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In a recent decision, the California Supreme Court decided that defendants who had not yet been sentenced at the time of Proposition 47’s effective date were entitled to the initial sentencing under Proposition 47. Proposition 47 was a 2014 ballot initiative that reduced certain felony offenses to misdemeanors. It also allowed certain defendants who were already serving their sentences to petition the court for resentencing. However, the resentencing provision only allows resentencing if a trial court finds that the defendant would not pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety. Proposition 47 was approved during the November 2014 election, and took effect on November 5, 2015.

According to the court’s opinion, in January 2015, the defendant was charged with unlawfully taking or driving a vehicle and with receiving a stolen vehicle. He was alleged to have committed the offenses in August 2013, when he was found driving a stolen car. A jury found him guilty of driving a vehicle without permission under section 10851 of the Vehicle Code. The court sentenced him to three years in prison, which was increased to ten years because of sentence enhancements for prior prison terms and prior convictions. Proposition 47 went into effect after the defendant committed the offense but before he was charged, tried, or sentenced.

Under Proposition 47, offenses of obtaining property by theft where the value of the property is $950 or less are generally considered misdemeanor offenses. The defendant argued that the statute applied to convictions under section 10851 of the Vehicle Code, and that his conviction must be reduced to a misdemeanor offense according to the new penal code provision because the jury never found that the value of the vehicle exceeded $950. The issue before the California Supreme Court was whether Proposition 47 applied to defendants who committed crimes before the law’s effective date but who were tried or sentenced after the effective date.

The issue of warrantless blood-draws has been the focus of several high-profile Supreme Court opinions over the past few years. The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in another DUI case involving the warrantless blood-draw of an unconscious motorist. The issue before the Court in Mitchell v. Wisconsin was whether a statute that authorizes a blood-draw from an unconscious motorist is lawful under the Fourth Amendment. Whatever the Supreme Court decides will likely have a decisive impact on California’s implied-consent law and implied-consent laws across the United States.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was arrested in May 2013 for driving while intoxicated. Police took him to the hospital, but the defendant became unconscious before he could provide consent to draw his blood. The hospital workers drew the defendant’s blood at the request of the police and without a warrant. The defendant’s blood-alcohol concentration was .222, and he was subsequently charged with driving while intoxicated.

The defendant argued that the blood test was not admissible in court because his blood was taken without a warrant. The prosecution argued that the police did not need a warrant to draw his blood under the state’s implied-consent statute. Under that state’s statute, by virtue of driving a vehicle, motorists provide consent to undergo blood, urine, and breath tests to determine the motorist’s alcohol or drug content. The state’s supreme court upheld the search as lawful, ruling in the state’s favor 5-2. However, there was no consensus on the reasoning as to why it was lawful. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision is still pending, and is expected later this year.

In a recent California juvenile crime case, a state appeals court upheld a probation condition allowing law enforcement to search a juvenile’s electronic data. According to the court’s opinion, the juvenile defendant, who was 15 years old at the time, was involved in a fight at his school. When his teacher tried to break up the fight, the defendant called the teacher a racial slur.

The court convicted the juvenile of a misdemeanor for disturbing the peace on school grounds. The judge sentenced the defendant to probation and imposed certain conditions, including that the defendant’s electronic devices would be subject “to a search of any source of electronic data identified . . . at any time, with or without probable cause, by a peace officer, and provide the peace officer with any passwords necessary to access the data source specified.” The sources of electronic data included text messages, call logs, social media accounts, voicemail history, photographs, and internet browsing history. The defendant was prohibited from using drugs, threatening others with violence, and visiting school grounds without obtaining prior approval.

The defendant appealed the electronic search condition. He argued that it had nothing to do with the misdemeanor offense and was unconstitutionally overly broad. The state argued that the condition was reasonable because it was not overly broad and that it related to potential future criminality.

The California Supreme Court recently decided an interesting case discussing how the double jeopardy clause is implicated after a case results in a mistrial. The issue presented was whether a court must accept a partial verdict of acquittal on a greater offense if a jury has expressly stated that it has acquitted on the greater offense but is deadlocked on the lesser charges.

In this case, the defendant was charged with murder. According to the evidence presented at trial, the defendant’s girlfriend texted the defendant one night saying that she was afraid her father, who lived with her, was going to rape her as he had done in the past. The defendant went to the girlfriend’s house, and a fight ensued. The defendant fatally stabbed the girlfriend’s father with an ice pick.

The case went to trial, and the court instructed the jury on the charge of first-degree murder, as well as the uncharged lesser-included offenses of second-degree murder, and voluntary manslaughter. After a few days of deliberations, the jury foreperson told that court that the jury had “basically ruled out murder in the first degree.” The foreperson stated the jurors were split, with regards to the remaining charges. The court subsequently declared a mistrial because the jury could not reach a decision. Afterward, the defendant argued that the first-degree murder charge should be dismissed based on double jeopardy. The defendant argued that because the court did not receive a partial acquittal on the first-degree murder charge, the court could not retry the defendant on that charge.

In May 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California homicide case discussing whether the trial court correctly instructed the jury on the defendant’s self-defense claim. Ultimately, the court concluded that the jury was properly instructed to consider only known threats that the victim made against others.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant and several other men approached the victim’s trailer to evict him from the property, which was owned by one of the men with the defendant. Evidently, the landowner believed that the victim had stolen from him.

As the defendant approached the victim’s trailer, the victim’s friend, who also lived on a trailer and was being evicted, arrived. The men got into an argument, and the defendant put the victim in a headlock. According to the victim’s friend, the defendant pulled out a gun, put it to the victim’s head, and pulled the trigger. The victim died instantly. It was later determined that the victim had high levels of methamphetamine in his system.

In a recent California sexual assault case before a state appeals court, the court held that the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted expert testimony from a doctor who testified that only a very small percentage of child sexual abuse allegations are false. The defendant in the case was charged with 12 counts of lewd acts against a child younger than 14 years old under Penal Code 288(b)(1), and one count of continuous sexual abuse under 14 under Penal Code 288.5(a).

The defendant’s first trial ended in a hung jury, but when he was subsequently retried for the same crimes he was convicted on all counts. He was sentenced to a total term of 104 years. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial judge improperly admitted expert testimony about child sexual abuse.

A trial court normally has significant discretion in deciding whether to admit or exclude expert testimony. In child sexual abuse cases, state courts have generally held that expert testimony on rape trauma syndrome may be admissible in order to dispel misconceptions about rape and rape victims. It can explain, for example, why there was a delay in reporting the abuse. However, such testimony is not warranted in all cases. For example, in another case in which the victim reported the attack soon after it happened, and the victim had a severe emotional reaction, testimony about rape trauma syndrome did not serve the purpose of rebutting misconceptions and should not have been admitted.

The Court of Appeals, Sixth Appellate District recently issued an opinion ordering a trial court to reconsider a military service member’s request to enter into a diversion program. The defendant was an active duty member of the Army Special Forces Group, who was stopped by police after they allegedly observed him weaving back and forth while driving. The defendant’s blood-alcohol content was tested, and measured to be 0.16. He was charged with misdemeanor DUI with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of over 0.15 percent. Hoping to avoid a conviction and the potential collateral consequence it can bring, the defendant requested to enter a pretrial diversion program under the military diversion statute, Penal Code Section 1001.80.

Diversionary programs generally allow individuals to participate in a program for treatment and rehabilitation in lieu of progressing through the traditional criminal justice process. There are several diversionary programs in California. Under the Military Diversion Program statute, a trial court can place a defendant charged with a misdemeanor in a pretrial diversion program. The court must determine that the defendant: (1) was or is a member of the U.S. military, and (2) may be suffering from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, sexual trauma, or mental health problems as a result of his or her military service. If the defendant completes the requirements of the diversion program, the charges are dismissed. These charges are also eligible for expungement.

In this case, the trial court denied the defendant’s request, and the defendant appealed. The appeals court held that the trial court improperly focused on the nature of the offense without considering the purpose of the diversion program. The court explained that the purpose of a diversion program is rehabilitation. Specifically, the Military Diversion Program is meant to help military service members postpone prosecution and obtain treatment for their conditions.

The Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution provide fundamental rights to all citizens. For example, police officers cannot perform a search without probable cause. Nor can they interrogate someone on the subjective belief that they look suspicious. For the most part, police officers must be able to point to specific facts that give them probable cause to believe someone committed a crime before they subject that person to investigatory procedures.

Of course, there are exceptions to that general rule. One common exception is when a defendant engages in a consensual encounter with the police. Courts have held that consensual encounters do not require a police officer to develop probable cause.  A recent California appellate decision illustrates this concept.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers were on patrol when they saw the defendant walk out of an apartment, look in their direction, and then turn around. The officers also saw the defendant put something into his pocket. The officers approached the defendant, asking him “Hey, how are you doing? What’s your name? Do you got anything illegal on you?” The defendant admitted to having a meth pipe on him. When asked if he had anything else illegal on him, the defendant admitted to having a “bunch of meth” on him. Police searched the defendant, finding methamphetamine, a pipe, and 162 dollars in small bills.

Last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California drug-dealing case in which the defendant claimed that the testimony of the prosecution’s expert witness was impermissibly based on the defendant’s race and national origin. Ultimately, the court concluded that, regardless of the impropriety of the expert’s testimony, the defendant failed to preserve the issue for appeal because there was no objection made at the time the expert testified.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was arrested after an officer observed the defendant hand a middle-aged Cuban man an unknown object. Officers were able to see that the object the defendant handed the man contained off-white solids that resembled cocaine base.

The officers arrested the defendant, and after searching him, found a baggie with 41 small, individually wrapped “bindles” containing what was later determined to be crack cocaine. The defendant did not have any money on him when he was arrested.

In recent a California criminal case before a court of appeals, the court had to consider whether a minor defendant’s case was properly heard by an adult criminal court or whether the case should have been decided by a juvenile court. The defendant in the case was charged with sexual offenses that allegedly occurred when he was between 14 and 16 years old.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant’s case was first heard in juvenile court, but in November, 2015, the juvenile court transferred the case to adult criminal court. While in adult court, the defendant pleaded guilty to various crimes in March 2017, and agreed to a 40-year sentence in prison. However, before the defendant was sentenced, the defendant requested that the court transfer his case back to juvenile court under Proposition 57, which was passed after the defendant’s hearing in juvenile court. The adult court denied the request, and the defendant appealed the court’s decision.

Juvenile courts in California generally have jurisdiction over offenses alleged to have been committed when the defendant was under 18 years old. Proposition 57 was passed in November, 2016, and significantly amended the laws governing the jurisdiction of juvenile courts. Under the previous law, a minor accused of a crime was generally subject to the jurisdiction of juvenile court, unless the court found the minor unfit for juvenile court. For minors 14 years or older, there was a presumption that the defendant was unfit for the juvenile court system.

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