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Name: People v. Lashon
Case #: A163074
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 01/08/2024

Defendant’s claim under the Racial Justice Act (RJA) was forfeited where she had an opportunity file an RJA motion in the trial court but instead raised the claim for the first time on direct appeal. Lashon was convicted of second degree and first degree murder, with true findings of multiple murders, and sentenced to LWOP. She appealed, contending in her opening brief for the first time that the judgment was the result of the trial judge’s implicit racial bias against her and her trial counsel in violation of the RJA (Pen. Code, § 745). In its first opinion, the Court of Appeal held that a defendant cannot raise a claim under the RJA for the first time on appeal. The California Supreme Court granted Lashon’s petition for review and transferred the case back to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration in light of Assembly Bill No. 1118 (effective 1/1/2024), which authorizes a defendant to raise an RJA claim based on the trial record on direct appeal from the conviction or sentence. Held: Affirmed. A violation of the RJA occurs if during defendant’s court proceedings, a trial judge “exhibited bias or animus towards the defendant because of the defendant’s race, ethnicity, or national origin, whether or not purposeful.” (§ 745, subd. (a)(2).) Prior to AB 1118, a defendant had to file a motion in the trial court or, if judgment had been imposed, file a habeas petition to seek RJA relief. (§ 745, subd. (b).) The Court of Appeal analyzed the RJA, including the amendments made by AB 1118 and its legislative history, and concluded “a defendant may be found to have forfeited a section 745 claim of racial bias made for the first time on direct appeal in the absence of a showing that an exception to the forfeiture doctrine applies.” The RJA was enacted before Lashon’s trial began and was made applicable to all cases then pending in the trial courts. Lashon forfeited her section 745 claim on direct appeal by not filing a motion in the trial court before judgment was entered and she did not show that an exception to the forfeiture rule applied. [Editor’s Note: The Court of Appeal noted that “[e]ven if [Lashon’s] counsel did not want to antagonize the trial judge during the trial, a section 745 motion could have been filed immediately after the trial judge gave her reasons for choosing the sentence she was about to impose.”]

There was no basis to stay the appeal and remand the case to the trial court for defendant to file an RJA motion. AB 1118 also authorizes a defendant to move to stay the appeal and request remand to the superior court to file an RJA motion. Lashon filed a separate motion in the Court of Appeal requesting that the court stay the appeal and remand the case. Based on the circumstances of the case, the Court of Appeal did not find good cause to grant the request. The stay and remand procedure was designed to permit the trial court to rule on the claim in the first instance, and to allow the parties to fully litigate the issue. In her motion to stay the appeal, Lashon did not identify what factual development is needed regarding her RJA claim and simply maintained that the record was sufficient to require a hearing to determine if the trial judge exhibited implicit bias. The Court of Appeal determined this was not enough. “As Lashon both had the opportunity to raise a CRJA violation and develop the record in the trial court and fails to identify what factual development (if any) is now needed in the trial court,” the court declined to stay and remand the matter. [Editor’s Note: The court noted that this does not leave Lashon without an adequate remedy because the claim can be raised in a habeas petition (which Lashon has done).]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: