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

January 2017 Archives

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.

California lawyers, it's that time of year again: time to settle your account with the bar. Annual membership fees are due by March 1st. The deadline for reporting MCLE compliance is also fast approaching, if you're an attorney with a last name beginning with letters N-Z.

Don't expect the bar to send you a bill in the mail, however. For the first time, the California Bar Association is requiring members to pay through the state bar's website. And that's not the only change this year.

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.

In the summer of 2014, Brandon Duncan and Aaron Harvey were arrested in connection to their rap lyrics and social media posts and were accused of violating an obscure California law making it illegal to promote gang activity. They were kept in detention for months, before their charges were ultimately dismissed.

Now the two are suing, alleging that their arrests violated their First and Fourth Amendment rights.

If you're a California lawyer with a stand-alone blog, you can probably keep blogging without worrying that your posts are violating rules on attorney advertising. That's because the State Bar of California's ethics committee recently finalized an ethics opinion holding that many common forms of attorney blogging don't count as communications subject to attorney advertising rules.

There are some important caveats, however, especially regarding blogs on your firm website. Here's what you need to know.

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.

Los Angeles Representative Xavier Becerra is one step closer to becoming the state's next attorney general, having earned the endorsement of a special Assembly panel yesterday.

Becerra won the panel's approval after a two-hour hearing on Tuesday, during which he pledged to defend state policies that clashed with the incoming presidential administration and declared that "Everyone -- and I mean everyone -- who plays by California's rules deserves to know: 'We've got your back.'"

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."

Taxi Company Shuts Down for Failure to Pay Workers' Comp

A workers' compensation case has put a California taxi company out of business.

Faced with more than $500,000 in fines, A-C Transportation Services, Inc. closed the doors on 20 cabbies on Dec. 31, 2016. The Department of Industrial Relations announced that the closure was part of a settlement based on the company's failure to provide workers' compensation for its drivers.

Kevin and Jennifer Kroh, who also did business as Healdsburg Cab Company, agreed in the settlement to pay a fine of $200,000 and to cease doing business. They had argued unsuccessfully that the drivers were independent contractors rather than employees, and not entitled to workers' compensation.

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.