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Name: In re Richards
Case #: S223651
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 05/26/2016

Murder conviction reversed because amendments to Penal Code section 1472 rendered the prosecution expert’s trial testimony on bite marks “false evidence.” In 1997, Richards was convicted of the 1993 murder of his wife. His conviction was affirmed on appeal. A 2012 habeas petition based on the prosecution expert’s recantation of his trial testimony that a human bite on the deceased matched Richards’ unusual teeth, was denied because it did not constitute “false evidence” within the meaning of Penal Code section 1473 (In re Richards (2012) 55 Cal.4th 948 (Richards I). In response to the Richards I decision, the Legislature amended section 1473 to include in the definition of “false evidence,” expert opinions which have either been repudiated or undermined by later technology. Richards filed a petition based on this amendment. Held: Petition granted. Penal Code section 1473 provides a writ of habeas corpus may be based on the ground that material, false evidence was introduced against the defendant. Prior to 2014, it provided no specific guidance regarding the meaning of “false evidence,” causing the court in Richards I to find that it did not include recanted expert testimony unless the evidence shows that the opinion offered at trial was objectively untrue. In 2014, the Legislature passed Senate Bill No. 1058, modifying the “false evidence” standard to include expert opinions that have been repudiated by the expert who originally offered it or that have been undermined by later scientific research or technology. Under this amendment, Richards met his burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the prosecution expert bite mark evidence given at his trial constituted “false evidence.”

The false bite mark evidence was material and unduly prejudicial. Under Penal Code section 1473, false evidence is material if there is a reasonable probability that, but for the admission of the testimony, the result of the trial would have been different. Here, the prosecution bite mark evidence was material because, with the exception of this evidence, the defense could have provided a substantial response to much of the prosecution’s remaining case, requiring reversal.

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