People v. Ruiz, A153135

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtSTEWART, J.
Citation51 Cal.App.5th 369,264 Cal.Rptr.3d 909
Decision Date26 June 2020
Docket NumberA153135
Parties The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Benjamin RAMIREZ RUIZ, Defendant and Appellant.

264 Cal.Rptr.3d 909
51 Cal.App.5th 369

The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
Benjamin RAMIREZ RUIZ, Defendant and Appellant.


Court of Appeal, First District, Division 2, California.

Filed June 26, 2020

Law Offices of Beles & Beles, Robert J. Beles, Oakland, Paul G. McCarthy, and Joseph L. Ryan for Defendant and Appellant.

Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Jeffrey M. Laurence, Assistant Attorney General, Eric D. Share and Leif M. Dautch, Deputy Attorneys General for Plaintiff and Respondent.


264 Cal.Rptr.3d 913

Defendant Benjamin Ramirez Ruiz was convicted after a jury trial on three counts of sex crimes he committed against his minor daughter (Minor) and sentenced to 44 years to life. On appeal, he challenges the trial court's admission into evidence of Minor's incriminating out-of-court statements to a social worker as violating his confrontation clause rights. He also challenges the trial court's rulings that the prosecution presented sufficient evidence to satisfy the corpus delicti rule, which rule requires, when a defendant makes extrajudicial incriminating statements, that there also be independent evidence of the corpus delicti, meaning of the body of the crime itself, in order to convict. We affirm in part and reverse in part. We affirm the convictions on count 3 (continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14, § 288.5) and count 5 (forcible rape of a child under 14, § 261, subd.(a)(1)). We reverse the conviction on count 2 (oral copulation or sexual penetration of a child 10 or younger, § 288.7) only because we agree with defendant that the corpus delicti rule was not satisfied regarding that count.1


In December 2016, the San Mateo County District Attorney filed an information charging Ramirez Ruiz with sex crimes he allegedly committed against Minor. These were: sexual intercourse or sodomy with a child 10 years old or younger ( Pen. Code, § 288.7, subd.(a),2 count 1); oral copulation or sexual penetration with a child 10 years old or younger ( § 288.7, subd.(b), count 2); continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14 years old (§ 288.5, subd. (a), count 3); two counts of forcible rape of a child under 14 years old (§ 261, subd. (a)(2), counts 4 and 5); five counts of forcible oral copulation of a minor under 14 years old (§ 288A, subd. (c)(2)(B), counts 6 through 10); and sexual penetration by foreign object of a child under 14 years old (§ 289, subd. (a)(1)(B), count 11).

A jury trial followed. We summarize the evidence relevant to our resolution of Ramirez Ruiz's appeal.


Testimony of Minor's School Counselor

A counselor at a Redwood City school where Minor was in sixth grade testified that Minor was born January 21, 2005, and was a straight A student, and that Minor's mother (Mother) volunteered often at the school.

51 Cal.App.5th 374

On September 20, 2016, Mother knocked on the counselor's office door and, appearing "[s]haky and" "worried," and with "a sense of urgency," insisted that she needed to see the counselor. After speaking with Mother,3 the counselor called for Minor, who soon arrived and talked with the counselor. Minor became "very, very

264 Cal.Rptr.3d 914

upset" when the counselor said she would have to report what Minor had told her. Minor said repeatedly that "she didn't want her father to go to jail, that she wanted her family to be together, but she wanted it to stop." She left the office "[t]earful; quiet; very, very upset."

The counselor further testified that her relationship with Minor and her Mother changed over time: "We would have really frequent interactions after this for many different reasons. And, lately, there has been a definite shift. Mom isn't interacting with me. [Minor] doesn't seem happy to see me anymore and seems uncomfortable around me."


Minor's Statements to a Social Worker

Dana Donnelly, a San Mateo County social worker, testified that on the evening of September 20, 2016, she conducted "a check" of Minor at Minor's home after a receiving a report that Minor had been sexually abused.4 Both parents were present but, as we will discuss, Donnelly interviewed Minor privately in a bedroom with only a co-worker and a deputy sheriff present. In the interview, Minor was "calm and polite" and "seemed relaxed" at first. Her demeanor changed, however, toward the end when she became "visibly upset," her voice "tremble[d] a little bit, and she started crying." She rested her head on Donnelly's shoulder with Donnelly's encouragement.

Unbeknownst to Donnelly, the deputy sheriff present recorded the interview. The recording was played for the jury but is not contained in the record; however, two transcripts are, one presented by the prosecution at trial and one presented by the defense to the court as part of its motion for a new trial.5

Both transcripts indicate that Donnelly alone interviewed Minor for a relatively short period of time (each is only five pages long). Donnelly first inquired about the language Minor preferred to converse in (which was English),

51 Cal.App.5th 375

explained she was a social worker and asked about Minor's home life. She asked Minor if anything had happened that morning and Minor said no. Donnelly then asked, "[H]as anyone ever touched you in a way that made you feel uncomfortable?" Minor said, "Yes," and indicated her father had touched her the previous Friday. The prosecution's transcript states that Minor said her father had touched her "[i]n my private part" with his "private part," and the Ramirez Ruiz's transcript indicates she only said her father had touched her "[i]n my pants." In both transcripts, Minor, when asked when was "the first time" it happened, answered, "[l]ike, three months" before, and that "then" she told him she was going to her Mother but he had threatened to hit her if she did. The prosecution's transcript has Minor saying she and her Mother made a deal not to tell Ramirez Ruiz that Donnelly and the others were coming to the house; the defense transcript has her saying she and Ramirez Ruiz made a deal "that we weren't gonna tell or you guys would come."


Detective Lopez's Interrogation of Ramirez Ruiz

On September 21, 2016, the day after Donnelly's interview of Minor, Detective Lisandro Lopez of the San Mateo County

264 Cal.Rptr.3d 915

Sheriff's Office interrogated Ramirez Ruiz at a county jail. A video (which is not in the record) and an English-language transcript of the interrogation (which apparently occurred in Spanish) were provided to the jury.

According to the transcript, Ramirez Ruiz, after receiving notice of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694, said he had been arrested the previous day because of an outstanding warrant and the suspicion that he had "harassed" Minor. He lived with his wife and Minor in a one-bedroom apartment and had a "normal" relationship with Minor. After a recent change, his wife and Minor slept in the bedroom and he slept in the living room, but they slept in the bedroom together sometimes. He worked some small jobs but did not have steady job, and his wife worked from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Ruiz denied having sex with Minor. The three of them sometimes wrestled on the bed, during which he may have accidentally grabbed Minor's breasts two or three times and perhaps her vagina, and she might have grabbed his penis a couple of times. He was "hardly alone" with Minor because he was the last one to wake up and the last one to get home most of the time. However, one or two times he might have accidentally grabbed her breasts as they played alone. He denied touching Minor's breasts or vagina in the morning after his wife left for work. He never had put his hands inside Minor's underwear

51 Cal.App.5th 376

or put his hands inside her bra. He never had kissed her vagina or put his penis in it, and she had never sucked his penis.

Lopez testified that he then used a "rouse,"6 meaning a common police tactic in which the interrogator said something that was not necessarily true to try to "elicit a response" and get the subject to "open up and tell ... what happened." That is, the transcript of the interrogation indicates that Lopez intimated, with no actual knowledge, that DNA collected from Minor had been found to be Ramirez Ruiz's. In response, Ramirez Ruiz said he had the right to remain silent, to which Lopez responded, "since you ... don't want to provide your statement, we will have to bring your daughter to court to explain everything," and asked, "Would you ... be willing to have your daughter there in court explaining, testifying in front of everybody?" Upon further...

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