Articles Posted in General Criminal Defense

Felony Murder Rule Changed by SB 1437

Senate Bill No. 1437 revised the felony murder rule in California.  Under the felony murder rule, someone who aided and abetted an underlying felony was strictly liable for murder if a co-participant killed someone during the commission of the felony (People v. Cavitt (2004) 33Cal 4th, 187, 197.) SB 1437 amended Penal Code section 189, subdivision (e) effective January 1, 2019.  Now a participant in an enumerated felony in which a death occurs is liable for murder only if one of the following is proven:

  • The person is the actual killer.

People v. Force, No. G055482, 2019 WL 4071849 (Cal. Ct. App. Aug. 29, 2019)

Denial of Fair Trial

Appellant Steven Force, a sexually violent predator receiving treatment at a state mental hospital for pedophilia and exhibitionism challenged the trial court’s order denying his petition to be placed in a conditional release program known as CONREP that  includes daily monitoring with GPS technology, drug testing, polygraph assessments, weekly treatment, and job and housing assistance. The Court of Appeal ruled that he was denied a fair trial because the prosecutor interfered with his right to testify, and the trial court erroneously refused to admit his release plan into evidence.

(People v. Flores (Aug. 12, 2019, No. G055861) ___Cal.App.5th___ [2019 Cal. App. LEXIS 740, at *1].)

Gang Investigation Leads to Detention

A team of Huntington Beach police officers investigating the “Looney Tunes Crew,” also known as the “LTK” street gang, saw the defendant in an area where they knew criminal activity took place. Defendant was walking briskly and was not a suspect in a particular crime nor in the process of committing a crime.

People v. Montalvo, 2019 WL 2537611 (Cal.App. 3 Dist.), 1 (Cal.App. 3 Dist., 2019)

Did a man a woman posing as undercover police officers who took property from their victims commit a robbery?

The California Court of Appeal examined this issue in a case where a defendant and a female associate, posing as undercover police officers committed two robberies. They took money from a couple at a hotel and in another instance, under the ruse of conducting a prostitution sting operation they stole money from their victim. Defendant was arrested in a hotel room where police recovered rock cocaine and a glass smoking pipe.

Flowers v. Mississippi, Supreme Court of the United States, 2019 WL 25524892019 WL 2552489,June 21, 2019

Defendant, (Flowers) who is black, was indicted for the murder of four employees of a Mississippi furniture store, three of whom were white. Flowers was tried six separate times for the murders and was convicted on one of those counts and sentenced to death. Flowers appealed.

The Supreme Court, Justice Kavanaugh, held that trial court clearly erred in concluding that the State’s peremptory strike of black prospective juror was not motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent, in violation of Batson.

Police need a warrant to search a cellphone, but the issue of whether law enforcement can compel someone to divulge a passcode has not been resolved. According to Apple News the Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments on the issue and the state supreme courts in Pennsylvania and New Jersey may soon address the issue.

[https://apple.news/A8OwSxUtASey41s7HmTm8HQa] Police are increasingly relying on social media as a way to investigate suspects. Access to an accused’s cell phone can often provide incriminating evidence that is difficult to refute. So police argue that obtaining a cell phone’s passcode is essential for police work.

Passcodes necessary for Police Work

Youth  are generally viewed as having less culpability under criminal law than adults who commit similar crimes. The mitigating factors of a defendant’s youth can be used to argue for a court to exercise its discretion to strike enhancements. For example,  under section 12022.5, subdivision (c) a court may  dismiss or strike the sentence enhancement imposed for personal use of a firearm during commission of a felony.

History of Youth Offender Hearings

Senate Bill 260 took effect on January 1, 2014. The law created a special youth offender parole hearing for inmates who committed their controlling offense before reaching age 18. The intent of the law was to “establish a parole eligibility mechanism that provides a person serving a sentence for crimes that he or she committed as a juvenile the opportunity to obtain release when he or she has shown that he or she has been rehabilitated and gained maturity.” It was also intended to “create a process by which growth and maturity of youthful offenders can be assessed and a meaningful opportunity for release established.”

Definition of Prima Facie

Prima Facie is Latin for “at first sight” and means based on what seems to be the truth when first seen or heard. Prima facie may be used as an adjective meaning “sufficient to establish a fact or raise a presumption unless disproved or rebutted.” An example of this would be to use the term “prima facie evidence.”

It may also be used as an adverb meaning “on first appearance but subject to further evidence or information.” An example of this would be to use the term “prima facie valid.”

Trial Court may impose additional release conditions even after a defendant has posted bail

In re Webb, 2019 WL 2220410, S247074,May 23, 2019

Bettie Webb was arrested and charged with two felony counts of bringing controlled substances in to state prion and unauthorized possession of a controlled substance in a prison. She posted $50,000 bail and was released from custody. At arraignment, she pleaded not guilty to the charges. Over her objection, the court imposed, as an additional condition of release, that she waive her Fourth Amendment right to be free of warrantless or unreasonable searches.