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Name: In re Ebaniz
Case #: F055939
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 5 DCA
Opinion Date: 06/03/2009
Summary

In a habeas action, newly discovered evidence that is substantial and credible and undermines the prosecution’s entire case may warrant a new trial. Rejecting petitioner’s defense of duress, the jury convicted him of first degree murder committed during a kidnapping involving torture, felony false imprisonment, torture, and kidnapping, as well as weapons enhancements. Following appeals and new trials on the murder charge only, appellant was eventually acquitted of both first and second degree murder. At this third trial, he presented the testimony of codefendant Seriales who had since been convicted of the offenses. The codefendant’s trial had been pending during the earlier two trials and he had not testified. His testimony supported petitioner’s defense of duress and was consistent with statements of other codefendants. Petitioner’s motion for a new trial on the remaining convictions on the basis of newly discovered evidence [the testimony of the codefendant in the third trial] was denied by the trial court and he then raised the issue in a petition for writ of habeas corpus. The appellate court noted that with a habeas claim of actual innocence, petitioner has the burden of surmounting the presumption of correctness accorded criminal judgments rendered after procedurally fair trials, as compared to the standard of proof of preponderance of evidence applicable in a “normal” habeas claim. Additionally, a claim of innocence based on newly discovered evidence requires evidence that could not have been discovered with reasonable diligence prior to judgment. In this case, the evidence provided by Seriales met the criteria because it was not available to the defense at trial since Seriales would have undoubtedly asserted his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to testify. Finally, to support a grant of relief under a habeas petition, the newly discovered evidence which is the basis for the habeas petition must undermine the entire prosecution case and point to innocence or reduced culpability. In this case, the court found that the newly discovered evidence provided by Seriales was significant and credible evidence that petitioner was innocent. Accordingly, petitioner met the burden required to obtain a new trial on the false imprisonment, torture, and kidnapping charges and related special allegations, and the habeas petition was granted with the judgment, except for the acquitals, vacated.