Supreme Court unanimously vacates death penalty and conviction based on false evidence
March 12, 2018
Thirteen years after unanimously affirming a 1993 death penalty judgment, the Supreme Court grants a habeas corpus petition, unanimously vacating the death sentence and the conviction on which the sentence was based. The court does so because false evidence — that the 21-month-old victim had been sexually assaulted — was introduced at the trial and because a number of medical witnesses later recanted their trial testimony.
The Attorney General conceded that the evidence was false and that the court should vacate sexual offenses convictions, special-circumstance findings, and the death penalty, but he advocated for the reduction of the murder conviction to second degree. The court’s opinion in In re Figueroa, written by Justice Carol Corrigan, rejects the recommended partial relief and vacates the conviction in its entirety, declining “to posit a radically different trial than the one petitioner received, then try and discern what a jury might have concluded had untainted evidence, argued under a different legal theory, been presented.”
The court relates in a footnote the case’s unusual and ironic history in which an amended habeas petition was filed after discovery that the original petition was itself based on false evidence.
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