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California Appellate Law Podcast - Jeff Lewis

Is the Racial Justice Act Unconstitutional?

Tim Kowal     April 17, 2024

Racial minorities are sometimes removed from prospective juries—just like everybody else. But the Legislature is so concerned that this could happen on the (obviously improper) basis of race that the Racial Justice Act prohibits a challenge to a racial minority even on the basis of proper factors, such as lack of life experience. And if that happens, the Legislature has declared not only that this is against law, but operates as a get-a-new-trial-free card.

But the California Constitution prohibits get-a-new-trial-free cards. Instead, no judgment may be reversed—even if the judgment is rife with error—unless the error results in a “miscarriage of justice.”

Consider how these opinions might be reconciled:

  • People v. Uriostegui (D2d6 Apr. 5, 2024 No. B325200) ___ Cal.App.5th ___ held violations of the Racial Justice Act are per se reversible.
  • In People v. Simmons (2023) 96 Cal.App.5th 323, Justice Yegan argued in dissent that a attempting to bind the courts to a legislative definition of the constitutional term “miscarriage of justice” violates the doctrine of separation of powers.
  • The Supreme Court in F.P. v. Monier (2017) 3 Cal.5th 1099 held that, although the Legislature mandates that trial courts make express findings on principal controverted issues, a court’s failure to do so is not per se reversible because the Constitution first requires a finding that the failure worked a miscarriage of justice.
  • In Abdelqader v. Abraham (Cal. Ct. App. Mar. 10, 2022 No. D078652) --- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, failure to make the statutorily-required findings under F.C. 3044 to support awarding custody to a person previously found to have committed domestic violence was per se reversible.
  • In re Marriage of Steiner and Hosseini (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 519 held that, although the Legislature purported to make inadequate disclosures in property-division cases per se reversible, the Legislature cannot provide “a ‘get-a-new-trial-free’ card” in light of the constitutional requirement to show a miscarriage of justice.

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The California Appellate Law Podcast thanks Casetext for sponsoring the podcast. Listeners receive a discount on Casetext Basic Research at casetext.com/CALP. The co-hosts, Jeff and Tim, were also invited to try Casetext’s newest technology, CoCounsel, the world’s first AI legal assistant. You can discover CoCounsel for yourself with a demo and free trial at casetext.com/CoCounsel.

Other items discussed in the episode:

Tim Kowal is an appellate specialist certified by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. Tim helps trial attorneys and clients win their cases and avoid error on appeal. He co-hosts the Cal. Appellate Law Podcast at CALpodcast.com, and publishes summaries of cases and appellate tips for trial attorneys. Contact Tim at [email protected] or (949) 676-9989.
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