California State New Trial Law and Landmark Cases

"The authority of a trial court in California to grant a new trial is established and circumscribed by statute." (Oakland Raiders v. National Football League (2007) 41 Cal.4th 624, 633 (Oakland Raiders).) Code of Civil Procedure Section 657 identifies only seven grounds for a new trial motion: irregularity in the proceedings, jury misconduct, accident or surprise, newly discovered evidence, excessive or inadequate damages, insufficiency of the evidence and error in law. Sections 659 and 659a prescribe precise time limits for filing a notice of intention to move for new trial and supporting and opposition papers. Section 661 specifies when and how the hearing, if any, on the motion may be set. Code of Civil Procedure Section 660 limits the power of the court to rule on a motion for a new trial to a 60-day period commencing with the filing of the notice of entry of judgment. "After the court is presented with a motion for a new trial, its power to rule on the motion expires at the end of the 60-day period provided by section 660. . . . If no determination is made within the 60-day period, the motion is deemed to have been denied." (Sanchez-Corea v. Bank of America (1985) 38 Cal.3d 892, 899.) If the trial court grants a new trial motion, "additional requirements are imposed by statute. In pertinent part, section 657 provides that whenever the motion is granted 'the court shall specify the ground or grounds upon which it is granted and the court's reason or reasons for granting the new trial . . . .' The section goes on, however, to distinguish between grounds and reasons. While the order passing upon and determining the motion 'must state the ground or grounds relied upon by the court,' the order 'may contain the specification of reasons.' If the order stating the grounds does not also specify the reasons for the new trial, then 'the court must, within 10 days after filing such order, prepare, sign and file such specification of reasons in writing with the clerk.' Thus, under section 657, the grounds for the new trial must be stated in the order. The reasons may also be stated in the order, but the trial court has the option of filing a statement of the reasons at a later time." (Sanchez-Corea v. Bank of America, supra, 38 Cal.3d at p. 899.) Although the court may include wording from the moving party's memorandum of points and authorities in specifying its reasoning, "'the specification of reasons must be the product of the judge's own mental processes and not that of the attorney for the moving party.'" (Eltolad Music, Inc. v. April Music, Inc. (1983) 139 Cal.App.3d 697, 707; see Mercer v. Perez (1968) 68 Cal.2d 104, 113 objective of "promoting judicial deliberation before judicial action, and thereby 'discouraging hasty or ill-considered orders for new trial'" furthered by requirement judge prepare specification of reasons; see 657 "court shall not direct the attorney for a party to prepare either or both said order granting a motion for a new trial and said specification of reasons".) "California courts have consistently required strict compliance with section 657. . . . Substantial compliance with the statute is not sufficient." (Oakland Raiders, supra, 41 Cal.4th at p. 634; accord, Linhart v. Nelson (1976) 18 Cal.3d 641, 644 "'as the motion for a new trial finds both its source and its limitations in the statutes , the procedural steps prescribed by law for making and determining such a motion are mandatory and must be strictly followed'"; Neal v. Montgomery Elevator Co. (1992) 7 Cal.App.4th 1194, 1198 "motion for new trial is a creature of statute; accordingly, if the trial court grants such relief without conforming to the statutory procedures, the order will be void as in excess of jurisdiction".) When a verdict has been rendered or a finding made against the defendant, he may move for a new trial on various statutory grounds, including that the trial court "erred in the decision of any question of law arising during the course of the trial, and when the district attorney or other counsel prosecuting the case has been guilty of prejudicial misconduct during the trial thereof before a jury." ( 1181, subd. (5).) In addition to the statutory grounds ( 1181), a new trial may be granted where the trial court finds that the defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel. (People v. Fosselman (1983) 33 Cal.3d 572, 582-583.) However, a motion for new trial may be granted "only upon a ground raised in the motion.'. . . Allowing a court to grant a new trial on a ground not raised by the moving party would be the equivalent of allowing the court to grant a new trial on its own motion, an act which the court is without authority to do. " (People v. Masotti (2008) 163 Cal.App.4th 504, 508.) In addition, even if a certain ground is found to be valid, "a trial court may grant a motion for new trial only if the defendant demonstrates reversible error. " (People v. Guerra (2006) 37 Cal.4th 1067, 1159 (Guerra).) "On appeal, a trial court's ruling on a motion for new trial is reviewed for abuse of discretion.Its ruling will not be disturbed on appeal ' "unless a manifest and unmistakable abuse of discretion clearly appears." ' " (Guerra, supra, 37 Cal.4th at pp. 1159-1160.) This standard "asks in substance whether the ruling in question 'falls outside the bounds of reason' under the applicable law and the relevant facts citations." (People v. Williams (1998) 17 Cal.4th 148, 162.) The burden is on the defendant to show that the trial court's decision was " 'irrational or arbitrary,' " or that it was not " 'grounded in reasoned judgment and guided by legal principles and policies appropriate to the particular matter at issue.' " (People v. Superior Court (Alvarez) (1997) 14 Cal.4th 968, 977.) With regard to a claim of prosecutorial misconduct based upon a discovery violation, federal due process requires the prosecution to disclose even without a request evidence favorable to the accused, which relates to either guilt or punishment. (Brady v. Maryland (1963) 373 U.S. 83, 87 (Brady).) This duty to disclose pertains to all evidence material to the defense and encompasses exculpatory as well as impeachment evidence. (United States v. Agurs (1976) 427 U.S. 97, 107; United States v. Bagley (1985) 473 U.S. 667, 676.) "Evidence is material 'only if there is a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceeding would have been different.' " (People v. Hoyos (2007) 41 Cal.4th 872, 917-918.) The defendant has the burden of showing the materiality of any evidence. (In re Sassounian (1995) 9 Cal.4th 535, 545.) The prosecution also has a statutory duty to disclose to the defense all statements made by the defendant ( 1054.1, subd. (b).) This disclosure generally must be made at least 30 days before trial. ( 1054.7.) When a party fails to comply with statutory discovery, the opposing party must make an informal request for discovery before seeking other relief through the court. ( 1054.5, subd. (b).) Upon a proper showing, the court may then make any order necessary to enforce discovery, including "immediate disclosure, contempt proceedings, delaying or prohibiting the testimony of a witness or the presentation of real evidence, continuance of the matter, or any other lawful order." (Ibid.) The court may also give the jury an instruction advising it of the violation or exclude the evidence if "all other sanctions have been exhausted." ( 1054.5, subd. (c).) With regard to the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel, "a defendant must show both that his counsel's performance was deficient when measured against the standard of a reasonably competent attorney and that counsel's deficient performance resulted in prejudice to defendant in the sense that it 'so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result.' " (People v. Andrade (2000) 79 Cal.App.4th 651, 659-660.) "If the record . . . fails to show why counsel acted or failed to act in the instance asserted to be ineffective, unless counsel was asked for an explanation and failed to provide one, or unless there simply could be no satisfactory explanation, the claim must generally be rejected on appeal." (People v. Kraft (2000) 23 Cal.4th 978, 1068-1069; People v. Mendoza Tello (1997) 15 Cal.4th 264, 266-267.) Even if there could be no satisfactory explanation for counsel's failure, " 'the reviewing court should not speculate as to counsel's reasons. . . . Because the appellate record ordinarily does not show the reasons for defense counsel's actions or omissions, a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel should generally be made in a petition for writ of habeas corpus, not on appeal.' " (People v. Lucero (2000) 23 Cal.4th 692, 728-729.) Moreover, because a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel made in a new trial motion differs from one made for the first time on appeal, we usually defer to the trial court's initial determination as to whether trial counsel's tactical "acts or omissions were those of a reasonably competent attorney." (People v. Jones (1981) 123 Cal.App.3d 83, 89.) This is because the trial court is generally in the best position to make such determination based on having observed counsel's performance throughout the proceedings. (Ibid.) Civil Code Section 659, governing new trial motions, provides in part: "(a) The party intending to move for a new trial shall file with the clerk and serve upon each adverse party a notice of his or her intention to move for a new trial, designating the grounds upon which the motion will be made and whether the same will be made upon affidavits or the minutes of the court, or both, either: (1) After the decision is rendered and before the entry of judgment. (2) Within 15 days of the date of mailing notice of entry of judgment by the clerk of the court pursuant to Section 664.5, or service upon him or her by any party of written notice of entry of judgment ... ." "Compliance with the 15-day requirement of section 659 is jurisdictional ... ," and absent compliance a trial court is "without power to entertain the motion." (Tri-County Elevator Co. v. Superior Court (1982) 135 Cal.App.3d 271, 277 185 Cal. Rptr. 208.) When a notice of intention to move for new trial is timely filed, it "shall be deemed to be a motion for a new trial on all the grounds stated in the notice." ( 659, subd. (b).) Thus, "'when the adverse party has been given due notice that ... a motion for a new trial will be made and is fully apprised of the grounds to be urged the jurisdiction of the court is complete.'" (Nichols v. Hast (1965) 62 Cal.2d 598, 600.) "The purpose of notice under section 659 is to give the adverse party a reasonable opportunity to oppose a motion for a new trial on its merits." (Ibid.) Section 659a sets out time limits for filing accompanying affidavits and briefs supporting and opposing the notice of intention to move for new trial. It has been long held that the time limits for filing affidavits and counteraffidavits for new trial motions, though "strict" (Clemens v. Regents of University of California (1970) 8 Cal.App.3d 1, 21 87 Cal. Rptr. 108), are not jurisdictional (Fredrics v. Paige (1994) 29 Cal.App.4th 1642, 1648 35 Cal. Rptr. 2d 246; Wiley v. Southern Pacific Transportation Co. (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 177, 188 269 Cal. Rptr. 240; Clemens, at p. 21; Boynton v. McKales (1956) 139 Cal.App.2d 777, 782 294 P.2d 733; see Smith v. Whittier (1892) 95 Cal. 279, 295 30 P. 529, called into doubt on other grounds by intervening statute in Caira v. Offner (2005) 126 Cal.App.4th 12, 35 24 Cal. Rptr. 3d 233; Spottiswood v. Weir (1889) 80 Cal. 448, 451 22 P. 289 no error in allowing filing of counteraffidavits after time fixed by the code; 8 Witkin, Cal. Procedure (5th ed. 2008) Attack on Judgment in Trial Court, 65, p. 650 "Affidavits or declarations in connection with a new trial motion filed too late may be disregarded. On the other hand, the time limits are not jurisdictional. The court may still consider an affidavit or declaration even if it is filed after the deadline."; but see Erikson v. Weiner (1996) 48 Cal.App.4th 1663, 1671-1672 56 Cal. Rptr. 2d 362 (Erikson) aggregate 30-day time period of 659a for filing affidavits is mandatory and jurisdictional). Thus, the court may, but need not, reject affidavits filed after those time limits. Section 659a provides: "Within 10 days of filing the notice, the moving party shall serve upon all other parties and file any brief and accompanying documents, including affidavits in support of the motion. The other parties shall have 10 days after that service within which to serve upon the moving party and file any opposing briefs and accompanying documents, including counter-affidavits. The moving party shall have five days after that service to file any reply brief and accompanying documents. These deadlines may, for good cause shown by affidavit or by written stipulation of the parties, be extended by any judge for an additional period not to exceed 10 days." "The power of a trial court to rule on a motion for a new trial expires 60 days after (1) the clerk mails the notice of entry of judgment, or (2) a party serves written notice of entry of judgment on the party moving for a new trial, whichever is earlier, or if no such notice is given, then 60 days after filing of the first notice of intent to move for a new trial. ( 660.) If the motion for a new trial is not ruled upon within the 60-day time period, then 'the effect shall be a denial of the motion without further order of the court.' ( 660.) The 60-day time limit provided in section 660 is jurisdictional. Consequently, an order granting a motion for a new trial beyond the relevant 60-day time period is void for lack of jurisdiction." (Dakota Payphone, LLC v. Alcaraz (2011) 192 Cal.App.4th 493, 500 121 Cal. Rptr. 3d 435; see Mercer v. Perez (1968) 68 Cal.2d 104, 123 65 Cal. Rptr. 315, 436 P.2d 315; Siegal v. Superior Court (1968) 68 Cal.2d 97, 101 65 Cal. Rptr. 311, 436 P.2d 311.)