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Name: People v. Medrano (2024) 98 Cal.App.5th 1254
Case #: B324567
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 6
Opinion Date: 01/22/2024

Trial court properly denied defendant’s second Penal Code section 1172.6 petition at the prima facie stage using the law of the case doctrine because there was no new evidence that could affect the appellate court’s earlier holding that defendant was ineligible for relief as a matter of law. In 1991, defendant was convicted of several offenses including murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and attempted murder. His first section 1172.6 petition was denied in 2019 after a (d)(3) hearing. The Court of Appeal affirmed the denial, holding his conviction of conspiracy to commit first degree murder rendered him ineligible as a matter of law. Defendant filed a second section 1172.6 petition after Senate Bill No. 775 went into effect, which was denied at the prima facie stage. Defendant appealed. Held: Affirmed. The doctrine of the law of the case holds that when the appellate court states “in its opinion a principle or rule of law necessary to the decision, that principle or rule becomes the law of the case and must be adhered to throughout its subsequent progress, both in the lower court and upon subsequent appeal.” However, People v. Harden (2022) 81 Cal.App.5th 45, 50, held that prior to a (d)(3) evidentiary hearing, the law of the case doctrine does not bar relief. The issue in Harden was whether the doctrine should apply to the Court of Appeal’s determination in an earlier opinion that there was insufficient evidence to sustain a finding that Harden was not the actual killer. Harden’s holding should be limited to prohibiting application of the law of the case doctrine at a prima facie hearing where the appellate court’s prior determination concerned sufficiency of evidence at trial. In the appeal from defendant’s first 1172.6 denial, the appellate court articulated a principle of law that defendant was ineligible for relief where he was convicted of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder, which both involved the same victim, because the conspiracy conviction demonstrated the target offense was murder. Unlike Harden, defendant could not introduce new evidence that would affect the validity of this principle of law at an evidentiary hearing. And this principle of law was not altered by SB 775’s amendment of section 1172.6(a). [Editor’s Note: This is an opinion following rehearing, which was granted to consider the impact of the California Supreme Court’s subsequent decision in People v. Curiel (2023) 15 Cal.5th 433. In Curiel the court held that, under the jury instructions in that case, the findings the jury must have made were insufficient to conclusively establish that Curiel was liable for murder under current law. The Court of Appeal reviewed the opinion in Curiel and concluded it did not assist Medrano. The facts, jury instructions, and verdicts in Medrano’s case are different from those in Curiel. Unlike Curiel, Medrano was convicted of conspiracy to commit first degree murder and the target offense was murder. The jury must have found that Medrano knew his coconspirator, Throop, intended to commit murder and that Medrano intended to aid Throop in committing murder.]