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Articles Posted in Criminal Appeals

Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in a case that could have broad implications for juveniles who are serving life sentences for a California murder conviction.

The case, Jones. v. Mississippi, involves a defendant who stabbed his grandfather to death when he was just 15 years old. After the jury found the defendant guilty, the judge sentenced him to what was then a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole. The defendant’s convictions were affirmed on appeal. However, in a petition for post-conviction relief, the Mississippi Supreme Court granted the defendant’s request for a resentencing, solely to determine if he should ever be eligible for parole.

After the court granted the defendant’s resentencing request, but before the sentencing hearing, the U.S. Supreme Court released a monumental opinion regarding JLWOP cases (juvenile life without the possibility of parole). The case was Miller v. Alabama, in which the court held that a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole for a juvenile offender violates the Eighth Amendment’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a California violation of probation case, discussing whether the defendant was entitled to the benefit of Senate Bill 620, even though the time to appeal his underlying conviction had passed. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant was entitled to a resentencing, based on the language of SB 620 and the holding in the recent case, People v. McKenzie.

The Facts of the Case

The details of the allegations leading to the defendant’s arrest and conviction are not particularly relevant to this post-conviction matter. However, briefly, according to the court’s opinion, the defendant plead guilty to robbery and felony assault. In addition, the defendant admitted to using a firearm, resulting in a firearm enhancement. The agreement was that the defendant would be sentenced to 10 years in jail, but it would be suspended in favor of placing the defendant on probation.

The following year, the defendant was arrested for violating his probation. The judge then imposed thfrontBanner-300x152e 10-year suspended sentence. The defendant appealed, arguing that he was entitled to a hearing in which he could ask the trial judge to strike the firearms enhancement.

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Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court reversed the death sentence Scott Peterson received after being convicted for the 2002 murder of his wife and unborn child. In more recent news, the state’s high court ordered a trial judge to review the merits of one of Peterson’s post-conviction claims.

Specifically, the high court was concerned about Peterson’s claim that one of the jurors on his case failed to disclose that she had once feared for her unborn child when her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend harassed her. Evidently, the juror had to take out a restraining order against the woman, who was charged based on the juror’s allegations and ultimately spent a week in jail.

The juror’s failure to disclose this pertinent information, Peterson argued, consisted of “prejudicial misconduct.” In Peterson’s court filings, he notes that the juror seemed as though she “wanted” to be on the jury so that she could convict Peterson for his alleged crimes. Peterson notes that the juror’s employer did not offer to pay her for the time she would be on the jury, and that she agreed to sit on the jury even though it would take several months.

Sadly, the United States Supreme Court lost Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after serving on the Court since 1993. The loss of Justice Ginsburg is a tragedy in many respects. However, in terms of her efforts to make the criminal law fairer for all defendants, her work will especially be missed. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not a criminal defense attorney by trade. However, she was stalwart in her belief that the laws of the United States — especially for those facing serious crimes such as California homicide offenses — should be fair for all. These beliefs led most to consider her the most defendant-friendly justice on the Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court consists of nine justices. With Justice Ginsburg’s passing, the Court will now consist of eight justices until a new justice is confirmed. With Justice Ginsburg no longer a part of the court, legal commentators are questioning how the Court will rule on several important issues. For example, the following are issues that are either in front of the Court this term, or may come up in future terms.

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Life without the possibility of parole for children:

We are excited to announce the addition of Sandy to our team. Sandy has accepted the role of Law Firm Manager with Barhoma Law! Sandy previously was an executive assistant. Through her diligence, she has accepted a promotion to Law Firm Manager.

Sandy provides excellent rigior and culture to the Barhoma Law team. Adamant about constantly making progress, Sandy does not allow any of our cases to linger. Being that we are California Criminal Appeals lawyers and Los Angeles Business Litigation attorneys, we cannot have cases linger in progress or in the Courts, especially given the added complications of COVID-19 delays.

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Sandy, Barhoma Law, P.C.’s new Law Firm Manager

Last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California homicide case discussing the defendant’s challenge to the lower court’s decision not to admit certain evidence pertaining to the victim. Ultimately, the court agreed with the defendant, reversing his conviction for murder in the second degree.

In any California criminal trial, one of the many roles of the judge is to act as a gatekeeper of the evidence. Relying on the California Evidence Code, the court will determine which evidence is admissible. Often, these decisions are made in pre-trial motions in limine, but occasionally an issue will arise mid-trial requiring the judge to render a decision before continuing on with the case. Usually, in that predicament, the judge will make a mid-trial ruling outside the presence of the jury, so as to not prejudice the jury.

In this case, the defendant was charged for murder related to the shooting death of another man. The evidence showed that the defendant and the victim each fired shots at each other. While the victim shot 15 shots, missing each time, the defendant shot twice, killing the victim.

Earlier this month, the state’s high court overturned the 2004 death sentence for Scott Peterson, for the murder of his wife, Laci Peterson. Back in 2002, Laci Peterson, seven months pregnant at the time, went missing on Christmas Eve. A few months later, her body washed ashore near Berkeley, California. A short time later, Scott Peterson was arrested and charged with capital murder. The prosecution sought the death penalty.

As is standard in capital jury trials, the trial was bifurcated into two phases. First, in the guilt phase, the jury was tasked with determining whether the prosecution proved that Peterson killed his wife beyond a reasonable doubt. After the jury found Peterson guilty, the trial moved on to the penalty phase.

At the penalty phase of a capital trial, the jury must decide if a defendant should be sentenced to death or if a sentence of life without the possibility of parole would be more appropriate. In the Peterson case, the jury recommended a death sentence, which was imposed by the trial judge on March 6, 2005.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a California post-conviction case discussing whether the defendant was entitled to a new sentencing hearing. Ultimately, the court concluded that the lower court failed to consider the required “youth-related mitigating factors” at sentencing. As a result, the court remanded the case so the defendant could be re-sentenced.

The Facts of the Case

As is often the case in post-conviction matters, the underlying facts of the crime are less important than the procedural history of the case. Here, the defendant was charged with murder related to a robbery in 2015. Evidently, the defendant and a group of friends attempted to rob a man. When the man refused to hand over his backpack, the defendant beat the man with a metal baseball bat. The man died later that evening. At the time of the offense, the defendant was 17 years old.

The defendant was tried and convicted in front of a jury. After the jury returned a guilty verdict, the court sentenced the defendant to life without the possibility of parole. In doing so, the court relied on section 190.2(a)(17), which dictates that murder committed during the course of an enumerated felony is an aggravating circumstance to be used at sentencing. However, nowhere in the record did the court consider the defendant’s youth-related mitigation factors.

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California Criminal Appeals Attorney Wins Multiple SB 1437 Cases Within Six Month Span

Attorney Matthew Barhoma, founder of Barhoma Law, P.C., was successful at attaining multiple SB 1437 successes within a six-month span in 2019. Through our renowned criminal appeals process, attorney Matthew Barhoma was able to achieve these successes, all of which are outlined below.

SB 1437 is a January 2019 law that has ended the practice of assigning homicide convictions to defendants who never committed a homicide nor “acted with reckless indifference to human life”. Traditionally, under the Felony Murder Rule, if you were a co-defendant in a felony, and a homicide occurred throughout the commission of that felony, you were convicted with a homicide conviction under the natural and probable consequences doctrine. And this occurred regardless of whether you indeed acted with reckless indifference or even participated in the homicide. As such, under the old law, even if you were never physically present, nor authorized the commission of the homicide, you were still sentenced to a homicide sentence. Now, the law is different and more targeted to only those who intended to kill and/or acted with reckless indifference to human life in carrying out the homicide.

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