Articles Posted in New Criminal Case Law

Parris J. v. Christopher U. (Cal. Ct. App., Oct. 4, 2023, No.

B313470) 2023 WL 6458520, at *1Summary: Christopher U. appeals from the five-year domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) issued against him at the request of his former spouse, Parris J. Christopher contends the trial court abused its discretion by granting Parris’s request for a DVRO because the record does not demonstrate he engaged in conduct rising to the level of abuse under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA), Family Code section 6200 et seq. He appealed the order of the trial court to change the beneficiary of the $4 million insurance policy he owns on Parris’s life from himself to a charity of her choice. He also appealed the denial of  his requests for a statement of decision. Christopher claimed  that because the DVRO must be reversed, the trial court’s order awarding $200,000 in attorneys’ fees to Parris as the prevailing party under section 6344 must also be reversed.

The Court of Appeals concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion by granting Parris’s request for a DVRO. The Court rejected Christopher’s contentions regarding the life insurance policy. There was no reason to reverse the order awarding attorneys’ fees to Parris. It concluded that reversal is not required based on the denial of Christopher’s requests for a statement of decision.

People v. Suazo (Cal. Ct. Appl., Sept. 19, 2023, No. F082140) 2023 WL 6118736, at *1

Summary: Suazo while having an elevated blood-alcohol level, drove his 2008 Ford Focus at a high rate of speed off the highway, through a fence, and into agricultural equipment parked in an adjacent yard. His passenger was ejected from the vehicle and killed. Suazo was convicted of second degree murder; gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated; driving under the influence and causing bodily injury; driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or more and causing bodily injury; leaving the scene of an accident; and driving on a suspended license.  The jury found defendant fled the scene of the crime. (Veh. Code, § 20001, subd. (c)).

On appeal, Suazo contends the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction of second degree murder in light of his testimony that he drank alcohol without intending to drive afterward, then drove while unconscious. He also contends the trial court erred in failing to give, or his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to request, instructions on unconsciousness and voluntary intoxication with regard to count and the fleeing-the-scene allegation.

People v. Pomar (Cal. Ct. App., Sept. 13, 2023, No. A167241) 2023 WL 5947909, at *1

Summary: Brooke Jenkins, an assistant district attorney (ADA), left the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office (Office) to join the campaign to recall Chesa Boudin, the then San Francisco District Attorney (District Attorney). After leaving the Office, Jenkins spoke to a reporter about a homicide case being prosecuted by the Office in which the victim was her husband’s cousin. Jenkins criticized the Office for its approach toward prosecuting the two alleged killers of her husband’s cousin, defendants and respondents Mitchell and Pomar. Jenkins faulted the Office for dropping felony gang charges against Mitchell and Pomar and for failing to detain Pomar for the murder of her husband’s cousin. After Boudin was recalled, Jenkins became the District Attorney. The Office installed an “ethical wall” to prevent Jenkins from influencing its prosecution of Mitchell and Pomar for the murder of her husband’s cousin. Mitchell and Pomar moved to disqualify the entire Office from that case pursuant to Penal Code section 1424. Pomar also moved to disqualify the entire Office from his separate prosecution for the additional crimes mentioned by Jenkins in the newspaper article. The trial courts in both cases granted the recusal motions and disqualified the entire Office from prosecuting the cases. Plaintiff and appellant the People of the State of California (People) appeal from the recusal orders, contending both courts abused their discretion. Court of Appeal affirmed.

Facts: On June 30, 2021, the Office filed an amended felony complaint dismissing the felony gang count against Mitchell and Pomar. Jenkins resigned from the Office on October 15, 2021, and joined the recall campaign against Boudin. Jenkins spoke with a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle. The published article discussed Jenkins’s reasons for leaving the Office and joining the recall campaign. The article observed that “this is personal for Jenkins” because her husband’s family had been “devastated” by the death of Mallory.  The article reported that Mallory, “[a]ccording to Jenkins,” “was an innocent bystander in a gang dispute.” Jenkins then criticized the Office for refusing to file “felony charges of gang conspiracy” against Mitchell and Pomar in the Mallory case. As the article explained, Jenkins “wanted those charges filed against [Mitchell and Pomar], seeing them as the only way for prosecutors to make a case.” Because the Office declined to pursue those gang charges due to Boudin’s resistance, “Jenkins said she doubt[ed] the case w[ould] hold up in court.”

DEMOND FINLEY, Petitioner, v. THE SUPERIOR COURT OF THE CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO, Respondent; THE PEOPLE, Real Party in Interest. (Cal. Ct. App., Aug. 30, 2023, No. A167311) 2023 WL 5620093, at *1

Summary: The San Francisco Superior Court erred in finding that Finley failed to make a prima case of an RJA violation, where the police officer stopped and searched his car for being parked in a “high crime area.” An expert testified that “high crime area” was routinely used by police to conduct pretext stops of Black people for minor offenses to search for contraband, and SFPD’s own stats showing Black people were stopped and searched at a higher rate than whites.

The Court of Appeal set a low prima facie bar in RJA cases and held that the trial court must accept the defenses proffered factual allegations and supporting evidence as true and could not consider the DA’s race-neutral counter evidence at the prima facie stage. The court remanded for a rehearing applying the proper prima facie standard.

CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND REHABILITATION, Petitioner, v. THE SUPERIOR COURT OF ALAMEDA COUNTY, Respondent; ROBERT L. ESCOBEDO, Real Party in Interest. (Cal. Ct. App., Aug. 25, 2023, No. A166559) 2023 WL 5498785

Summary: Escobedo was placed on felony probation pursuant to a plea bargain. The  superior court permitted the People to withdraw a pending petition for revocation of parole that CDCR filed against Escobedo, who was on lifetime parole when he committed his offense. (Pen. Code, § 3000.1, subd. (a)(1).) The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) sought review by extraordinary writ challenging  the authority of the superior court to release Escobedo on probation, instead of adjudicating CDCR’s parole revocation petition and returning him to prison if the court finds that he has committed a new offense. (See § 3000.08, subd. (h) (section 3000.08(h)).)

Because Escobedo was on lifetime parole, the superior court lacked authority to release him on probation after finding that he committed a new criminal offense. Once the court found Escobedo had committed another crime, it was required to remand him to the custody of CDCR. (§ 3000.08(h).) The Court of Appeal granted  CDCR’s mandate petition.

People v. Superior Court of Ventura County (Cal. Ct. App., Aug. 16, 2023, No. 2D CIV. B326653) 2023 WL 5258663, at *1

Summary: Penal Code section 1238, subdivisions (a)(1) and (a)(8) permit the People to appeal a superior court’s post-preliminary hearing, pretrial order reducing a felony “wobbler” to a misdemeanor because the order is unauthorized and equivalent to a dismissal of the felony offense.

A “wobbler” is “an offense which may be charged and punished as either a felony or a misdemeanor ….” (Davis v. Municipal Court (1988) 46 Cal.3d 64.) A “felony wobbler” is a wobbler charged as a felony offense.

People v. Suggs (Cal. Ct. App., July 31, 2023, No. C096555) 2023 WL 4861699

Summary: The Court of Appeal held that traffic stop was unlawfully prolonged when police officer saw temporary registration documents in window, realized defendant had not committed Vehicle Code violation that was purpose of stop, and then made inquiries aimed at finding evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing. Suggs appealed  from a judgment following entry of a plea of no contest to misdemeanor possession of a concealed firearm after the trial court denied his motion to suppress evidence of the firearm and methamphetamine found in his vehicle. On appeal, Suggs argued the detention that preceded the search of his vehicle was unlawful under the Fourth Amendment.

Facts: Sacramento Police Officer Owen Anstess saw defendant driving a car that displayed only paper plates in violation of Vehicle Code section 5200 that requires a vehicle to attach license plates to both the front and back of the vehicle.  Officer Anstess initiated a traffic stop of Suggs because had seen the paperwork displayed in the window as required by law.

Coalition on Homelessness v. City and County of San Francisco (Cal. Ct. App., July 21, 2023, No. A164180) 2023 WL 4673776

Summary: Nonprofit organization brought action against city, municipal transportation agency, and police department challenging agency’s policy of towing safely and lawfully parked vehicles without a warrant based solely on the accrual of unpaid parking tickets, moving for writ of mandate and declaratory and injunctive relief. The Superior Court, San Francisco County, denied the organization’s motion. The organization appealed .

Holdings: The Court of Appeal held that: The community caretaking exception to warrant requirement was inapplicable to municipal transportation agency’s towing policy, and municipal transportation agency’s towing policy was not permissible under forfeiture rationale.

People v. Leal (Cal. Ct. App., July 25, 2023, No. C096463) 2023 WL 4729326, at *1

Summary: The Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of the fundamental right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures is fundamental. Generally warrantless searches are unreasonable. (Katz v. United States (1967) 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576.) The automobile exception provides ‘police who have probable cause to believe a lawfully stopped vehicle contains evidence of criminal activity or contraband may conduct a warrantless search of any area of the vehicle in which the evidence might be found.’ ” (People v. McGee (2020) 53 Cal.App.5th 796, 801.) The scope of a warrantless search is “defined by the object of the search and the places in which there is probable cause to believe that it may be found.” (United States v. Ross (1982) 456 U.S. 798, 824 (Ross).) Whether a warrantless search was justified under the automobile exception depends on the facts,  because probable cause exists “where the known facts and circumstances are sufficient to warrant a man of reasonable prudence in the belief that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found.” (Ornelas v. United States (1996) 517 U.S. 690, 696.)

The facts here were that the searching police officer received information via a radio broadcast from another officer that a juvenile on probation with a firearm restriction likely placed a firearm under the front passenger seat in Leal’s car before he  got into his car and drove away. Leal’s car was under constant surveillance from the time of the alleged firearm placement until the searching officer conducted the search. A search of the passenger compartment of his car found no firearm. Then, the searching officer decided to search the trunk, where he discovered a firearm. Leal was charged with several offenses and filed a motion to suppress the firearm; the trial court denied the motion. Leal pled no contest to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The issue is whether the search of Leal’s trunk was justified under the automobile exception.

People v. Carney (Cal., July 20, 2023, No. S260063) 2023 WL 4630861, at *1

Summary: In People v. Sanchez (2001) 26 Cal.4th 834 (Sanchez), the California Supreme Court upheld the first degree murder conviction of a defendant who had engaged in a gang-related shootout that left a bystander dead. It was unclear whether the defendant or a rival gang member had fired the fatal shot. However, the Court  held that the defendant’s “commission of life-threatening deadly acts in connection with his attempt on [the rival gang member’s] life was a substantial concurrent, proximate, cause of [the victim’s] death.”

This case  involves a gun battle among rivals, but unlike in Sanchez, the evidence conclusively established that the fatal shot was fired by someone other than the two defendants who were convicted of first degree murder. The

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