Recently in Cases Category

        This morning the California Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Arredondo (S244166).  Arredondo was convicted of 14 sex offenses against his three young step-daughters.  He had been repeatedly molesting them over an 8 year period. It finally came to an end when he inappropriately touched one of the victim's friends on multiple occasions.  She told a school counselor of the abuse which lead to Arredondo's arrest.

At trial, the oldest victim was 18-years old and in the 11th grade.  He started molesting her when she was 8-years old and it ended when she was 16-years old.  When she took the stand to testify against Arredondo, she started crying and had a very hard time continuing with her testimony.  The court took a recess so that she could compose herself.  During the recess, the witness box was slightly modified so that a small computer monitor located on the witness stand was slightly elevated so to block her direct view of Arredondo.  Arredondo objected and argued that the modified witness box violated his 6th Amendment right to confront witnesses against him.  The trial court disagreed and overruled the objection.  The monitor remained elevated and Arredondo was subsequently found guilty.

A Watershed Right to the Insanity Defense

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In a couple of weeks, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Kahler v. Kansas.  The central question is whether there is a federal constitutional right to the insanity defense.  It is my view that the Court should find such a right and I would like to explain why.

The cornerstone of our criminal justice system is responsibility.   We presume that people are responsible for their conduct and should be punished when they violate the law.  Punishment and social condemnation are reserved for the criminal justice system.  A system of crime control without blame and punishment is merely a civil system of behavioral management (which we now see with the various civil sex offender statutes). 

For someone to be responsible, he must be a rational agent.  To be rational is to have reasons based on accurate perceptions and the ability to form sound judgments.  Only humans are capable of being guided by reasons, and the law presumes that people can and should be judged by their reasons.  The capacity for rationality is a necessity for legal and moral responsibility, which is why young children and those with profound intellectual disabilities have long been considered not responsible for their conduct.   

Nielsen v. Preap Argument

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Last Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of Nielsen v. Preap. The case concerns interpretation of a provision of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 relating to the arrest and detention of aliens who commit "aggravated felonies," as defined in immigration law or who are inadmissible for reasons such as connection with terrorist organizations.

CJLF filed an amicus brief in the case. The argument transcript is available on the court's website. The Federalist Society has a podcast on the argument by CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger.

Voluntary intoxication defense

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Juaquin Garcia Soto was drunk and high on methamphetamine when he kicked in Israel Ramirez's apartment door and stabbed him to death in front of his girlfriend and young son.  Soto was charged with first degree murder and first degree burglary.

In California, a murder conviction requires a finding of express or implied malice.  Express malice requires intent to kill "unlawfully," while implied does not.  California Penal Code section 29.4 permits evidence of voluntary intoxication on the issue of whether a defendant "harbored express malice."

At trial, Soto claimed "imperfect" self-defense, which is the actual, but unreasonable, belief that acting in self-defense was necessary.  A successful imperfect self-defense claim will result in voluntary manslaughter because "one who holds an honest but unreasonable belief in the necessity to defend against imminent peril to life or great bodily injury does not harbor malice and commits no greater offense than manslaughter."

Prop 57 strikes again

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I've written about juveniles and Prop 57 a few times this year.  Here I discussed the case of People v Lara, in which the California Supreme Court ruled that Prop 57 applies retroactively to all non-final cases that had been directly filed in adult court.  In that post I wrote:  "Proposition 57 is retroactive to all non-final cases.  What does this mean?  It means that the ramifications of Proposition 57 continue to get worse.  It also means that the court invited the opportunity for monsters like Daniel Marsh to seek a hearing in juvenile court because his case is 'not final.'"

Well, I was right.  On February 22nd, the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District conditionally reversed Daniel Marsh's 2013 double murder conviction.  He is to be returned to Yolo County and a transfer hearing will be set in the juvenile court. If, however, the juvenile court finds that Marsh is more suitable for adult court, his original conviction and sentence will be reinstated.

How old is too old?

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In 2011, Leonel Contreras and William Rodriquez, both 16 years old, kidnapped and violently sexually assaulted two teenage girls.  They were both tried as adults and convicted of these crimes. Contreras was sentenced to 50-years to life, and Rodriguez was sentenced to 58-years to life.  On Monday, in a 4 to 3 ruling, the California Supreme Court held that these sentences were unconstitutional (People v. Contreras S224564).
Pursuant to Graham v. Florida, a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case, juveniles who commit nonhomicide offenses cannot be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP).  They "must be given 'some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.'" The California Supreme Court majority held that because Contreras and Rodriguez's sentences would not permit them with an opportunity for parole until age 66 (Contreras) and 74 (Rodriguez), "the chance for release would come near the end of their lives" and is therefore the functional equivalent of LWOP.  The Court further stated that if released at those ages, "they will have spent the vast majority of adulthood in prison" and their sentences therefore violate the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment prohibition.  

Prop 57 - Juveniles tried as adults

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This morning, the California Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Superior Court (Lara) (S241231).  The issue was whether Proposition 57 applies retroactively to juvenile cases that had been directly filed in adult court prior to it being passed in the November 2016 election.  In addition to permitting the release of inmates who commit "non-violent" offenses, Proposition 57 mandates that all allegations of criminal conduct against a minor (individuals under age 18) must be initiated in juvenile court.  In other words, a delinquent minor can no longer have charges directly filed against him or her in adult court.  All cases, regardless of the severity of the crime, must be initiated in juvenile court.  If a minor (age 14+) commits certain enumerated crimes (such as murder or certain sex offenses), a prosecutor can file a motion for a "transfer hearing" which requires the juvenile court to evaluate factors such as the minor's maturity level, degree of criminal sophistication, prior delinquent history, and whether the minor is capable of rehabilitation.  If, based on those factors, the juvenile court concludes that the minor should be tried as an adult, the case can be transferred to adult court and all proceedings from that point on occur as if the minor is an adult.

Prior to Proposition 57, minors age 14 or older who committed certain serious crimes could be tried in adult court in one of three ways: (1) statutory waiver - mandatory direct file in adult court; (2) prosecutorial waiver - discretionary direct file by the District Attorney; or (3) judicial waiver - upon motion, juvenile court had authority to transfer the case to adult court after holding a "fitness hearing."  Proposition 57 eliminated statutory and prosecutorial waiver.  
In Honeycutt v. United States (16-142), the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit holding that a co-conspirator cannot be ordered to forfeit conspiracy proceeds did not personally obtain under a theory of joint and severable liability.

In this case, the Honeycutt brothers operated a hardware store - Tony owned the store with their father, and Terry was a "salaried employee" who managed sales and inventory.  The brothers were warned by law enforcement that a product they carried called "Polar Pure", a iodine based water purification product, contained an ingredient that could be used to manufacture methamphetamine.  Despite the warning, the brothers continued to sell large quantities of the product, and over a 3-year period the store grossed more than $400,000 from the sale of more than 20,000 bottles of Polar Pure.  The brothers were subsequently indicted for various federal crimes relating to the sale of iodine with the knowledge it would be used to manufacture methamphetamine.

Cellular-site data tracking

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This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Carpenter v. United States (16-402).  The issue is whether the warrantless search and seizure of cell phone records that detail the location and movement of the cell phone user over a period of time is permitted by the Fourth Amendment.

In this case, the defendants were charged with nine armed robberies in violation of the Hobbs Act (18 U.S.C. §1951).  At trial, the Government introduced the defendants' cell phone records to show that each defendant used his cell phone within 1 1/2 to 2 miles of several locations during the times the robberies occurred.  The Government obtained these records pursuant to the Stored Communications Act (18 U.S.C. §2703(d)), which permits the Government to require disclosure of certain telecommunication records when "specific and articulable facts show that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the content of a wire or electronic communication, or the records or other information sought, are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation."


Restitution

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In People v. Martinez (S219970), the defendant's vehicle collided with a 12-year old boy riding on a scooter.  The defendant got out of his truck to check on the boy.  When the boy's mother rushed to the scene, the defendant got back into his truck and left.  The boy sustained multiple broken bones and a traumatic brain injury.  The defendant was uninsured, unlicensed, and on felony probation.  The defendant was soon located and voluntarily came forward admitting his involvement in the accident.

The defendant was charged with one felony count of leaving the scene of an accident (Calif. Vehicle Code 20001(a)).  He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 3-years imprisonment.  At sentencing, the boy's mother stated that her son hit the defendant's truck and that it was an accident.  The defendant stated that the boy failed to stop his scooter and ran into his truck.  No findings were made regarding the defendant's responsibility for the accident.

The trial court later ordered the defendant to pay $425,654.63 in restitution to the victim's family for medical costs the boy incurred as a result of the accident.  On appeal, the defendant argued, and the Court of Appeal agreed, that
 
because defendant was not convicted for any offense involving responsibility for the actual accident and no factual determination of his responsibility for the collision or the victim's injuries has been made, the court erred in ordering restitution to the victim for treatment of the injuries he received as a result of the accident. 

Today the California Supreme Court also agreed with the defendant holding:

Where, as here, a criminal defendant is convicted and sentenced to state prison, section 1202.4 of the Penal Code (section 1202.4) provides that the defendant must pay restitution directly to the victim for losses incurred "as a result of the commission of a crime" (§1202.4, subd. (a)(1); see People v. Giordano (2007) 42 Cal.4th 644, 651-52 ("Giordano").)  "To the extent possible," direct victim restitution is to be ordered in an amount "sufficient to fully reimburse the victim or victims for every determined economic loss incurred as the result of the defendant's criminal conduct." (§1202.4, subd. (f)(3).)  Application of these provisions depends on the relationship between the victim's loss and the defendant's crime. Here, defendant's crime was not being involved in a traffic accident, nor does his conviction imply that he was at fault in the accident.  Defendant's crime, rather, was leaving the scene of the accident without presenting identification or rendering aid.  Thus, under section 1202.4, the trial court was authorized to order restitution for those injuries that were caused or exacerbated by defendant's criminal flight from the scene of the accident, but it was not authorized to award restitution for injuries resulting from the accident itself.

  

Gender in Risk Assessment

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court held yesterday that the use of risk assessment measures in sentencing decisions does not violate due process as long as certain precautions are undertaken.  The case involves the use of COMPAS, a common measure used in many states to help guide sentencing decisions. 

There's much to mull on in this decision and plenty of commentary will likely be forthcoming, but one aspect deserves consideration. The defendant, Eric Loomis, challenged the measure based on its use of gender in arriving at its conclusion that he posed a high risk of recidivism.   As the decision highlights, it is not apparent how gender is calculated by COMPAS because the calculations are considered proprietary and are not disclosed.    The parties disagree whether gender is used as a criminogenic factor or merely for statistical norming, yet both agree that it is well known that men commit a disproportionate amount of crime.  
A few post-settlement developments in the California lethal injection suit, Winchell & Alexander v. Beard, last noted here.

Yesterday, June 3, Judge Chang signed the stipulated judgment.  Applications to intervene in the case were set for hearing tomorrow, June 5.  The applicants were Mitchell Sims, the "slice of murder" killer sentenced to death in two states, represented at taxpayer expense by the Habeas Corpus Resource Center, and Michael Morales and Tiequon Cox, the men who murdered my clients' family members, represented by David Senior and, curiously, Jenner & Block, contra bono publico.  Today, the court entered an order that the applications were moot in light of the settlement and cancelling the hearing.
Last Wednesday, I noted in this post some of the reasons why Judge Carney's decision in Jones v. Chappell (declaring California's death penalty unconstitutional due to delays in execution) was wrong.  The opinion is wrong in so many ways that it will take a number of posts to catalog them.

To that end, former California Supervising Deputy Attorney General James Ching has this post at law.com giving some more reasons:

There is no doubt that the District Court condemns only state processes: "The Eighth Amendment simply cannot be read to proscribe a state from randomly selecting which few members of its criminal population it will sentence to death, but to allow that same state to randomly select which trivial few of those condemned it will actually execute."
The placing of blame is underlined by the District Court's failure to address any federal responsibility for the delay or to issue relief against the federal courts. However, if "[a]rbitrariness in execution is still arbitrary, regardless of when in the process the arbitrariness arises," it must surely apply to the 46.2% of the total delay and dysfunction.
Next Monday, the D.C. Circuit will hear argument in Cook v. FDA, No. 12-5176.  In that case (formerly Beaty v. FDA), the District Court held that the FDA had acted illegally in allowing importation of sodium thiopental for executions.  The court went on to order the FDA to inform the states that use of their existing stocks of thiopental is illegal and to take steps to recover it.  In issuing the latter part of the injunction, the court was untroubled by the fact that not a single word of the briefing or the court's opinion provided a legal basis for the order.  It was also untroubled by the facts that the states with a powerful interest involved were not parties to the action, the plaintiffs had not taken any steps to make them parties, and the plaintiffs had not shown any reason for an exception to the general rule against adjudicating the rights of nonparties in their absence.

In the Court of Appeals, CJLF appeared as amicus pointing out these problems.  The nonparty problem is the subject of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19.  The plaintiffs largely ignored the brief, just dropping one footnote about the general rule of not considering issues raised only by amici.  That rule has exceptions that the plaintiffs simply ignored.  Some issues must be considered whether a party raises them or not.  Subject matter jurisdiction is one, and Rule 19 is another.

Today the court issued the following order:

It is ORDERED, on the court's own motion, that the parties be prepared to address at oral argument on March 25, 2013, (1) the standing of the appellees to bring this case, with particular reference to the requirement of redressability; and the (2) Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19 and remedial issues raised in the brief of the amicus curiae Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.
A prior post with links to multiple earlier posts on this case is here.  CJLF's summary of argument and a link to the full brief are in this post.
Oral argument in Chaidez v. United States, on the retroactivity of Padilla v. Kentucky, had been scheduled for tomorrow.  However, the argument has been reset for an unusual Thursday session due to the impending landfall of Hurricane Sandy.

The Court's press release is here.  CJLF's brief in the case is here.

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