New Criminal Cases Law

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

The United States Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment provides criminal defendants the right to tell their own story and define the fundamental purpose of their defense at trial, even if most others would choose a different objective. [McCoy v. Louisiana (2018) ––– U.S. ––––, 138 S.Ct. 1500, 200 L.Ed.2d 821 (McCoy )]

Decision to concede the commission of the acts is not a strategic dispute

In McCoy, defendant’s lawyer did not admit guilt of the charged first degree murder; he conceded the killing (actus reus) and argued that McCoy was not guilty because he lacked the necessary intent (mens rea) for the offense in light of his serious mental and emotional issues. (McCoy, supra, ––– U.S. ––––, 138 S.Ct. at p. 1507.)

McCoy requires that criminal defense lawyers allow their clients to determine the fundamental objective at trial, and thus must not concede the actus reus of a charged crime over their client’s objection. In this case, counsel overrode Flores’s stated goal of maintaining his innocence of the alleged acts. Instead, in trying to gain an acquittal, he conceded the actus reus of the charged crimes at both trials. This is a the client’s decision. The violation of Flores’s Sixth Amendment rights constitutes structural error requiring reversal of his convictions.

People v. Flores, 2019 WL 1577743 (Cal.App. 4 Dist.), 1 (Cal.App. 4 Dist., 2019)

Prop 47 applies to defendants not yet sentenced whose crimes were committed before its effective date

The California Supreme Court ruled that Proposition 47 (“the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act”), the 2014 ballot initiative that reduced certain felony offenses to misdemeanors applies to defendants who committed their crimes before the measure’s effective date but who were tried or sentenced after that date.

Resentencing under Proposition 47

Proposition 47 allows eligible defendants who were serving felony sentences as of the measure’s effective date  (November 5, 2014) to retroactively obtain relief by petitioning for recall of sentence and requesting resentencing. (Pen. Code, § 1170.18, subd. (a) The resentencing provision is more restrictive than initial sentencing under the statute, because it mandates that relief be denied if the trial court determines that resentencing the defendant “would pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.” (§ 1170.18, subd. (b).)

The differences between initial sentencing under Proposition 47’s amended penalty provisions and resentencing under section 1170.18’s petition procedure have led to questions about which set of provisions apply to various classes of defendants.

In People v. DeHoyos (2018) 4 Cal.5th 594, 600–603, (DeHoyos ), the Supreme Court determined that section 1170.18 supplies the exclusive path to relief on a current offense under Proposition 47 for defendants who were serving felony sentences as of the measure’s effective date, including those whose judgments were on appeal and thus not yet final.

Defendants who had not yet been sentenced as of Proposition 47’s effective date are entitled to initial sentencing under Proposition 47’s amended penalty provisions. They do not need to apply for the  resentencing procedures applicable to those who were already serving their sentences.

People v. Lara, 2019 WL 1563318 (Cal.), 1 (Cal., 2019)