At the Supreme Court’s conference yesterday, actions of note included:

  • Supreme Court allows Governor to commute murder sentence.
  • Water rates. The court issued writs of review in California-American Water Company v. Public Utilities Commission and Golden State Water Company v. Public Utilities Commission. Public Utilities Code section 1756, subdivision (f), provides that review of most “decisions pertaining solely to water corporations shall only be by petition for writ of review in the Supreme Court.” (See also rule 8.724.) Both petitions, which were filed seven and 12 months ago, respectively, challenge — largely on procedural grounds — two PUC decisions revoking prior authorization for some water utilities to use billing systems the petitions say are crucial both to water conservation and to the water companies’ financial stability. Those systems impose tiered rates on users according to water usage and also allow possible surcharges for unanticipated revenue shortages. The petitions, PUC answer, and a joint reply are here, here, here, and here.
  • Parole violations. The court also granted review in People v. Faial, apparently to decide just how retroactive is Assembly Bill 1950, 2020 legislation that shortened the maximum probation time for many felonies to two years. The published portion of the First District, Division Three, Court of Appeal opinion upheld the superior court’s pre-AB 1950 revocation of the defendant’s four-year probation and its consequent execution of a 12-year prison sentence, even though the defendant didn’t violate his probation until more than two years into the probationary period. Division Three concluded that AB 1950 “applies retroactively to defendants who were serving a term of probation when the legislation became effective,” but said “[t]here is no indication that Assembly Bill 1950 was intended to extinguish a defendant’s accountability for probation violations, or to otherwise invalidate revocation and termination orders predating” the legislation’s effective date. Faial seems related to People v. Prudholme, a case which the Supreme Court un-held this past December.
  • Racially discriminatory prosecution. After a divided Fourth District, Division Three, summarily denied a writ petition, the Supreme Court granted review and sent the case back for a decision on the merits in Jenkins v. Superior Court. The defendant is claiming a violation of Penal Code section 745, subdivision (a)(3), which provides relief for a defendant on proof that he or she “was charged or convicted of a more serious offense than defendants of other races, ethnicities, or national origins who commit similar offenses and are similarly situated, and . . . that the prosecution more frequently sought or obtained convictions for more serious offenses against people who share the defendant’s race, ethnicity, or national origin in the county where the convictions were sought or obtained.” The dissent asserted the defendant had made a prima facie case of, and was thus entitled to a hearing on, racial discrimination in charging Black defendants with felony-murder special circumstance penalty enhancements in Orange County.
  • Veteran’s resentencing. The court denied review in People v. Pixley, but Justices Goodwin Liu and Leondra Kruger recorded votes to hear the case. In a published opinion, the Fourth District, Division Two, affirmed the denial of a petition for resentencing under Penal Code section 1170.91, subdivision (b), which applies to military service members or veterans who suffer from various traumas, mental health problems, or substance abuse and who are “currently serving a sentence for a felony conviction.” The appellate court concluded the defendant’s “agreement to a negotiated sentence made him ineligible for resentencing.” Other section 1170.91 cases have drawn an extended separate statement by Justice Liu (see here) and dissenting votes for review (see here) in the past.
  • Second Amendment challenge. The court declined to hear People v. Gonzalez, where the Fourth District, Division Two, published opinion rejected a constitutional challenge to a statute criminalizing possession of a controlled substance while armed. The defendant claimed the statute violates the Second Amendment by restricting a nonviolent offender’s right to bear arms. Division Two concluded there was no violation “[b]ecause ‘there is no constitutional problem with separating guns from drugs.’ ” The defendant relied on a dissenting opinion by then-Judge, now U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Amy Coney Barrett, which Division Two distinguished.
  • New-legislation grant-and-transfer. The court granted review and transferred a case back to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration in light of Assembly Bill 333.
  • Criminal case grant-and-holds. There were five criminal case grant-and-holds, four more waiting for a decision in People v. Strong (see here), which will be argued next week, and one more waiting for People v. Curiel (see here).
  • Disposal of grant-and-holds. The court shed four former grant-and-holds from its docket. Two more cases were sent back for reconsideration in light of January’s opinion in People v. Tirado (2022) 12 Cal.5th 688, one case will be reconsidered in light of Tirado and Senate Bill 775, and one will be reconsidered in light of Tirado and last year’s decision in People v. Lemcke (2021) 11 Cal.5th 644.