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Court Rules on 'Value' in Check Forgery Case

Brian Lee Lowery should probably thank the court of appeals for ruling that the forged check he tried to cash was not worth the paper it was written on.

The Sixth District Court of Appeal reversed his felony conviction for trying to cash a forged check for $1,047.85. The court said the amount written on the check is not the same as its value.

"While the written value of a forged check may be substantial evidence of its monetary worth, a defendant may be able to show an uncashed check was worth less than its written value," the judges said.

Late Tax Returns Bring Felony Charges

In a split decision, a state appeals court ruled that a California man may be prosecuted for felony tax evasion because he did not file timely tax returns for three consecutive years.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal said evidence of failing to file was sufficient for felony charges, reasoning that the failure to act was tantamount to the intent to evade taxes. The panel rejected arguments to interpret state tax law under federal tax laws, which require proof of affirmative acts of tax evasion, and pointed out the difference.

"That is, Internal Revenue Code section 7201 makes it a crime to attempt to evade a tax, while section 19706 makes it a crime to willfully fail to timely file a tax return," said Justice Eileen C. Moore in the majority decision.

Court Strikes Law That Limited Grand Juries in Fatal Police Shooting Cases

A California appeals court threw out the state legislature's law to divest grand juries of their power to issue indictments in fatal police shootings, saying that the law would require a constitutional amendment to be valid.

California enacted the law in response to grand jury decisions not to indict officers in the deaths of unarmed black men in Missouri and New York. Calling for transparency in criminal proceedings, the state legislature passed the law taking away grand juries' indictment power in such officer-involved shootings and leaving the decision to file charges solely with prosecutors.

Therapists Must Report Child Porn Users

A state appeals court has upheld a law requiring therapists to report patients who view child porn online or in other digital forms.

California's Second District Court of Appeal said that society's interest in protecting children outweighs the privacy rights of patients who view child pornography. Under the Child Abuse Neglect and Reporting Act, the court said, therapists are mandated to report anyone who has accessed child pornography through electronic or digital media. Children are "sexually exploited" by the act of downloading, streaming or accessing child pornography, the court said.

"Not only is it illegal, the conduct is reprehensible, shameful and abhorred by any decent and normal standards of society," the unanimous panel said.

California's Execution Speed-Up Law Goes to State's Supreme Court

The California Supreme Court is considering briefs on whether to uphold a voter-approved law to speed up death penalty cases.

Approved by voters in November 2016, Prop. 66 authorizes more lawyers to take death penalty cases and sets a five-year timeline for appeals. Opponents sued to invalidate the measure, which was set to take effect last month, but the high court stayed implementation and ordered briefing on the case this month.

"There are individual provisions of this measure that raise serious constitutional issues," said Gerald Uelmen, a Santa Clara law professor emeritus who served as the chief executive of a state commission that examined California's death penalty system. "I would expect the court is going to strike down at least some provisions."

Volkswagen won't be able to escape a proposed securities fraud class action against it, after the District Court for the Northern District of California rejected the company's motion to dismiss yesterday. The suit stems from the revelation in September 2015 that Volkswagen had been using software designed to cheat emissions tests in its "clean diesel" vehicles. Members of the class action, largely municipal pension funds, accuse Volkswagen of making material misrepresentations over its compliance with environmental regulations.

Volkswagen argued that the alleged securities offenses were outside the reach of U.S. securities law, since they involved foreign shares on a foreign exchange in Germany -- an argument Judge Charles Breyer rejected.

CA Begins Zero Tolerance for Drivers Holding Cell Phones

This just in: Hold a cell phone, get a ticket.

California's new cell phone law makes it illegal to hold a cell phone while driving. It doesn't matter whether you are just listening to music or checking the GPS for directions, it's against the law.

The fine for holding a cell phone is $20 for the first offense; $50 for subsequent tickets. It is the same for using a hand-held cell phone, but increases to $76 for the first offense, $190 thereafter, with penalties and assessments.

CA Supreme Court Rejects Manson Follower Leslie Van Houten's Petition for Parole

The California Supreme Court has rejected a petition to release Leslie Van Houten, who was convicted in the infamous Manson murders half a century ago.

Van Houten, 67, was a follower of Charles Manson in the 1969 slaughter of seven people in the Los Angeles area. She participated in the stabbing deaths of Leo and Rosemary LaBianca, but not the killings of actress Sharon Tate and four of her friends. Tate, who was pregnant, was stabbed 16 times.

The supreme court refused to hear Van Houten's petition, which sought to overturn Governor Jerry Brown's decision to reject a parole board recommendation for her release in July. A judge upheld the governor's decision in October, leading to the petition to the high court.

CA Supreme Court Slows Down Speedy Death Law

The California Supreme Court has stayed a voter-approved measure to speed up death penalty cases, giving opponents time to press their case through the court

Prop. 66, which was certified for implementation last week, authorizes more lawyers to take death penalty cases and sets a five-year timeline for appeals. Opponents have sued to invalidate the measure.

In a one-page order, the court said it was providing "time for further consideration" of a pending legal challenge "to permit the filing and consideration of papers in opposition to the petition." The court said the parties should complete their briefs in January.

Court Revives CNN Discrimination Suit

Slapping back an employer's free speech defense, a state appeals court said a fired producer may proceed in his discrimination case against CNN.

The Second District Court of Appeal reversed a decision on the network's motion under California's law limiting strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP). An appellate panel rejected the company's claim, saying the law did not apply to an employer's allegedly discriminatory actions.

In a split decision, the Second District said CNN failed to show the plaintiff's claim "arises from an act in furtherance" of the employer's right of free speech in connection with a public issue. The alleged acts of discrimination and retaliation against Wilson "are not acts in furtherance" of CNN's free speech rights, Justice Elwood Lui wrote for the majority.