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Name: People v. Fay (2024) 101 Cal.App.5th 767
Case #: B328209
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 04/29/2024

Judgment reversed where prosecutor’s misstatement of the mental state for implied malice murder was not harmless error. The prosecutor misstated the law regarding the mental state required for implied malice when it told the jury that the mental state element was met if the defendant did not “care if someone is hurt or killed.” This is inconsistent with the requirement that a defendant act with conscious disregard for human life. The trial court compounded this error by telling the jury that the prosecutor’s statement was based on “case law decisions.” Prior to the comment, the jurors had been divided on…

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Name: People v. Serrano (2024) 100 Cal.App.5th 1324
Case #: A166011
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 5
Opinion Date: 03/28/2024

Sufficient evidence supported the jury’s finding that defendant acted with premeditation and deliberation where he methodically pumped and aimed a shotgun at two peace officers. Serrano went on a crime spree that culminated in his shooting a rifle at two uniformed officers who approached him following a car crash. He was found guilty by jury of two counts of premeditated attempted murder of a peace officer, among other crimes. Serrano appealed, arguing there was insufficient evidence supporting the findings of premeditation and deliberation. Held: Affirmed. After the considering the categories of evidence set forth in People v. Anderson (1968) 70…

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Name: People v. Nunez (2023) 97 Cal.App.5th 362
Case #: G061346
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 11/20/2023

Provocation to reduce first degree murder to second degree murder must come from the victim, not a third party. After hearing a rumor that the victim had raped a child, and being encouraged to exact revenge, defendants Gallegos and Nunez chased and beat the victim with metal pipes, and Gallegos stabbed him with a knife six times. In response to a jury question, the trial court instructed that in order for provocation to reduce first degree murder to second degree murder, the provocation must come from the victim, not a third party. Gallegos was convicted of first degree murder and related…

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Name: People v. Suazo (2023) 95 Cal.App.5th 681
Case #: F082140
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 5 DCA
Opinion Date: 09/19/2023

A predrinking intent to drive is not required before a jury may find implied malice supporting a second degree Watson murder (People v. Watson (1981) 30 Cal.3d 290). Defendant, while intoxicated, drove his vehicle at a high rate of speed off the highway and into an area occupied by an adjacent tractor supply business. When the vehicle hit agricultural equipment the passenger was ejected and killed. Defendant fled. He was convicted of second degree implied malice Watson murder, as well as other counts. He appealed. Held: Remanded for resentencing. Defendant contended the evidence was insufficient to support his murder conviction,…

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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: Counterman v. Colorado (2023) __ U.S. __ [143 S.Ct. 2106]
Case #: 22-138
Court: US Supreme Court
Opinion Date: 06/27/2023

Majority opinion: Justice Kagan delivered the opinion of the court, in which Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Kavanaugh, and Jackson joined.
Concurring opinion: Justice Sotomayor filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Justice Gorsuch joined in part.
Dissenting opinions: Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion. Justice Barrett filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Thomas joined.

In a prosecution based on true threats, the First Amendment requires proof of the defendant’s subjective mens rea—the prosecution must show he consciously disregarded a substantial risk that his communications would be viewed as threatening violence. A jury…

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Name: People v. Reyes (2023) 14 Cal.5th 981
Case #: S270723
Court: CA Supreme Court
Opinion Date: 06/29/2023

Opinion by: Justice Liu (unanimous decision)

Trial court’s conclusion that Penal Code section 1170.95 (now 1172.6) petitioner’s second degree murder conviction was sustainable on a direct perpetrator theory was not supported by substantial evidence. After traveling with fellow gang members on bikes to rival gang territory, Reyes was present when Lopez shot and killed a person. Reyes was convicted of second degree murder with gang and firearm enhancements. He later filed a petition for resentencing under section 1172.6, arguing that he was convicted of murder under the now-invalid natural and probable consequences theory. After a (d)(3) hearing, the trial court denied…

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Name: In re Ferrell (2023) 14 Cal.5th 593
Case #: S265798
Court: CA Supreme Court
Opinion Date: 04/06/2023

The jury’s true finding on a firearm enhancement (Pen. Code, § 12022.53, subd. (d)) did not render Chun error harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Ferrell was convicted of the second degree murder of his fellow-gang member who was killed when Ferrell fired two shots at the end of a gang fight. The jury also found that Ferrell intentionally discharged a firearm and caused death in committing his offense (Pen. Code, § 12022.53, subd. (d)). At trial, the prosecutor’s presented three theories for murder: express malice, implied malice, or felony murder based on the willful discharge of a firearm in a…

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Name: People v. Ocegueda (2023) 92 Cal.App.5th 548
Case #: G061077
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 06/14/2023

CALCRIM Nos. 521, 522, and 570, taken together, adequately state the law as to how provocation can reduce first degree murder to second degree murder, and reduce murder to voluntary manslaughter. Appellant and the victim agreed to fight. When the victim’s friend intervened, appellant got angry and left to get two knives. He found the victim and slashed him across the chest. After the victim escaped, appellant continued to follow him, then stabbed the victim twice, resulting in the victim’s death. A jury convicted appellant of first degree murder. He appealed, arguing that the trial court misinstructed the jury on…

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Name: People v. Middleton (2023) 91 Cal.App.5th 749
Case #: B312583
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 7
Opinion Date: 05/18/2023

A defendant violates Penal Code section 236.1(c) when the defendant attempts, but fails, to traffic an actual minor, even if the defendant lacks specific intent regarding the victim’s age, and mistake of fact as to age is not a defense. Middleton was convicted of human trafficking of a minor for a commercial sex act under the attempt prong of section 236.1(c), and other related offenses. On appeal, she argued the trial court erred by not instructing the jury that the People had to prove specific intent as to age, and by instructing the jury that mistake of fact as to…

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