Articles Posted in General Criminal Defense

Lawyer cannot override client’s decision to maintain innocence

Roberto Ignacio Flores was charged with attempted murder of a police officer and insisted he was not the driver of the car that injured the officer. His lawyer wanted to admit that Flores was driving the car but that he never formed the premeditated intent necessary for a conviction of first-degree murder. The evidence against Flores included a video of him in the car that hit the motorcycle officer, yet he insisted on maintaining his innocence. Flores was also later tried on possession of weapons and his lawyer wanted to concede that Flores possessed certain firearms but argue that his possession was not “knowing”because he did not know that their possession was prohibited.

Client has the right to determine fundamental objective at trial

People v. Aranda; S214116

The California Supreme Court reaffirmed its past holding that a court must accept a partial verdict of acquittal as to a charged greater offense when a jury has expressly indicated it has acquitted on that offense but has deadlocked on uncharged lesser included offenses. [Stone v. Superior Court (1982) 31 Cal.3d 503 (Stone)]

The Stone Rule and Federal Double Jeopardy Principles

Lawyer cannot concede client is guilty when client insists on a defense of factual innocence

Defendant was found guilty of first degree murder and using a knife in the commission of the crime after his lawyer conceded his guilt of voluntary manslaughter during closing argument. Defendant’s request to replace counsel was denied at sentencing and the court and imposed a sentence of 25 years to life, plus one year for the knife enhancement.

The Court of Appeal reversed the judgment and held that the Defendant’s absolute Sixth Amendment right to maintain his innocence was violated when counsel conceded guilt of voluntary manslaughter during closing argument, despite the defendant disagreeing  with the strategy. It did not matter that defendant did not consistently assert his right to maintain innocence or object to counsel’s concession until after he was convicted.

The State of Alabama set an execution date for prisoner who then asserted an Eight Amendment Claim because his mental condition, relating to a series of strokes, rendered him incapable of recollecting committing the crime for which he had been sentenced to die. The Alabama Circuit Court found that the  prisoner was competent to be executed. Certiorari was granted.

The Supreme Court, Justice Kagan, held that:

A mental disorder that leaves a prisoner without any memory of committing his crime does not necessarily preclude execution; dementia may preclude execution; and the Supreme Court was unsure whether the state court relied on an incorrect view of the law, i.e., that only delusions, and not dementia, could preclude execution, and thus, state court’s judgment was vacated, and the case remanded.

Body Worn Cameras for trust and transparency 

Body Worn Cameras (BWC) are a tool for law enforcement agencies to demonstrate commitment to transparency, ensure the accountability of its members, increase the public’s trust in officers, and protect department members from unjustified complaints of misconduct. (San Francisco Police Department Statement on Body Worn Cameras)

The SFPD’s Body Worn Camera Policy was adopted on 06/01/2016. All 10 of SFPD’s District Stations have been trained, along with the Traffic Company and Headquarters personnel. The remaining units were scheduled for training completion by the end of March 2017.

Common Law: Court has no jurisdiction over defendant once execution of sentence commences

Under the common law, once execution of the sentence has commenced or the trial court relinquishes custody over the defendant, the trial court no longer has jurisdiction over a defendant.  If trial court retains the actual or constructive custody of the defendant and the execution of sentence has not begun, the court may vacate and modify the sentence. In a criminal case, the execution of a judgment of conviction is the process of carrying the judgment into effect. Under the common law, the court relinquishes control over a defendant by committing and delivering the defendant to the prison authority. However, Pen C § 1170(d), extends the jurisdiction of the trial court to mitigate the sentence imposed by an additional 120 days. People v. Superior Court (Cornelius) (1995), 31 Cal. App. 4th 343.

PC § 1170 (d) and mitigation of sentence

Law enforcement may use social media to gain incriminating information about a suspect.

A jury convicted Chaz Nasjhee Pride of robbery and found true allegations he committed the robbery for the benefit of a criminal street gang.

Pride argued that his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) were violated when a police detective viewed and saved a copy of a video Pride posted on a social media account shortly after the robbery depicting Pride wearing a chain taken in the robbery.  The Fourth Amendment protects the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions by governmental officials. The Court found no violation of Pride’s  Fourth Amendment Rights.

Police in Indians arrested seized Tyson Timb’s for dealing in a controlled substance and conspiracy to commit theft. They seized his Land Rover that he had purchased for $42,000 with money he received from an insurance policy when his father died.Timbs pleaded guilty and the State sought forfeiture of his vehicle, charging that the SUV had been used to transport heroin.

The maximum monetary fine assessable against him for his drug conviction was $10,000  and the trial court denied the State’s request. The vehicle’s forfeiture, the court determined, would be grossly disproportionate to the gravity of Timbs’s offense, and therefore unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause. The Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed, but the Indiana Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Excessive Fines Clause constrains only federal action and is inapplicable to state impositions.

Issue Presented:

In a death penalty case, the California Supreme Court concluded that the trial court improperly excused at least four prospective jurors for cause and reversed the defendant’s death sentence while affirming his conviction. In a capital case, the erroneous excusal of even one prospective juror for cause requires automatic reversal of the death sentence, although not the guilt determinations. Witherspoon v. Illinois (1968) 391 U.S. 510. A jury in Los Angeles convicted defendant for kidnapping, robbing, raping, torturing, and murdering a 45-year-old woman and returned a death verdict.  The prosecutor also struck four black male jurors, leaving no black man on the jury.

Defendant Jamelle Edward Armstrong, a black man, was sentenced to death for raping, torturing, and murdering Penny Sigler, a white woman. Armstrong objected to the prosecutor’s peremptory strikes of four black men in the jury panel. (See Batson v. Kentucky (1986) 476 U.S.; People v. Wheeler (1978) 22 Cal.3d 258. The prosecutor gave reasons for each strike, and the trial court rejected Armstrong’s Batson claims.

Trial Court applied erroneous standard to juror qualification for death penalty

The California Court of Appeal held that the prosecution in this case was not required to grant use immunity to a prosecution witness who invoked his right of self-incrimination at trial instead of introducing the witness’s preliminary hearing testimony under the provisions of Evidence Code section 1291.1, the hearsay and confrontation clause exception for former testimony.

Appealing a conviction for assault with a deadly weapon, the defendant contended that:

(1) the trial court erred in admitting at trial prosecution witness’s preliminary hearing testimony after he invoked the right to remain silent because the defense did not have the opportunity to cross-examine the witness about a prior criminal conviction not disclosed by the prosecution until after the preliminary hearing or about alleged threats made to defendant’s wife the day after defendant’s arrest;