California Criminal Law News - California Case Law
California Case Law - The FindLaw California Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal Opinion Summaries Blog

Recently in Criminal Law Category

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Maryland law that allowed police to collect and store DNA from arrestees. This put a wrench in a California case called People v. Buza, centering on the validity of California's own DNA collection law.

The First District Court of Appeal decided Buza in the defendant's favor in 2011. On a petition for review, the state supreme court sent it back for reconsideration in light of King. Last week, the court of appeal reached the same conclusion: California's DNA collection law violates the state constitution.

Seasoned prosecutors and defense attorneys know that, despite what many courts have held over the years, jurors don't follow jury instructions. They just don't. And they especially don't pay attention to the admonishment that they can't take into account a defendant's failure to testify.

Yeah, right. Though Sarah Koenig may have been shocked to learn that on a previous episode of the "Serial" podcast, the rest of us know that taking the Fifth raises jurors' suspicions. (If he didn't do it, why won't he tell us his side of the story?) The California Supreme Court on Monday ruled on whether it's automatically misconduct for jurors to come to that conclusion.

Debt collectors have been accused of using shady tactics in order to collect, but a class action lawsuit filed in San Francisco this week really takes the cake. Kevin Breazeale claims that he and others received letters "threatening them with criminal prosecution unless they paid alleged debts arising from dishonored checks. The letters all bore the seal and letterhead of a county district attorney."

As it turns out, the letters didn't come from a district attorney, but from a private debt collection firm called CorrectiveSolutions. And guess what? The district attorney allowed the company to use his seal and letterhead.

Here we are again. In 2007, Anna Nicole Smith died from an apparent overdose of legally prescribed drugs. In 2009, Smith's domestic partner and agent Howard K. Stern was charged -- along with a Dr. Khristene Eroshevich -- with conspiracy to provide prescription drugs under false names.

Stern was convicted by a jury on two counts of conspiracy and acquitted on nine other counts. Stern moved for a new trial, which the trial court granted, and dismissed the conspiracy counts, finding that Stern used a false name to obtain prescription drugs for Smith "only to protect her privacy."

A police officer's personnel file could be a gold mine for a defendant -- past misconduct, especially the really juicy stuff like beating a defendant or falsifying a police report, could destroy an officer's credibility and sway an otherwise teetering jury.

But who screens those police files to determine whether they should be turned over? The California Supreme Court unanimously voted to take up the issue in an appeal of an intermediate court's ruling that prosecutors, not police officers, should screen the files, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Every fearful conversation that I have heard from gun owners and conspiracy theorists has finally come true in California: The government can come seize your guns, though only if a family member claims that you are a danger to yourself or others.

Still, that's not going to assuage the fears of many gun owners out there. Assembly Bill 1014, drafted after the Santa Barbara shooting and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, creates the Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO), a set of procedures that piggybacks the current Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO) system. The law will allow police officers to temporarily seize the restrained party's firearms, reports Reuters.

Here are the specifics of the legislation, which is set to take effect on January 1, 2016:

This is the second in a series about this year's California ballot propositions. Hopefully we can help sort out the wheat from the chaff when it comes to claims about what these propositions do and don't do. In case you missed it, here's our discussion of Proposition 46.

After years of brutal, "tough on crime" punishment, the United States -- and California -- has decided that maybe mandatory minimums, harsh sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, and Draconian recidivism statutes aren't the way to go after all. In 2012, the state amended its "Three Strikes" law to make the mandatory 25-to-life sentence applicable only if the third strike is a violent felony. Just this week, Gov. Brown signed a law that eliminated the crack/cocaine sentencing disparity in state law.

Now comes Proposition 47, which seeks to "ensure that prison spending is focused on violent and serious offenses." Cue the disingenuous claims that child molesters will get released directly into elementary school playgrounds in 3, 2, 1 ...

In the wake of Facebook threats, which are becoming all the rage these days at the U.S. Supreme Court, the California Supreme Court had occasion to address the law of attempting to make a criminal threat.

Fairly recently -- just in 2001 -- the state supreme court recognized the existence of attempting to make a criminal threat. The elements are basically the same as in the completed crime, except that, because of circumstances outside the defendant's control, the threat doesn't reach the intended victim, or the victim doesn't understand the threat, or doesn't construe it as a threat.

In People v. Chandler, the court -- in an opinion by newish Justice Goodwin Liu -- had to decide whether attempting to make a threat required only a subjective intent to threaten, or additionally required that the threat be objectively threatening to a reasonable person.

"[She is] attracted to women. OK? She has the motive. I'm not saying that everyone who's attracted to women is going to attack children or going to molest children, but we know that she is attracted to females, and [the victim] is a female child."

That, folks, is an improper argument: sexual orientation as motive for molesting a child. And when the defendant's counsel pointed out the impropriety of the argument in his own closing, and argued that the prosecutor showed them the booking photo of the accused to further that argument, the prosecutor doubled down:

"Does she look like a lesbian to you? Of course, not every lesbian looks like that. But you have to ask yourself, why would a woman dress this way? Why would a woman have her hair that short? Is it because she is sexually attracted to other females? It had evidentiary value. And the defendant is charged with sexually molesting a female child, so her sexual orientation and whether or not she's ever had a boyfriend or whether or not she's attracted to females or whether or not she looks like this when she's arrested and then looks like that for trial is absolutely relevant."

Richard Tom crashed into a car in 2007 and killed one of the occupants. He was tried and convicted of manslaughter. As part of its case, the prosecution brought up the fact that Tom hadn't once inquired about the other car's passengers at the scene of the accident. Though Tom didn't bring the Fifth Amendment self-incrimination issue up on appeal, the Court of Appeal did, and reversed his conviction.

So, was Tom's Fifth Amendment privilege violated when the trial court admitted evidence that he "failed to inquire about the welfare of the occupants of the other vehicle"? Yes, said the Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision.