Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of California
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's motion to modify the jury's verdicts of burglary and first degree murder, first degree forcible rape, second degree robbery and false imprisonment by violence and sentencing Defendant to death, holding that considering assumed errors altogether, reversal was not warranted. Defendant, an African-American, was charged with raping and murdering a White woman. On appeal, Defendant argued, among other things, that the prosecutor improperly exercise peremptory challenges to excuse two prospective jurors, who were African-American, in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, and People v. Wheeler, 22 Cal.3d 258, 276-277. The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions and sentence, holding (1) substantial evidence supported the trial court's conclusion that the prosecutor struck the potential jurors for reasons other than his race; (2) there was no error in the trial court's decision to excuse two jurors for cause; (3) there was no merit to Defendant's allegations of error during the guilt phase; and (4) any assumed errors during the competency phase and penalty phase were not prejudicial and, considered cumulatively, did not require reversal. View "People v. Miles" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of three counts of first degree murder and his sentence of death, holding that the three or four minor errors at Defendant's trial were harmless and did not interfere with his due process right to a fair trial. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) no error occurred during jury selection; (2) Defendant was not prejudiced by any misstatements by the prosecutor; (3) assuming certain evidence was inadmissible, the court's admonition to the jury and the court's instruction cured the resultant harm; (4) the trial court erred in admitting testimony that the victim was afraid of Defendant, but the error was harmless; and (5) Defendant's remaining allegations of error were without merit. View "People v. Flores" 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 reversed the judgment of the court of appeal concluding that a defense counsel's failure to object at trial, before People v. Sanchez, 63 Cal.4th 665 (2016), was decided, forfeited a claim that a gang expert's testimony related case-specific hearsay in violation of the confrontation clause, holding that a defense counsel's failure to object under such circumstances does not forfeit a claim based on Sanchez. Sanchez held that an expert cannot relate case-specific hearsay to explain the basis for her opinion unless the facts are independently proven or fall within a hearsay exception. Defendants in the instant case were each convicted of two counts of first degree special circumstance murder and other crimes. Before Defendants' appeals were resolved, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Sanchez. On appeal, one of the defendants argued that a gang expert testified to case-specific hearsay in violation of the confrontation clause. The court of appeal held that the defendant's failure to object to case-specific hearsay in expert testimony at trial forfeited any Sanchez claim on appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeal erred in finding that the defendant forfeited his claim on appeal based on Sanchez by failing to object at a trial that occurred before Sanchez was decided. View "People v. Perez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted Petitioner habeas corpus relief, holding that Petitioner was denied his constitutional right to the assistance of competent counsel at the guilt phase of his criminal trial, and trial counsel's deficient performance undermined the reliability of the jury's guilty verdict. Petitioner was convicted of the first degree murder of a police officer and sentenced to death. While his appeal was pending, Petitioner filed his first petition for a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that the judgment should be vacated because he had received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel. During the habeas proceedings, the Supreme Court found that Petitioner's trial counsel had defrauded Petitioner in order to induce Petitioner to retain him instead of the public defender. Counsel went on to commit serious errors during the penalty phase undermining the reliability of the death verdict. The Supreme Court granted the petition and ordered a new penalty phase trial. Petitioner later filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging his convictions. The Supreme Court granted the writ and vacated Defendant's conviction for first degree murder, holding that Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of counsel at the guilt phase of his trial. View "In re Gay" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first-degree murder, finding Defendant was sane at the time of the crimes, and sentencing Defendant to death, but struck an improperly imposed restitution fine, holding that the restitution fine should be stricken from the abstract of judgment and that any other error was not prejudicial. The trial court imposed a $10,000 restitution fine but did not impose the fine at the sentencing hearing. Rather, the fine was later added to the abstract of judgment. The Supreme Court ordered the restitution fine stricken from the record and the minutes because the trial court never imposed the fine in open court in Defendant's presence. The Court assumed other errors during the trial proceedings but found no prejudice. Further, the Court held that the error regarding the restitution fine and any assumed error were not cumulatively prejudicial. View "People v. Frederickson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder and sentence of death for one murder and life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for the other murder, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial court did not err in admitting Defendant's convictions because there was no basis to conclude Defendant's Miranda waiver was anything other than knowing, intelligent, and voluntary; (2) any error in instructing the jury was harmless; (3) Defendant's challenges to the constitutionality of California's death penalty scheme were unavailing; and (4) the potential errors in the instructions were harmless, and even considered together, the errors did not warrant reversal. View "People v. Leon" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's convictions involving one of the witnesses that testified during Defendant's trial, holding that the trial court violated Defendant's right of confrontation under the Sixth Amendment by positioning a computer monitor so that the witness could not see Defendant while the witness testified and Defendant could not see the witness. Defendant was convicted of multiple sex offenses involving several minor victims. Three of the victims testified with the repositioned monitor. The court of appeal affirmed Defendant's convictions. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) as to one of the witnesses, Defendant's constitutional right of confrontation was violated when he could not see the witness and the witness testified because the trial court repositioned a computer monitor on the witness stand to allow the witness to testify without seeing Defendant; (2) as to the other two witnesses, Defendant forfeited his claim by failing to object to the trial court's action; and (3) Defendant failed to establish that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. View "People v. Arredondo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed, as modified in this opinion, the judgments of the trial court convicting James David Beck and Gerald Dean Cruz of four counts of first degree murder and entering judgments of death based on the murders, holding that certain true findings as to Defendants' convictions of conspiracy to commit murder were unauthorized. Defendants were convicted of four counts of first degree murder and of conspiracy to commit murder. The jury also found true a multiple murder special circumstance allegation and allegations of personal use of a deadly weapon. The trial court entered judgments of death. The Supreme Court vacated the multiple murder special circumstances true findings as to conspiracy to commit murder, as well as the death sentences imposed for that count, and otherwise affirmed, holding (1) the trial court erred in imposing a death sentence based upon Defendants' conspiracy convictions because conspiracy to commit murder alone cannot make a defendant death eligible; and (2) there was error but no prejudice in some of the trial court's instructions, the prosecutor's argument during the penalty phase, the imposition of the death penalty for the convictions of conspiracy to commit murder, and in the admission of certain testimony, but these errors were not prejudicial when considered individually or cumulatively. View "People v. Beck" 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 there were four possible errors during the penalty phase of trial, but none of those errors was prejudicial. Defendant was convicted of first degree murder, and the jury found true the special circumstance allegation that Defendant committed the murder while engaged in a home invasion robbery. The prosecution retried the penalty phase, and, after a second penalty phase, the trial court sentenced Defendant to death. The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's sentence, holding that the trial court's errors regarding the admission of certain testimony regarding Defendant's remorselessness, the admission of hearsay testimony, an erroneous instruction, and the failure to transfer a certain exhibit to the jury were not prejudicial. The dissent would have reversed on the grounds that the prosecution disproportionately excused black prospective jurors during the jury selection process. View "People v. Johnson" on Justia Law