Articles Posted in New Case Law

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.

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.”

Defendant Sara Arcelia Salcido was in the business of obtaining visas for her clients that would allow them to stay in the United States legally. The Immigration Consultants Act (Bus. & Prof. Code, §§ 22440–22449) (Act) makes it illegal for a person to act as an “immigration consultant” unless they pass a background check and file a bond. Defendant failed to comply with these provisions.

Defendant was convicted on one count of unlawfully engaging in the business of an immigration consultant, a misdemeanor. (Bus. & Prof. Code, §§ 22440, 22441.) The prosecution argued that each time defendant took money from a client in exchange for providing immigration services, she was committing theft by false pretenses, because she was not a legally qualified immigration consultant under state law. The trial court agreed convicting her on six counts of grand theft (Pen. Code, §§ 484, 487, subd. (a)) and two counts of petty theft (Pen. Code, §§ 484, 488. Defendant was placed on probation for five years. On appeal, Salcido argued that Federal Law preempted state regulation.

Preemption Principles.

Anthony Taylor filed a habeas petition claiming that his special circumstance finding in a felony murder conviction should be vacated due to insufficient evidence based on recent caselaw. His petition, filed 20 years after finality of direct review, was considered timely because it was brought within a year of that recent caselaw that provided him with a legal claim.

Taylor’s conviction as an idea and abettor

Anthony Taylor participated in an attempted robbery at a Livermore liquor store during which one of his accomplices shot to death a store employee. In 1994, Taylor was convicted of first degree felony murder and the jury found that the killing occurred in the commission of an attempted robbery that he aided and abetted “as a major participant” and “with reckless indifference to human life,” a special circumstance requiring a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole under Penal Code section 190.2, subdivision (d) (section 190.2(d) ). The special circumstance finding was previously upheld on appeal, the Court fining that Taylor was both a major participant and had made statements after the murder that showed a reckless and callous indifference for human life.

Defendants who plead or are found guilty of traffic violations and other misdemeanors are typically assessed court fees and fines under Gov. Code, § 70373, Pen. Code, § 1465.8, and Pen. Code, § 1202.4, Unpaid fines usually go to collections without further order of the court.

Courts must determine a defendant’s ability to pay fees and assessment.

The Court of Appeal ruled in People v Dueñas (285645) that when poverty is the only reason a defendant cannot pay court fee and fines, using the criminal process to collect them is unconstitutional. Its decision bars courts from imposing court fees and assessments without determining a defendant’s present ability to pay. Despite Pen. Code, § 1202.4, precluding consideration of a defendant’s ability to pay unless the judge is considering increasing the fee over the statutory minimum, the execution of any restitution fine imposed under must be stayed unless and until the trial court holds an ability to pay hearing and concludes that the defendant has the present ability to pay the restitution fine

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.