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Name: In re Martinez
Case #: S226596
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 12/04/2017

On petition for writ of habeas corpus, Chiu error requires reversal unless the reviewing court finds beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury actually relied on a legally valid theory in convicting defendant of first degree murder. Martinez was convicted of first degree murder after the jury was instructed on both direct aiding and abetting and natural and probable consequence theories, based on his participation in a killing perpetrated by the codefendant. His conviction was affirmed on appeal. Martinez filed a habeas petition after the California Supreme Court held in People v. Chiu (2014) 59 Cal.4th 155, that a natural and probable consequence theory cannot be a basis for a first degree murder conviction because the connection between the perpetrator’s premeditative state and the codefendant’s culpability is too attenuated. The Court of Appeal held there was Chiu error but affirmed, determining there was sufficient evidence to support the conviction. Martinez petitioned the California Supreme Court for relief. Held: Court of Appeal judgment reversed. An erroneous jury instruction on what constitutes aiding and abetting a first degree murder deprives a defendant of his Sixth Amendment right to jury trial because that right includes entitlement to a properly instructed jury. On direct appeal, Chiu error requires reversal unless the reviewing court concludes beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury based its verdict on the legally valid theory that the defendant directly aided and abetted the premeditated murder. Here, the Supreme Court distinguished cases that have required habeas petitioners to meet a more demanding standard of prejudice on collateral review, concluding that a habeas petitioner presenting a Chiu claim is in the same position as a defendant raising a Chiu claim on direct review, and the same standard of prejudice should apply. In Martinez’s case, the presumption of prejudice was not rebutted by a showing the jury based its verdict on a valid ground. [Editor’s Note: The court stated it was not expressing a view on whether the same rule would apply to an individual asserting the same claim in a habeas petition when there has been no intervening change in the law.]

The court’s decision in Chiu is a substantive change in the law and is retroactive. Habeas corpus is in the nature of a collateral attack, and a judgment that is collaterally attacked carries with it a presumption of regularity. This presumption stems from the recognition that habeas corpus is an extraordinary remedy and its availability must be tempered with the need to implement laws in an orderly and prompt manner and the public interest in the finality of judgments. Thus, a habeas writ will not issue for a claim that was raised and rejected on appeal (In re Waltreus (1965) 62 Cal.2d 218), unless there has been a substantive change in the law affecting the petitioner. The decision in Chiu is such a substantive change in the law and is retroactive in petitioner’s case.

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