Tuesday, August 30, 2011

People v. Torres: Transporting and Possessing Alcohol in Prison are Two Separate Criminal Acts

In People v. Torres, the Second Appellate District determined the acts of bringing alcohol into a jail facility and possessing alcohol in a jail facility are two separate punishable crimes that each have its own objective.

Alfonso Torres and Adan Barajas were two inmates at a minimum security prison fire camp who snuck alcohol into the facility with the help from a civilian. A correctional officer saw a car drive onto the facility making a stop at a trash can. The driver got out of the car and placed two trash bags in the trash can. The civilian quickly drove off while honking several times. Moments later, Torres and Barajas ran to the trash can, picked up the trash bags, and ran back to a nearby building.

To prove that Torres and Barajas “knowingly” brought alcohol onto the jail’s facility, the court explained several circumstances that showed they were fully aware of the crime they committed. A civilian cooperated with the defendants to successfully transport the contraband onto the jail’s facility. The trash can was a predetermined location for the civilian to inconspicuously drop off the items using trash bags. Upon driving off the premises, the civilian honked, issuing a signal to the defendants to grab the trash bags before a garbage man or a correctional officer could get a hold of it. Moreover, Barajas was heard saying “Which one is mine”, showing that he already knew what the bag contained. 

Although Torres argued that Penal Code §654 “precludes that no act or omission be punished under more than one provision”, the court explained that there were two separate objectives that distinguish two crimes had occurred. The first crime was completed when the alcohol was transported onto the prison camp. The objective shifted to possession when Torres and Barajas took the trash bags.

The Second Appellate District affirmed judgment on Torres and Barajas’s convictions, holding that there were two crimes that were committed and sentencing them for each crime.

-California Court of Appeals, 2nd Appellate District, 2nd Div., August 15, 2011; B226903

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Collecting DNA is Ruled Unconstitutional in CA Court of Appeals

With the advancement of technology, there has been a controversy in the legal community surrounding the seizure of DNA samples from felony arrestees. California’s DNA Act was amended in 2004, enabling law enforcement officials to take DNA samples from any adult arrested for or charged with a felony. This act led to the recent case of People v. Buza, where Mark Buza was convicted of arson, but still argued that his mandatory cheek swab violated his Fourth Amendment right.
In Buza, the Court of Appeals argued that obtaining DNA samples were a violation of the felony arrestees Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. Justices Anthony Kline, James Lambden and James Richman sided with Buza, deeming DNA sampling unconstitutional. When compared to fingerprinting, Kline dismissed that argument and said they were obtained for “identification purposes and not to solve crimes.” Moreover, Kline stated in his opinion for Buza, “even if DNA testing of arrestees was demonstrably valuable to law enforcement, the effectiveness of a crime-fighting technology does not render it constitutional.”

The First District Court of Appeals agreed with Buza and mandated it unconstitutional for DNA samples to be taken from felony arrestees.

-California Court of Appeals, 1st Appellate District, 2nd Div., August 4, 2011; A125542

Monday, August 1, 2011

Implied Malice Theory

In People v. Canizalez, the Second Appellate District affirmed judgment on the convictions for Robert Canizalez and Martin Morones. On a busy city street, the two defendants engaged in a street drag race that ended in a collision with another car. The other car immediately burst into flames, killing the occupants, whom were a mother and her two young children.

Both Canizalez and Morones appealed, believing there was an insufficient amount of evidence supporting the prosecution’s argument for implied malice. The defendants argued that the elements of the incident did not prove they were aware of the danger involved in their actions and it also did not show they were lacking a conscious regard for life. The court of appeals disagreed, and affirmed judgment from the lower court.

Contrary to the defendants’ argument for appeal, the court of appeals provided an overwhelming amount of evidence that supported the implied malice theory. For instance, Canizalez and Morones were well aware of the danger from racing in the streets because they are long time residents of the neighborhood where the incident occurred and are familiar with its traffic conditions. Hours before the collision, witnesses saw Canizalez driving recklessly in the neighborhood, speeding and making sharp U-turns. Both defendants have participated in street drag racing and have adapted their cars to engage in that type of car racing. Moreover, they tried to eliminate evidence that showed they were involved in the crash by pushing one of the cars away and quickly leaving the scene. Canizalez and Morones did not attempt to help the victims or even inquire about their condition. With these given facts, the court of appeals found their actions to be in support of the implied malice theory, rejecting the defendant’s argument.

-California Court of Appeals, 2nd Appellate District, 2nd Div., July 20,2011; B218515