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THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v.ALEXANDER ALBERTO FRIAS, Defendant and Appellant. 2023 WL 8658552 (Cal.App. 2 Dist.)

Summary: Frias appealed his conviction after the jury found him guilty of stalking. Frias claimed that the trial court, in denying his four requests to substitute the Castaneda Law firm as his counsel, violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel of his choice. Here, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Frias’s first three requests to substitute in the Castaneda firm because the firm’s attorneys were not ready for trial and the case had been pending for three years, during which time four different attorneys had handled Frias’s defense at his request. The denial of Frias’s fourth request was an abuse of discretion.

At the time of the fourth request, the case had been pending for three-and-a-half years, the case was set for trial and the prosecutor and deputy public defender had announced ready for trial. This time, however, an attorney from the Castaneda firm announced he was ready for trial. Although the trial court was concerned that the Castaneda firm’s attorneys would seek a further continuance to prepare for trial once the firm was appointed, or that Frias on the day of trial would yet again seek to substitute in new counsel. Nothing in the record shows that the Castaneda firm was not prepared for trial, and the court did not make a further inquiry to confirm its suspicion the firm was not ready. The court’s concerns were not sufficient grounds on which to deny Frias’s request to have retained counsel of his choice. If the Castaneda firm’s attorneys later requested a continuance or Frias requested new counsel, the court retained the discretion to deny the requests.

People v. Banks (Cal. Ct. App., Nov. 20, 2023, No. 2D CRIM. B312618) 2023 WL 8010242, at *1, reh’g denied (Dec. 6, 2023)

 Summary: Banks appealed from the judgment after a jury convicted him of human trafficking of a minor. Banks argued that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained during a warrantless search of his vehicle and that the prosecutor committed misconduct during argument. The Court of Appeal affirmed.

Traffic stop and vehicle search

Phillips v. Gordon (Cal. Ct. App., Nov. 29, 2023, No. A165289) 2023 WL 8266154, at *1–2

Summary: Phillips appealed from the trial court’s denial of her petition for review of an order of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) suspending her driver’s license for driving with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more. Phillips argues the trial court erred because the DMV failed to provide sufficient evidence of the reliability of the way in which her blood was collected for the BAC test. She contends she rebutted the presumption that the certified phlebotomy technician (CPT) drew her blood in a proper manner by showing that the CPT was not supervised and the procedure she followed was not approved as required by applicable regulations and statutes. The Court of Appeal agreed that Phillips rebutted the presumption of reliability but  affirmed  the trial court’s order because evidence introduced at the hearing nonetheless established the reliability of the manner of collection of Phillips’ blood.

Background:One night in September 2020, around 11:23 p.m., a California Highway Patrol officer pulled Phillips over and arrested her for driving under the influence in violation of Vehicle Code section 23152, subdivision (a). The officer’s partner took Phillips to a facility in Burlingame and requested a phlebotomist.

People v. Trammel (Cal. Ct. App., Nov. 21, 2023, No. A166756) 2023 WL 8060573, at *1

Summary: Trammel challenged the trial court’s sentence of an aggregate 12-year prison term for numerous convictions arising out of his violent relationship with his former girlfriend. The Court of Appeal agreed with Trammel that the trial court erroneously failed to stay the punishment for two convictions pursuant to Penal Code section 654 and remanded the matter for a full resentencing. (People v. Trammel (June 30, 2022, A161381) 2022 WL 2353314 [nonpub. opn.].

On remand, the trial court corrected its section 654 errors, resentencing Trammel to a total prison term of 12 years, four months. In this second appeal, Trammel argues that his new sentence violates the  prohibition against double jeopardy set forth in Article I, section 13 of the California Constitution. The Court of Appeal agreed and remanded to correct this error and an  error with respect to custody credits.

Zepeda v. Superior Court of City and County of San Francisco (Cal. Ct. App., Nov. 13, 2023, No. A166159) 2023 WL 7484868, at *1

 Summary: This case decided several issues about  Senate Bill No. 567. Senate Bill 567 amended Penal Code section 1170, subdivision (b)(2) to provide that, when a statute specifies three possible terms of imprisonment, the trial court cannot impose a sentence exceeding the middle term unless it finds that a longer sentence is justified by “circumstances in aggravation of the crime” and “the facts underlying those circumstances” have been stipulated to by the defendant or have been found true beyond a reasonable doubt by the jury at trial. Before Senate Bill 567, under the sentencing scheme in place since 2007, trial judges had the discretion to impose the lower, middle, or upper term of imprisonment based on their own assessment of which term best served the interests of justice, without making any factual findings.


Boitez v. Superior Court of Yolo County (Cal. Ct. App., Nov. 7, 2023, No. C098102) 2023 WL 7313899, at *1

Summary: Boitez filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained during a search of his mother’s car. After the trial court denied his motion, petitioner filed a petition for writ of mandate or prohibition.

The issue is whether defendant gave voluntary consent for the police to search his mother’s car after he was pulled over for a traffic violation. Here, the police officer falsely, but apparently with subjective belief that it was true, stated that he had the authority to tow defendant’s mother’s car, but would not do so if defendant consented to the search. Did  the police officer’s false promise of leniency as to the towing of defendant’s mother’s car, the prosecution met its burden by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant’s consent was uncoerced? (Vazquez, supra, 724 F.3d at p. 18.)

People v. Molina (Cal. Ct. App., Oct. 17, 2023, No. G061280) 2023 WL 6834852

 Summary: Molina appealed after conviction of sexual penetration with a child 10 years or younger and lewd or lascivious acts upon a child under 14 years, after a trial in which safety protocols related to the COVID-19 pandemic were implemented.

The Court of Appeal held that: defendant’s right to a fair trial was not violated by use of face masks during trial; defendant’s right to a fair trial was not violated by jurors’ social distancing during trial; and defense counsel’s tactical decision to inform prospective jurors that defendant was in custody did not constitute ineffective assistance.

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. VERNON LEE HAMPTON, Defendant and Appellant. (Cal. Ct. App., Oct. 25, 2023, No. A165957) 2023 WL 7009789, at *1

Summary: Before closing arguments, which took place in January 2022, the trial judge dismissed two jurors for reasons related to COVID-19 and seated the two remaining alternate jurors. After the jury began deliberating, the judge had a personal emergency, and another judge took her place. Then, one of the remaining jurors tested positive for COVID, and Hampton moved for a mistrial, contending that the original judge had made an off-the-record ruling prohibiting any remote deliberations. After consulting with the original judge, the substitute judge denied a mistrial. The substitute judge then permitted the juror who had COVID to deliberate remotely for one day, at the end of which the jury returned its verdicts. The foreperson stated that the jury reached agreement on the verdicts while all the jurors were present in person, and that during the remote deliberations the jury discussed only the lesser weapon enhancements on which it hung.

On appeal, Hampton contends that (1) the substitute judge improperly relied on ex parte communications with the original judge in denying a mistrial and (2) the jury deliberations in which one juror participated remotely were unauthorized and unconstitutional. He contends that these errors are structural, meaning they are reversible without a showing of prejudice. The Court of Appeal concluded that the judges’ communications were ethical and did not deny Hampton a fair trial. Any error in permitting the jury to deliberate remotely for one day was harmless because, as the record establishes, that day of deliberation did not result in a finding of guilt. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment.

People v. Manzo (Cal. Ct. App., Oct. 17, 2023, No. E079991) 2023 WL 6826849, at *1

 Summary:The Riverside County District Attorney appealed the trial court’s dismissal of three felony charges against Manzo due to evidence lost during the prosecution’s five-year delay in prosecuting the case after filing charges against defendant. Because there is no evidence that the loss of evidence prejudiced defendant, the Court of Appeal the order dismissing the complaint.

Facts: After Manzo completed a five year prison sentence in a San Bernardino robbery case, he was arrested and arraigned on outstanding charges in Riverside County in April 2022. Manzo moved to dismiss the charges on the ground that the delay in prosecuting him violated his due process rights under article I, section 15 of the California Constitution. Manzo claimed that the delay between the filing of charges against him and his arraignment prejudiced him for several reasons, including loss of the video footage of his arrest from the officer’s dashcam. The District Attorney’s argued that Manzo  suffered no actual prejudice from the delay.

People v. Simmons (Cal. Ct. App., Oct. 12, 2023, No. 2D CRIM. B309921) 2023 WL 6631578, at *1

Summary: The Racial Justice Act (RJA) aims to eliminate racism from criminal trials in California. The Court of Appeal held that  the RJA does not violate article VI, section 13 of the California Constitution. The dissent argued  that the RJA violates article VI because section 13 states that it is the province of the court to decide whether an error results in a miscarriage of justice.

Simmons appealed his conviction, by jury, of the attempted willful, premeditated, and deliberate murder of Danny Graves (Pen. Code, §§ 187, 664)1 and fleeing a pursuing peace officer’s motor vehicle while driving recklessly. (Veh. Code, § 2800.2.) The jury further found he personally used a handgun in committing the attempted murder. (§ 12022.53, subds. (b), (c).) The trial court sentenced appellant to life in prison plus a 20-year enhancement term for the firearm use and a concurrent term of 27 months on the evading conviction.

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