Ruiz-Martinez v. Superior Court of Santa Cruz Cnty.

Decision Date18 October 2019
Docket NumberNo. H044349,H044349
Citation254 Cal.Rptr.3d 76,41 Cal.App.5th 214
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties Brandon Andres RUIZ-MARTINEZ, Petitioner, v. The SUPERIOR COURT OF SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Respondent, The People, Real Party in Interest.

David J. Cohen, Alexander P. Guilmartin, San Francisco, for Petitioner.

No appearance for Respondent:

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, for Real Party in Interest


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, 241 Cal.Rptr.3d 530, 431 P.3d 1169 ( 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.

IThe 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 "probable cause," even if he or she had personal feelings about it.

A different grand juror then disclosed that he or she had evicted a man who was affiliated with the Norteños from a property and that the juror had learned about the incident from this man. But the grand juror also indicated that he or she could set aside "anything related to the situation," do the job of being a grand juror, and issue an indictment only if the prosecutor presented evidence establishing probable cause.

Next, a grand juror indicated that he or she was needed to take care of a grandson for the next three weeks while his or her daughter went to work and that it would be a hardship to continue to sit on the grand jury. The prosecutor excused this grand juror since service would impose hardship on the grand juror and his or her family.

The prosecutor instructed the jurors on the probable cause standard and told them that they must decide all factual questions based on the evidence received in the proceeding and "not from any other source." She told the jurors that her remarks were not evidence. The prosecutor instructed the jurors that they "must judge the testimony of each witness by the same standards, setting aside any bias or prejudice [they might] have."

Two alternates were seated on the grand jury, bringing the total number of jurors seated on the grand jury to 19. The total number of grand jurors at the proceedings was 23.

Much later in the proceedings, during the presentation of evidence, a grand juror indicated that he or she knew the DJ in a video being shown to the jury and that the DJ was the person whom the juror had mentioned earlier and from whom the juror had heard about the incident. Then, outside the presence of the other grand jurors, the grand juror—apparently the same grand juror who had spoken up at the beginning of the proceedings—further explained that he or she had gone "through an eviction process with him" and knew that he was affiliated with the Norteños.

The grand juror told the prosecutor: "My heart rate totally jumped and it makes me way more uncomfortable than I was. I was totally comfortable this whole time.... [I]t kind of weirds me out a little bit." The prosecutor asked whether the grand juror could consider only "the competent evidence, which is the sworn testimony of witnesses and these exhibits ..., in reaching [his or her] determination." The grand juror indicated that he or she might be affected by "having gone through the eviction process and knowing his [gang] affiliation" and that it would be hard to set that aside. The prosecutor excused the grand juror, explaining that she "need[ed] people who can separate everything and be impartial."

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