150984) 147 CA4th 517: Was defendant=s due process right to a fair trial violated based on an appearance of bias when the trial judge initially recused himself but then accepted reassignment after the basis for the initial disqualification proved to be unfounded?
California Courts of Appeal (May 1, 2007 – May 31, 2007)
People v. Thoma (3/15/2007, B170355) 150 CA4th 1096: Adoptive admissions and face of the record.
People v. Jenan (3/23/2007, F049153) 148 CA4th 1144: The failure to conduct a PC 1368 hearing required reversal.
People v. Racy (3/27/2007, C052783) 148 CA4th 1327: Elder abuse, unanimity, and lessers.
People v. Cooper (4/6/2007, A108723) 149 CA4th 500: Collateral estoppel, law of the case, and reversal.
People v. Reyes (5/9/2007, B185929) 150 CA4th 735: Cunningham: Reliance on proper and improper factors.
People v. Sayres (5/15/2007, B188303) 150 CA4th 1040: When is reversal required under Cunningham?
People v. Cervantes (5/16/2007, B183412) 150 CA4th 1117: Order approving the settled statement is vacated: 1) the court reporter is unable to prepare a trial transcript; 2) current defense counsel did not try the case; and 3) the trial judge has no recollection of the trial proceedings.
Tiffany A. v. Superior Court (5/21/2007, B193134) 150 CA4th 1344: No shackling all minors; no shackling adults without individualized showings.
Hageseth v. Superior Court (5/21/2007, A115390) 150 CA4th 1399: Jurisdiction for crimes committed in cyberspace.
People v. Johnson (5/22/2007, H028782) 150 CA4th 1467: No Crawford violation due to ongoing emergency.
People v. Johnson (5/22/2007, H028782) 150 CA4th 1467: PC 273.5 (spousal abuse) is complete upon the willful and direct application of physical force upon the victim resulting in a wound or injury. There can be a conviction for more than one count of spousal abuse where multiple applications of physical force result in separate injuries.
People v. Oropeza (5/23/2007, D047879) 151 CA4th 73: Court correctly denied defendant’s requested instructions on self‑defense and on voluntary manslaughter based on a theory of imperfect self‑defense where he did not testify and made no out‑of‑court comments indicating that he believed it necessary to defend his life or to avoid great bodily injury. (See People v. Flannel (79) 25 C3d 668, 864‑685, fn.12 [the trial court is not required to present theories the jury could not find to exist].) Additionally, no witness testified that the defendant fired out of fear or appeared fearful, and no witness expressed a belief that deadly force was necessary to protect that person from the victim. People v. Viramontes (2001) 93 CA4th 1256, 126 [there must be evidence from which the jury could find that appellant actually had such a belief, to warrant the instruction]; People v. Hill (2005) 131 CA4th 1089, 1102 [substantial evidence of a defendant’s state of mind may be found in the testimony of witnesses other than a defendant]. The court did not err in refusing to instruct on voluntary manslaughter based on sudden quarrel and heat of passion, based on evidence that victim=s truck cut off the truck in which defendant was a passenger, and that victim continued to provoke defendant with his aggressive driving, yelling, and obscene gestures, where it was undisputed that defendant, prior to shooting victim, encouraged the driver of vehicle in which defendant was a passenger to follow the victim=s vehicle at a high rate of speed and engage in highly aggressive driving and abusive personal behavior. (See People v. Steele (2002) 27 C4th 1230, 1252‑1253.) Participation in such “ego‑inspired act of mutual road rage” was not a reasonable response to any behavior attributed to the victim.
People v. Gunder (5/25/2007, C050683) 151 CA4th 412: Crawford and witnesses who can’t remember.
People v. Gunder (5/25/2007, C050683) 151 CA4th 412: Evidence of possession of a weapon prior to the crime.
People v. Gunder (5/25/2007, C050683) 151 CA4th 412: A witness with genuine memory loss is considered available for a defendant’s cross‑examination. (United States v. Owens (88) 484 US 554, 559 [98 LEd2d 951].)
People v. Feyrer (5/29/2007, B192752) 151 CA4th 506: Wobblers remain wobblers so long as imposition of sentence is suspended.
People v. Robinson (5/29/2007, C051338) 151 CA4th 606: A defendant may not be put on trial unless he has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of understanding. (Cooper v. Oklahoma (96) 517 US 348, 354 [134 LEd2d 498, 506].) A defendant has a right to counsel to determine his competency to stand trial. (Estelle v. Smith (81) 451 US 454, 469‑471 [68 LEd2d 359, 373‑374].) Denial of right to counsel at competency hearing is not prejudicial per se; where a competency report was prepared, appropriate remedy on appeal is a remand for trial court to conduct a retrospective competency hearing, following which conviction will stand if defendant is found to have been competent.
People v. Fluker (5/29/2007, B193079) 151 CA4th 515: Sentence for possession of cocaine is vacated where the imposition of the upper term sentence for that offense based entirely on facts neither admitted by defendant nor found true by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt violated his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.
People v. Arata (5/30/07, C050844) 151 CA4th 778: PC 1203.4 relief.
People v. Richardson (5/30/07, C052912) 151 CA4th 790: Conflict between accurate written instruction that prosecution did not “need to prove that the defendant knew whether the material met the definition of harmful material,” and erroneous oral instruction that it did not need to prove the material met the definition of harmful material, was not grounds for per se reversal and was harmless because jury is presumed to have followed the written instructions and because counsel correctly explained the law in their arguments. Misreading instructions is at most harmless error when the written instructions received by the jury are correct. (People v. Osband (96) 13 C4th 622, 687; People v. Box (2000) 23 C4th 1153, 1212.)
People v. Kiney (5/30/07, C050727) 151 CA4th 807 [modified at 2007 Cal. App. LEXIS 1040]: Court did not err in admitting, as an admission of the defendant during the retrial, statements he made during closing argument in the first trial in which he represented himself. Reviewing court rejected the defendant’s analogy to a defendant’s statements in other proceeding, a motion to suppress (Simmons v. United States (68) 390 US 377, 394 [19 LEd2d 1247, 1259]), and testimony at a probation revocation hearing (People v. Coleman (75) 13 C3d 867, 889). The court held that the defendant is sometimes put to hard choices (McGautha v. California (71) 402 US 183, 213 [28 LEd2d 711, 729]), and this was just one of them. The defendant had not been forced to surrender his right against self‑incrimination in order to exercise right to self‑representation at the first trial and statements in closing argument, which were not even testimony, was held to qualified as an admission by a party.