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Name: People v. Forest
Case #: A148330
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 10/25/2017
Summary

Petition for writ of error coram vobis denied where petitioner’s “new facts” were actually legal opinions. In 2006 Forest was charged with assault with a deadly weapon (Pen. Code, § 245, subd. (a)(2)). He was bound over after a preliminary hearing. His Penal Code section 995 motion to dismiss the charge was denied. However, prior to trial, the prosecution moved to dismiss the charge based on insufficient evidence and the trial court granted the motion. Forest’s subsequent petition for a finding of factual innocence (Pen. Code, § 851.8, subd. (c)) was denied and his appeal from that decision was unsuccessful. In 2016 he filed a petition for writ of error coram nobis in an effort to vacate the denial of his request for a finding of factual innocence. He appealed the denial of that petition. Held: Petition denied. A finding of factual innocence requires a determination that no reasonable cause existed to believe the arrestee committed the offense for which he was arrested. Forest sought to vacate the trial court’s denial of his request for a finding of factual innocence via a petition for writ of error coram nobis. There are three requirements for this writ to be granted: (1) A showing that some fact existed which, without negligence on petitioner’s part, was not presented to the trial court and which, if presented, would have prevented rendition of the judgment; (2) the “newly discovered” evidence does not go to the merits of issues already tried, i.e., being offered to correct a fact already determined; and (3) the facts presented in the petition were not known to petitioner and could not have been reasonably discovered by him at an earlier time. Forest cannot prevail on his claim because the “new facts” he relies upon are not really facts, but are the legal opinions of two attorneys and a police officer that he did not commit an assault. Thus, Forest failed to adequately support his challenge to the trial court’s ruling.

The trial court had no jurisdiction to entertain a petition for writ of error coram nobis to challenge its denial of Forest’s petition for a finding of factual innocence. Forest filed his coram nobis petition in the superior court to vacate its denial of his factual innocence petition. The denial of his petition had been affirmed on appeal and review had been denied by the California Supreme Court. If a judgment has been affirmed on appeal, no petition for writ of error coram nobis may be filed to seek to vacate that judgment, except in the court which affirmed the judgment on appeal (Pen. Code, § 1265, subd. (a)). Thus, once a judgment has been appealed and review is denied by the California Supreme Court, the appellate court has exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate a coram nobis petition. The superior court in this case lacked jurisdiction to entertain Forest’s petition and the appeal could have been dismissed. However, in order to conserve judicial resources, the Court of Appeal treated the appeal as an original proceeding for a writ of error coram vobis. The basis for issuance of a writ of error coram vobis is essentially the same as for a writ of error coram nobis, except that a coram vobis petition is addressed to the appellate court. The standard of review of Forest’s petition is therefore not abuse of discretion, but an independent evaluation of whether the newly discovered facts presented in the petition warrants relief. Here, there were no new “facts” but only legal opinions and the Court of Appeal denied the petition on its merits.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/A148330.PDF