The Supreme Court today affirmed the death sentence in People v. Ramirez for a 1997 murder and other serious crimes. Over its 236 pages, the court’s unanimous opinion by Justice Carol Corrigan rejected many defense arguments.

Among them were claims regarding the prosecution’s assertion at the trial’s penalty phase that the defendant had shot and killed a previous murder victim, even though during earlier trials against others the prosecution had argued that one of the others had been the shooter. The defendant argued unsuccessfully that the inconsistent positions required disqualification of the district attorney’s office and that the inconsistency, which was not disclosed to the jury, deprived him of a fair penalty phase verdict.

The court concluded, “The evidence was ambiguous as to the shooter’s identity. There is no evidence before us that the prosecutor deliberately manipulated the trial evidence to present a false picture of defendant’s guilt. The fact that the prosecution had interpreted the evidence differently in separate trials was not information that defendant was entitled to present in his case.”

Justices Joshua Groban and Goodwin Liu both signed the court’s opinion, but Justice Groban wrote a separate concurrence that Justice Liu signed “to emphasize that the prosecution’s turnabout warrants additional scrutiny,” particularly in a habeas corpus proceeding where the defendant can “try to demonstrate the prosecutor acted in bad faith to [the defendant’s] prejudice.” The record and case law is enough to prevent a reversal on appeal, Groban said, “[b]ut it does not fully answer the question why, in the space of less than three years, this same District Attorney’s office went from arguing that [the defendant’s] co-perpetrators’ contentions that [the defendant] shot [the prior murder victim] were unsupported and self-serving to arguing that the evidence showed [the defendant] was the shooter.”

The court also rejected a Batson/Wheeler claim of racial discrimination in the prosecution’s peremptory challenges of one Black and three Hispanic prospective jurors. It said “the issue is close,” but concluded the defendant didn’t make a prima facie case of discrimination that would have required the prosecutor to justify the challenges.