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Martinez v. Superior Court (The People)

California Court of Appeals, Sixth District

October 18, 2019

BRANDON ANDRES RUIZ MARTINEZ, Petitioner,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Respondent, THE PEOPLE, Real Party in Interest.

          Santa Cruz Super. Ct. No. 16CR02326 The Honorable Timothy R. Volkmann Trial Judge

          Attorneys for Petitioner: David J. Cohen Alexander P. Guilmartin

          No appearance for Respondent:

          Attorneys for Real Party in Interest: Xavier Becerra, Attorney General Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey M. Laurence, Senior Assistant Attorney General Laurence K. Sullivan, Supervising Deputy Attorney General René A. Chacón, Supervising Deputy Attorney General

          ELIA, ACTING P. J.

         A grand jury returned an indictment against Brandon Andres Ruiz-Martinez, charging him with, among other offenses, two counts of murder (counts 1 & 2) and alleging, among other special allegations, that each murder was committed for a criminal street gang, namely the “Norteno/Northside Watsonville Chicos.” (See Pen. Code, § 190.2, subd. (a)(22).)[1] The indictment further charged him with street terrorism (count 3), assault with a deadly weapon and by means likely to produce great bodily injury (count 4), and conspiracy to commit murder (count 5), and it set forth multiple special allegations.

         In the trial court, Ruiz-Martinez moved to dismiss the indictment pursuant to section 995. He argued that the indictment had to be dismissed for three reasons, including that the People improperly dismissed three grand jurors in violation of section 939.5, the separation of powers doctrine, and Ruiz-Martinez's due process rights.[2] He asserted that the prosecutor's dismissal of grand jurors in violation of section 939.5 resulted in an indictment “not found, endorsed, and presented as prescribed in [the Penal Code]” (§ 995, subd. (a)(1)(A)) and that no showing of prejudice was required to obtain dismissal of the indictment because Ruiz-Martinez had been denied a substantial right. The trial court denied the motion.

         Ruiz-Martinez (hereinafter petitioner) filed a petition for writ of mandate and/or prohibition in this court to obtain review of the trial court's denial of his section 995 motion. In support of the petition, he argued, as he had below, that (1) the unauthorized dismissal of three grand jurors resulted in an indictment “not found, endorsed, and presented as prescribed in [the Penal Code]” (§ 995, subd. (a)(1)(A)) and (2) no showing of prejudice was required to obtain dismissal of the indictment because he had been denied a substantial right. Petitioner further contended that in any case, dismissal of the indictment was necessary because (1) the improper dismissals of jurors created structural error in the grand jury proceedings and (2) the improper dismissal of a grand juror who was favorable to petitioner “reasonably might have affected the outcome of the proceeding” since “the juror's service (perhaps upon rehabilitation by the foreperson) would have undoubtedly affected the deliberations process and the ultimate vote for indictment.” Lastly, it was asserted that the indictment was required to be dismissed because the prosecutor's violations of section 939.5 also infringed the separation of powers and violated petitioner's due process rights.

         After this court summarily denied the petition, the California Supreme Court granted review (S241068). The Supreme Court decided Avitia v. Superior Court (2018) 6 Cal.5th 486 (Avitia) and then transferred this matter back to this court with directions to vacate our decision and issue an order to show cause (OSC) in light of Avitia.

         As directed, we vacated our order denying the petition and issued an OSC. The respondent superior court was ordered to show cause why petitioner was not entitled to relief in light of Avitia. The Attorney General filed a return to the OSC on behalf of the People, the real party in interest. Petitioner filed a reply to that return.

         After thoroughly considering both Avitia and the record, we conclude that the record does not show that the prosecutor's improper actions during the grand jury proceedings reasonably might have adversely affected the grand jury's impartiality or independence or violated the separation of powers doctrine or petitioner's rights to due process. Accordingly, the petition is denied.

         I

         The Prosecutor's Dismissal of Three Grand Jurors Before Indictment

         The record reflects that at the outset of the grand jury proceedings, there were 25 grand jurors. The assistant district attorney (prosecutor) told the grand jurors: “[T]he job of the grand jury is to be a neutral fact finder. Your role is to issue an indictment if probable cause has been found.” The prosecutor told the jurors that they could rely on only admissible evidence and that it was her job to make sure the evidence presented was admissible and to make them aware of any exculpatory evidence. She informed the jurors that they could subpoena more witnesses or evidence that they wished to hear. The prosecutor told the jury that there would be 19 jurors deliberating, and an indictment required 12 votes.

         The prosecutor described the evidence that the grand jury could expect to hear. She indicated that in 2014 a double murder had occurred “in the parking lot area of the Fish House restaurant and the Valley Inn [m]otel in Watsonville” and that “almost all of it was caught on surveillance video.” She told the grand jurors that they would hear about eight individuals who were “all northern affiliated gang members, ” seven of whom belonged to “a very specific subset gang in Watsonville known as North Side [sic] Watsonville Chicos.”

         The prosecutor also told the jurors: “[T]he things that I say are not evidence. So the evidence is the sworn testimony of the witnesses. I'm giving you an overview, but you are not to consider what I say about this case as evidence in this case.”

         In accordance with section 939.5, the grand jury foreman then told the jury: “Any member of the grand jury who has a state of mind in reference to the case or to the persons involved which will prevent him or her from acting impartially and without prejudice to the substantial rights of the persons involved shall retire from this hearing.” The foreman also admonished: “During the pendency of this hearing... and until the grand jury has... completely finished with this case, you are instructed that no media accounts concerning this matter and no other sources of information other than that which is presented to you within this hearing room when the jury is in session can be used by you against any potential defendants in reaching a decision in this matter.” The foreman asked, “Is there anyone who feels unable to disregard any information they may have heard or read?”

         One grand juror immediately spoke up. The grand juror indicated that he or she had family members involved in the case on the side of the Northside gang. The juror did not think he or she could be fair. The prosecutor excused the grand juror.

         Another grand juror then expressed concern that he or she already felt inclined to a decision. After a further exchange with the prosecutor, the grand juror indicated that he or she was willing to do the job of issuing an indictment only if the evidence established ...


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