People v. Ramirez, S155160

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtOpinion of the Court by Cantil-Sakauye, C. J.
Citation274 Cal.Rptr.3d 309,479 P.3d 797,10 Cal.5th 983
Parties The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Irving Alexander RAMIREZ, Defendant and Appellant.
Docket NumberS155160
Decision Date28 January 2021

10 Cal.5th 983
479 P.3d 797
274 Cal.Rptr.3d 309

The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
Irving Alexander RAMIREZ, Defendant and Appellant.


Supreme Court of California.

January 28, 2021
As Modified on Denial of Rehearing April 14, 2021

Michael J. Hersek and Mary K. McComb, State Public Defenders, under appointments by the Supreme Court, and Maria Morga, Deputy State Public Defender, for Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Gerald A. Engler and Lance E. Winters, Chief Assistant Attorneys General, Ronald S. Matthias, Assistant Attorney General, Glenn R. Pruden, Sarah J. Farhat and Elizabeth W. Hereford, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Opinion of the Court by Cantil-Sakauye, C. J.

10 Cal.5th 990

A jury convicted defendant Irving Alexander Ramirez of the first degree murder of San Leandro Police Officer Nels Niemi. ( Pen. Code §§ 187, subd. (a), 189 ; all subsequent statutory references are to the Penal Code unless otherwise specified.) The jury also found true the charged firearm enhancements and special circumstance allegations. Specifically, it found true the allegations that (1) defendant murdered Niemi to prevent or avoid a lawful arrest (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(5)), and (2) defendant intentionally killed Niemi, a peace officer engaged in the lawful performance of his duties, and defendant knew, or reasonably should have known, that Niemi was such an officer (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(7)). The jury returned a verdict of death.

The trial court sentenced defendant accordingly. In conjunction with the death judgment, the court ordered defendant to pay a restitution fine of $10,000. (§ 1202.4,

479 P.3d 804

subd. (b).) This automatic appeal followed. We affirm the judgment in its entirety.


A. Evidence at the Guilt Phase

Defendant did not contest that he shot and killed Niemi. He did dispute, however, that he committed the killing with the requisite mental state to be guilty of first degree murder. Because of the thrust of

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defendant's argument, both the prosecution and defense introduced extensive evidence of defendant's activities preceding, immediately surrounding, and following the murder.

1. Prosecution case

The prosecution's theory of the crime was that defendant killed Niemi to avoid arrest. To demonstrate that defendant had reason to fear arrest, the prosecution introduced the testimony of Mark Sheldon, a police officer with the City of Pleasanton. Sheldon related that in December 2004 — about seven months before defendant had the fatal interaction with Niemi — Sheldon pulled over defendant's vehicle. Sheldon asked defendant for his identification, much like Niemi did seven months later. Instead of producing his driver's license, defendant gave Sheldon his California identification card. This caused Sheldon to suspect that defendant's license was suspended and defendant was on probation. Sheldon "did a records check," which confirmed that defendant "was on probation with[ ] ... a four-way search and seizure," which gave Sheldon the ability "to search [defendant's] person, property,

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vehicle and the home." Sheldon searched defendant and discovered suspected methamphetamine and cocaine in his front pocket. Sheldon arrested defendant, who subsequently spent 45 days in jail. Relying in part on Sheldon's testimony, the prosecution argued that defendant shot Niemi after Niemi requested his identification because defendant thought "[t]he officer had my ID, he was going to run it. I was subject to search and seizure, I was going to go to jail, so I killed him."

To establish what transpired on the day of the murder, the prosecution introduced testimony of the four individuals who were with defendant when he shot Niemi. Those present at the crime scene were Vincente Heredia, Frank Gonzales, Miguel Rangel, and Jose Luis Arteaga. Heredia testified that on the day of the murder, he called defendant, requesting to borrow a gun. Defendant dropped off a gun for Heredia at the home of Heredia's mother, which was located on Doolittle Drive in San Leandro. Later that day, Heredia discharged the firearm, but after firing once, the gun jammed. Heredia then called defendant to inform him that the gun had jammed and defendant should pick it up.

After receiving the call from Heredia about the jammed gun, defendant drove to Doolittle Drive. Along the way, he picked up a friend, Arteaga. Arteaga testified that because defendant had been drinking "since earlier that day," his driving was "very erratic." Arteaga asked defendant to pull over so he could drive instead. Defendant complied and gave Arteaga turn-by-turn directions to Heredia's place. According to Arteaga, defendant had multiple firearms in the car, including a shotgun, a "dark color handgun," and a box of ammunition for the shotgun. A subsequent search of defendant's vehicle confirmed Arteaga's report of the shotgun and ammunition.

When defendant and Arteaga arrived at Doolittle Drive, they entered the home with Heredia. Heredia handed the gun to defendant, who "took it apart," "looked at it," and explained why the gun jammed. Defendant then put the gun away on his person. The three men went back outside.

Once outdoors, Heredia, Arteaga, and defendant were joined by Gonzales (Heredia's half brother) and Rangel (Gonzales's cousin). Defendant had brought a bottle of Hennessy cognac with him, and the group drank from the bottle. As the men were standing about, a neighbor called the police about "a group of [juveniles] loitering and blocking [a] driveway." Officer Niemi was dispatched to the scene. This was the

274 Cal.Rptr.3d 318

second time that day that Niemi was called to the Doolittle Drive location because of juveniles congregating in the area. Niemi had earlier dispersed a group of individuals without incident. Responding to the second call, Niemi arrived at the scene at 10:57 p.m.

479 P.3d 805
10 Cal.5th 992

All four individuals with defendant — Heredia, Arteaga, Gonzales, and Rangel — testified regarding the interaction between the group and Niemi when Niemi arrived at Doolittle Drive. After pulling up in his patrol vehicle, Niemi asked the men if they were "the same ... people he had kicked out of there earlier." Heredia told Niemi they were not. Niemi got out of the car, asked the men if they had been drinking, and requested to see their identification. Niemi collected an identification card (ID) first from Heredia and then from defendant. Defendant took some time to produce his ID, as he was "fumbling around" with his wallet. He eventually handed his ID to Niemi, who turned to Rangel and took his ID. Arteaga testified he thought Niemi was "calling [the identification] in" because he saw the officer reach for the radio located on his left shoulder.

As Niemi was handling the IDs, defendant pulled a handgun and shot the officer in the head. The shooting happened suddenly and unexpectedly.

After defendant shot Niemi, the group scattered. As they ran, the group's members heard more shots fired. Arteaga stated he saw Niemi "on his back, on the ground" with defendant standing over him before hearing additional shots. Through eyewitness and expert testimony, the prosecution showed that defendant shot Niemi six times in total, emptying the clip in his handgun.

The five men ran to their cars and divided into two separate vehicles. Gonzales and Rangel entered Gonzales's car, while Heredia, Arteaga, and defendant used Heredia's. Although Gonzales and Rangel initially drove away from the crime scene, they quickly returned. Rangel went to where Niemi was lying. He "noticed that there was a bottle of Hennessy" and an ID next to the officer. Rangel picked up both objects, saw that the ID was neither his nor Heredia's, and threw the bottle and ID aside. As it turned out, the ID that Rangel found — later recovered by the police — was defendant's. Officers arrived on the scene thereafter.

The three men in Heredia's car fled the scene. Heredia and Arteaga testified that they were panicked and worried. Both Heredia and Arteaga pressed defendant about why he shot the police officer. According to Heredia, defendant replied, "I was gone. I was gone. I was gonna go." Heredia explained the expression means that "you were going to go to jail or was [sic] going to be gone for a while." Arteaga similarly testified that defendant responded "I was done," which means "I'm gonna get caught."

Defendant asked Heredia to drive over the Dumbarton Bridge. Heredia refused because he wanted to go home. As Heredia was driving on the road that was "the last exit before the bridge," defendant told him to stop. Defendant then got out of the car, walked to the marsh, "threw something"

10 Cal.5th 993

away, and "came back [to] the car" wearing nothing but boxer shorts. Heredia dropped defendant off at defendant's residence. Ashley Ewert, defendant's then-girlfriend, was there waiting for him.

At trial, Ewert testified as follows. Defendant came through the door wearing just his boxers. He started telling Ewert "to get everything out." He then grabbed a bottle of bleach and went into the shower. When he came out of the shower, defendant repeated that Ewert had to help him, "to get everything out," and that they "had

274 Cal.Rptr.3d 319

to go." Ewert left with defendant in her car. When they were in the car, defendant "started wiping his hands and his arms with alcohol swabs." Ewert asked defendant what was happening, and defendant confessed that he "just shot a cop," "just killed a cop." Defendant directed Ewert to drive to Arteaga's house. Arteaga gave defendant some money. Defendant and Ewert then drove away.

Back in the car, defendant recounted to Ewert more of what happened. Defendant said that he was with Arteaga and Heredia when a policer officer "pulled up and asked for their I.D.s." Defendant gave the officer his identification. "The police officer went to reach for his radio, and [defendant] shot him once in the face, and...

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