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Name: People v. Ruiz (2023) 97 Cal.App.5th 1068
Case #: B324477
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 6
Opinion Date: 12/13/2023

The resentencing court committed harmless error when it considered inapplicable aggravators to impose upper terms after Senate Bill No. 567 amended Penal Code section 1170. Ruiz was convicted of assault with a firearm with various enhancements, and this is his third appeal. His case had previously been remanded to the trial court for resentencing due to sentencing errors and new laws that applied in his case. At Ruiz’s second resentencing (which occurred after SB 567’s effective date), the trial court imposed a 4-year upper term on the assault with a firearm charge and the 10-year upper term for a firearm-use…

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Name: People v. Schuller (2023) 15 Cal.5th 237
Case #: S272237
Court: CA Supreme Court
Opinion Date: 08/17/2023

Opinion by: Justice Groban (unanimous decision). Justice Liu filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Evans concurred.

When a defendant presents substantial evidence of imperfect self-defense, the trial court’s failure to instruct on that theory precludes the jury from making a factual finding essential to prove the malice element of murder, and results in federal constitutional error. Schuller was convicted of first degree murder and found sane at the time of the killing. On appeal he argued the trial court’s refusal to instruct on imperfect self-defense was federal constitutional error. The Court of Appeal agreed the trial court erred in failing…

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Name: People v. Vivar
Case #: S260270
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 05/03/2021

An independent standard of review, under which an appellate court determines whether the facts satisfy the rule of law, applies to all prejudice determinations under Penal Code section 1473.7, subdivision (a)(1). Vivar entered the United States from Mexico in 1962 at the age of six. In 2002, he was prosecuted for attempting to steal Sudafed from a store. He rejected a deportation-neutral plea offer for burglary with a low-term prison sentence and accepted a plea to possession of materials with the intent to manufacture methamphetamine (Health & Saf. Code, § 11383, subd. (c)), which included probation and drug treatment. This…

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Name: People v. Stutelberg
Case #: D073266
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 11/21/2018

Erroneous jury instructions allowing jury to conclude that a box cutter is an inherently deadly weapon constituted legal error, requiring reversal of one count. During an altercation outside a bar, Stutelberg jabbed a box cutter at Michelle and Chris, cutting Michelle's head but not injuring Chris. Stutelberg was convicted of mayhem with a deadly weapon enhancement (Pen. Code, §§ 203, 12022, subd. (b)(1)) as to Michelle, and assault with a deadly weapon (Pen. Code, § 245, subd. (a)(1)) as to Chris. As to both deadly weapon allegations, the jury was instructed that a box cutter could be considered…

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Name: In re Loza
Case #: G054978
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 09/28/2018

Premeditated murder conviction reversed where record did not reflect whether the verdict was based on a theory of direct aiding and abetting or a natural and probable consequences theory, which was invalidated in People v. Chiu (2014) 59 Cal.4th 155. In 2004, Cesar Loza handed a gun to a fellow gang member, who shot and killed a rival gang member. Loza was convicted of first degree premeditated murder. On appeal, he argued the instructions allowed the jury to convict him on an invalid theory of natural and probable consequences rather than a direct aider and abettor theory. Held: Reversed. An…

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Name: People v. Gonzalez
Case #: S234377
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 06/04/2018

Although the trial court erroneously failed to instruct on murder with malice aforethought, its lesser included offenses, and defenses, the jury's finding on a robbery special circumstance rendered the error harmless. Three defendants were convicted of first degree felony murder and the jury found true a special circumstance allegation that the murder was committed during a robbery. Firearm allegations were found not true. On appeal, the defendants argued the trial court's failure to instruct on the lesser included offenses (LIOs) of murder with malice aforethought, its lesser offenses, and its defenses was prejudicial error. The Court of Appeal determined any…

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Name: People v. Aledamat
Case #: B282911
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 03/01/2018

Conviction for assault with a deadly weapon reversed where the instructions permitted the jury to convict on the legally invalid theory that a box cutter was an inherently deadly weapon. The defendant thrust the exposed blade of a box cutter toward a man while threatening to kill him. The jury convicted him of assault with a deadly weapon and making criminal threats, and found true an allegation that he personally used a deadly and dangerous weapon. The jury instructions defined "a deadly weapon" as "any object, instrument, or weapon that is inherently deadly or one that is…

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Name: People v. Merritt
Case #: S231644
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 03/20/2017

Trial court's error in failing to instruct the jury on the elements of robbery was not reversible per se and was instead harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Merritt was charged with robbery. The trial court failed to instruct the jury on any of the elements of robbery aside from the requisite mental state and the jury convicted him. The Court of Appeal concluded the error was reversible per se under People v. Cummings (1993) 4 Cal.4th 1233. The Supreme Court granted review. Held: Reversed. While Cummings held that a failure to instruct the jury on all or nearly all the…

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Name: People v. Forrest
Case #: B261130
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 01/25/2017

Prosecutor's misstatements concerning the interplay between voluntary intoxication and intent in a first degree murder trial were forfeited and harmless. Forrest shot his wife in the head then moved her body into a bath tub and disemboweled her. He documented the process and his thoughts in writing. His defenses were voluntary intoxication and heat of passion. The jury convicted him of first degree murder. He appealed, arguing, among other things, that the prosecutor committed misconduct during closing argument by misstating the law concerning the impact of voluntary intoxication. Held: Affirmed. As a threshold matter, Forrest forfeited the contention because…

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Name: People v. Vega-Robles
Case #: A137121
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 05/05/2015
Subsequent History: Review granted 7/29/2015: S226913

First degree premeditated murder conviction reversed because it may have been based on the natural and probable consequences doctrine. Vega-Robles was convicted of numerous gang-related crimes, including the first degree murder of Grockett. The evidence at trial showed that Vega-Robles imported large quantities of methamphetamine from Mexico and sold it to two different gangs: FAIM and RST. Those gangs, in turn, re-sold the meth to lower-level dealers, including Grockett. Vega-Robles and others, including a FAIM gang member, shot and killed Grockett due to a disagreement over the price of the drugs. The jury had been instructed, and the prosecution…

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