Opinion by Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye (unanimous).
Death sentence reversed because material false evidence was presented at the penalty phase of defendant’s trial. Rogers, a Kern County sheriff’s deputy was convicted of the murders of two female sex workers in Bakersfield. During the penalty phase, a woman, Butler, testified in detail that Rogers viciously attacked and raped her. The jury returned a death verdict. Rogers filed a habeas petition alleging Butler misidentified him as the man who assaulted her. Butler provided a declaration in which she expressed doubts about her identification of Rogers as her attacker. A referee concluded that Butler testified falsely when she identified Rogers as her attacker and that none of the descriptors given by Butler of her assailant fit Rogers. Held: Petition granted. A writ of habeas corpus may be prosecuted where false evidence that is substantially material or probative on the issue of guilt or punishment was introduced against a person at a hearing or trial. (Pen. Code, § 1473, subd. (b)(1).) The California Supreme Court accepted the referee’s findings that Butler testified falsely at Rogers’ trial. Under section 1473, once a defendant shows that false evidence was admitted at trial, relief is available so long as the false evidence was material. False evidence is substantially material if it is of such significance that, with reasonable probability, it may have affected the outcome of the proceeding. Here, the false evidence was referenced in the prosecutor’s closing argument, and was especially brutal and disturbing. There was some mitigating evidence presented, including evidence regarding petitioner’s sexual and physical abuse in childhood. The false evidence undermines confidence in the outcome of the trial and was therefore material, entitling petitioner to relief.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/S084292.PDF