Sidley partnered with the Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) and Covington & Burling LLP to secure the exoneration of Juan Bautista, an innocent man sentenced to 40 years to life for a shooting that he did not commit. Mr. Bautista was 19 years old when he was arrested for attempted murder in 2009 and had spent 12 years wrongfully incarcerated before his release in June 2021.
Mr. Bautista’s release came after a multi-year investigation into the shooting. Sidley associate Saurabh Prabhakar guided the investigation that unearthed credible and material exculpatory evidence nearly a decade after the shooting. Armed with the newly discovered evidence, in October 2019 Sidley and its partners, NCIP and Covington, filed a habeas corpus petition in San Joaquin County Superior Court seeking a reversal of Mr. Bautista’s conviction under both California and federal law. The petition persuaded the Court that Mr. Bautista had made a prima facie showing that he was entitled to habeas relief. In July 2020, the Court ordered an evidentiary hearing to decide the petition.
At the evidentiary hearing, conducted in mid-June 2021, the team presented a compelling case for the reversal of Mr. Bautista’s conviction for the 2009 shooting. Mr. Bautista’s conviction was based entirely on the testimony of only two eyewitnesses. The team presented evidence that vitiated Mr. Bautista’s previous identification and identified the real shooter. The team elicited testimony from witnesses that Mr. Bautista’s near-twin brother committed the shooting. Witnesses also testified that eyewitnesses who had previously identified Mr. Bautista as the shooter during the initial investigation were never shown a photo of Mr. Bautista’s brother. The San Joaquin County Superior Court found the newly discovered evidence met the requirements for post-conviction reversal. The Court determined that, had the jury heard the newly discovered evidence during his 2011 trial, it was more likely than not that at least one juror would have had a reasonable doubt as to Mr. Bautista’s guilt. The District Attorney’s Office ultimately conceded that Mr. Bautista’s conviction could not be maintained in light of the new evidence. After the District Attorney’s concession, the Court ordered Mr. Bautista’s release.
Mr. Bautista was released from prison on June 24, 2021 and was reunited with his wife, daughter, and extended family.