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Ashmus v. Superior Court (People)

California Court of Appeals, First District, Second Division

December 4, 2019

Troy Adam ASHMUS, Petitioner,
v.
The SUPERIOR COURT OF SAN MATEO COUNTY, Respondent; The People, Real Party in Interest.

          As Modified 12/13/2019

         [256 Cal.Rptr.3d 253] Superior Court of San Mateo County, Hon. Donald J. Ayoob (San Mateo County Super. Ct. No. SC015661A).

Page 1121

         COUNSEL

         Habeas Corpus Resource Center, Susan Garvey, Ann L. Kim, Natalie Link, for Petitioner.

         Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Lance E. Winters, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Ronald S. Matthias, Assistant Attorney General, Holly D. Wilkens, Sarah J. Farhat and Alice B. Lustre, Deputy Attorneys General, for Real Party in Interest.

         OPINION

         Miller, J.

Page 1122

         [256 Cal.Rptr.3d 254] In 2016, California voters approved Proposition 66, the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016, an initiative measure that "extensively revamp[ed] the procedures governing habeas corpus petitions in capital cases." (Briggs v. Brown (2017) 3 Cal.5th 808, 822, 824, 221 Cal.Rptr.3d 465, 400 P.3d 29 (Briggs ).) Previously, habeas corpus proceedings in capital cases were initiated in the California Supreme Court, but now such proceedings are to be filed first in superior court. (Id. at pp. 824-825, 221 Cal.Rptr.3d 465, 400 P.3d 29.) Under Penal Code [1] section 1509, added by Proposition 66, "any petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by a person in custody pursuant to a judgment of death" should be transferred to "the court which imposed the sentence ... unless good cause is shown for the petition to be heard by another court." (� 1509, subd. (a).) For petitions filed before Proposition 66 went into effect, section 1509, subdivision (g) (� 1509(g)), provides, "If a habeas corpus petition is pending on the effective date of this section, the court may transfer the petition to the court which imposed the sentence." This case calls us to interpret the phrase "the court which imposed the sentence."

         Capital prisoner Troy Ashmus had a petition for writ of habeas corpus pending in the California Supreme Court on section 1509’s effective date, and the high court transferred Ashmus’s petition to the court that imposed the death sentence, San Mateo County Superior Court, pursuant to section 1509(g). The Attorney General then moved to transfer the petition to the court where Ashmus was originally charged with the capital offense, Sacramento County Superior Court, and the trial court granted the motion.

         By petition for writ of mandate, Ashmus challenges the trial court’s order transferring his petition to Sacramento County. He argues the San Mateo County trial court flouted the plain language of section 1509 and appellate court intervention is necessary to "avoid a potential ‘tennis match’ among courts sending habeas cases bouncing from county to county." The Attorney General responds that the trial court correctly found good cause existed to "return" the petition to the original transferring court.

Page 1123

          We conclude the trial court misapplied section 1509 and the Attorney General’s arguments defending the transfer order to Sacramento County lack merit. We order the issuance of a peremptory writ of mandate.

          FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In 1984, the District Attorney of Sacramento County filed an information charging Ashmus with multiple offenses, including first degree murder and rape. On Ashmus’s pretrial motion, the trial court changed venue from Sacramento County to San Mateo County. In 1986, a jury found Ashmus guilty of all charges, and the San Mateo County Superior Court imposed a death sentence. ( [256 Cal.Rptr.3d 255] People v. Ashmus (1991) 54 Cal.3d 932, 951-952, 2 Cal.Rptr.2d 112, 820 P.2d 214.)

          In 2014, Ashmus filed a second petition for writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court to exhaust certain claims raised in his habeas petition in federal court.

         On May 22, 2019, the California Supreme Court transferred Ashmus’s pending habeas petition to the sentencing court as called for by Proposition 66. Our high court’s order provides, "Pursuant to Penal Code section 1509, subdivision (g), the petition is ...


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