New Habeas Standard Gives California Prisoner Hope

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A man who served 19 years of a 75-year sentence for armed robbery saw his convictions vacated last week by a California appeals court that applied a new law relaxing the standard the state will use to consider new evidence.

Guy Miles was not released from prison. That will depend on whether the state chooses to retry him.

Miles years ago submitted declarations from three men who said he was not with them when they robbed a small Fullerton loan store in 1998.

But state law required that any new evidence, including confessions, must completely undermine the prosecution’s case and point unerringly to innocence, so in 2012 California’s Fourth Appellate District Court rejected his petition for habeas corpus.

However, under legislation that took effect on Jan. 1, California courts must grant defendants habeas corpus relief in the face of new evidence, such as a confession, that is “credible, material, presented without substantial delay, and of such decisive force and value that it would have more likely than not changed the outcome of the trial,” the appeals court wrote in its Jan. 19 ruling.

Miles was convicted on the basis of two victims who identified him as one of three men who entered the loan store with a weapon and stole roughly $1,400 in cash and $4,000 in checks. Enhanced by three prior three-strike convictions, Miles was sentenced to 75 years to life.

In 2010, he petitioned the trial court with declarations from three men who said they acted alone, but the judge found the men were not credible witnesses, partly because of their criminal histories.

Miles took his case to the appeals court in 2012 with the same three declarations. A court-appointed referee interviewed the three men and other alibi witnesses, and determined the information did not meet the legal standard for new evidence.

In last week’s ruling, Presiding Justice Eileen Moore highlighted the importance of the new law: “Notably, the referee observed that, ‘this is the type of case which dramatically tests the credibility of California’s criminal justice system.'”

Moore said that under the new statute, the habeas standard for new evidence is similar to that used for new evidence in a motion for a new trial under both California and federal schemes.

She found the confessions by the three men “sufficiently credible to warrant habeas relief,” and that they were material and presented without substantial delay.

The new law’s last element was met because the confessions “would have changed the outcome of the trial; that is, either and acquittal or a deadlocked jury.”

Though his convictions were vacated, he was not freed by the appeals court, which said the prosecution may decide to retry him. If the state chooses not to prosecute, he is to be released from custody.

Miles was represented by attorneys with the California Innocence Project: Jan Stiglitz, Justin Brooks, Alexander Simpson and Alissa Bjerkhoel.