Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of California
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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of the first-degree murder of his father and the second-degree murders of his stepmother and stepsister and sentencing him to death, holding that Defendant's second-degree murder convictions must be reversed.A federal court vacated Defendant's initial conviction and sentence. After a retrial, Defendant was convicted of first- and second-degree murder, and the jury found true a multiple-murder special-circumstance finding and various firearm- and weapon-use findings. Defendant was sentenced to death. At trial, Defendant's counsel conceded his responsibility for the deaths of all three victims, but Defendant was willing to accept responsibility only for the killing of his father and objected to admitting responsibility for the other two deaths. The Supreme Court held (1) defense counsel violated Defendant's Sixth Amendment rights to choose the fundamental objectives of his defense; and (2) while the error did not affect Defendant's first-degree murder conviction or the associated firearm-use finding, the error requires reversal of the remainder of the judgment and the judgment of death. View "People v. Bloom" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the the trial court convicting defendants Karl Holmes, Herbert McClain, and Lorenzo Newborn of three counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder, and one count of conspiracy to commit murder and sentencing each defendant to death, holding that no prejudicial error occurred at either stage of the proceedings.After the jury failed to reach a penalty verdict, a new penalty phase was held, and death verdicts were returned against all defendants. On appeal, Defendants asserted several allegations of error argued that the cumulative prejudicial errors in both the guilt and penalty phases of the trials required the reversal of their convictions and sentences. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) in the few instances in which this Court found or assumed error, no prejudice resulted; and (2) whether the claims are considered separately or cumulatively, no prejudicial error occurred. View "People v. Holmes" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Cal. Labor Code 1102.6 governs whistleblower retaliation claims brought pursuant to Cal. Labor Code 1102.5.Since 2003, section 1102.6 has prescribed a framework for presenting and evaluating retaliation claims brought under section 1102.5. Since 2003, some courts continued to apply the burden-shifting framework borrowed from the decision in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendant on Plaintiff's whistleblower retaliation claim in this case, concluding that Plaintiff could not satisfy the third step of the McDonnell Douglas test. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal certified a question regarding the correct standard to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court answered that section 1102.6 provides the governing framework for the presentation and evaluation of whistleblower retaliation claims brought under section 1102.5. View "Lawson v. PPG Architectural Finishes, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for first degree murder and other crimes and Defendant's death sentence, holding that any found or assumed errors were individually harmless and that there was no cumulation of error that merited reversal.Specifically, the Supreme Court found or assumed errors in the admission of prior crimes evidence, a prosecutorial misconduct claim concerning a jury argument that Defendant signed a parole form advising him of a possible life sentence, a claim that the defense was prevented from responding to the prosecutor's argument, a claim that certain expert testimony usurped the trial court's role to instruct the jury about the law, and four additional prosecutorial misconduct claims. The Court held (1) any assumed or actual error in each of these claims was individually harmless; and (2) there was no cumulative error warranting reversal. View "People v. Johnson" 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 sentencing him to death, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his allegations of error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court did not commit reversible error when it denied Defendant's request for self-representation under Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975) because the motion was untimely; (2) it was not reasonably probable that the jury would have reached a result more favorable to Defendant but for one improper question posed by the prosecutor to a witness; (3) the trial court did not err when it denied Defendant's motion for a mistrial; (4) admission of certain evidence did not violate Defendant's right to due process or render his trial fundamentally unfair; (5) there was no merit to Defendant's allegations of instructional error; and (6) Defendant's challenges to the death penalty law were unavailing. View "People v. Wright" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of first-degree murder and attempted second-degree robbery and sentence of death, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) sufficient evidence supported the attempted robbery conviction; (2) the trial court did not err in admitting statements obtained during an undercover operation that law enforcement performed while Defendant was being transported and held in jail; (3) there was no error in the denial of defense counsel's request for a second continuance; (4) a wiretap application at issue in this case was not facially invalid; (5) any violation of Defendant's right to confrontation was harmless; (6) Defendant failed to establish either prosecutorial or judicial misconduct; (7) the trial court did not improperly restrict cross-examination or err in its remaining challenged evidentiary rulings; (8) Defendant failed to establish harmful error as to the admission of his statements at the penalty phase of his statements referencing other crimes; and (9) Defendant's challenges to the death penalty were unavailing. View "People v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court granting Defendant's motion for postconviction discovery under Cal. Penal Code 1054.9 giving Defendant access to the prosecutor's jury selection notes, holding that there was no error.In 1994, Defendant was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. Decades later, Defendant filed a habeas corpus petition claiming that the prosecution had used peremptory strikes to discriminate against prospective jurors, in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986) and People v. Wheeler, 22 Cal.3d 258 (1978). Defendant also filed, in connection with the petition, a motion for postconviction discovery seeking access to the prosecutor's jury selection notes. The trial court granted the motion, and the court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district attorney may not invoke the attorney work product protection to withhold information necessary to the fair adjudication of Defendant's Batson/Wheeler claim. View "People v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of two counts of first degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, and possession of a firearm by a felon, holding that there was no reversible error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the prosecutor's use of a peremptory strike during jury selection prior to the guilt phase did not violate Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), or People v. Wheeler, 22 Cal. 3d 258 (1978); (2) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress the gun discovered during a traffic stop; (3) the trial court did not err in admitting hearsay evidence that was the basis for the gang enhancement; (4) there was sufficient evidence to support Defendant's gang enhancement conviction; and (5) the court erred in admitting evidence of the victim's cancer diagnoses during the penalty phase, but there was no reasonable possibility that the victim impact testimony affected the verdict. View "People v. McDaniel" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the court of appeal and its award of costs on appeal, holding that a claim for failure to promote brought under the harassment provision of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), Cal. Gov. Code 12940, subd. (j), 12960, accrues, and thus the statute of limitations begins to run, at the point when an employee knows or reasonably should know of the employer's allegedly unlawful refusal to promote the employee.Plaintiff alleged that her employer passed her over for promotions because she refused to have sex with the company's executive vice-president, Michael Kelso. The trial court granted summary judgment for Kelso, finding no triable issue of fact as to Kelso's statute of limitations defense. The court of appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment for Kelso and two other defendants and awarded costs on appeal to all three defendants. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the court of appeals erred in concluding that the statute of limitations began to run when Plaintiff's employer offered a promotion to someone else and she accepted it; and (2) the court of appeal erred in awarding costs on appeal to Defendants without first finding that Plaintiff's underlying claim was objectively groundless. View "Pollock v. Tri-Modal Distribution Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of one count each of murder and rape and his sentence of death, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court did not err in excluding defense evidence relating to third party culpability and victim character; (2) the trial court did not by admitting three photographs of the victim proffered by the prosecutor while excluding a booking photograph of the victim offered by Defendant; (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding certain newspaper articles or evidence of other crimes; (4) the trial court did not err in permitting the prosecutor to elicit testimony from Defendant's wife and from the victim's father; (5) assuming the trial court's instruction pursuant to CALJIC No. 2.50.01 was erroneous, there was no prejudice; (6) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant discovery of a witness's medical records; (7) any error in the admission of evidence and regiment regarding Defendant's lack of remorse was harmless; (8) assuming that the prosecutor erred in her penalty phase argument, the error was not prejudicial; and (9) Defendant's challenges to his sentence were unavailing. View "People v. Dworak" on Justia Law