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Name: In re Figueora
Case #: S111336
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 03/12/2018

Murder conviction and death sentence reversed where defendant’s conviction was based on false expert evidence. Defendant was convicted of substantive sexual offenses and the special circumstance murder of a 21-month-old child. His convictions and death sentence were affirmed on direct appeal. In response to defendant’s petition for writ of habeas corpus alleging that his convictions rested on false evidence and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, the court issued an order to show cause. Respondent conceded that false evidence was introduced at defendant’s trial and that the sexual offense convictions, special circumstance findings, and death sentence must be reversed, but urged the court to reduce the murder conviction to second degree. Held: Reversed. A writ of habeas corpus may be filed where false evidence that is substantially probative and material to the issue of guilt or punishment was introduced against a defendant at trial. (Pen. Code, § 1473, subd. (b)(1).) False evidence includes expert opinions that have been repudiated by the expert who gave them or that have been undermined by later scientific research or technical advances. Here, the prosecution’s medical expert, along with a number of other medical professionals, repudiated their testimony that the minor was sexually assaulted. The false evidence was material because there is a reasonable probability the result would have been different absent the testimony.

The appropriate remedy is to reverse the judgment in full rather than reduce defendant’s conviction to second degree murder. Without the false testimony, the evidence showed that the infant suffered profound injuries while in defendant’s care. However, the cause of those injuries was disputed. Thus, it cannot be determined whether the jury would have found defendant guilty of second degree murder without the false evidence, requiring reversal.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: