We wrote our own appeal to prove my husband’s innocence

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by Kendra Castaneda

My husband, Robbie James Riva, who currently resides at Calipatria State Prison in Imperial County, has maintained his innocence for the past 11 years. The police tried to portray the crime my husband was convicted of as a “gang crime” drive-by shooting. A woman did get shot in the butt, but no one was seriously hurt.

There was not enough evidence to convict my husband or give him such a harsh sentence, but he was convicted anyway and given 30 years to life in prison. During the trial in 2002, all of the prosecution witnesses the DA called to testify – including the victim – said the picture of my husband’s car was not the car they had seen at the crime scene, nor was the other evidence what they had seen, and they said they had never seen my husband before in their lives.

My husband, Robbie James Riva, who currently resides at Calipatria State Prison in Imperial County, has maintained his innocence for the past 11 years.

My husband had an alibi along with alibi witnesses who testified at his trial. The first trial ended with a hung jury, and the judge declared a mistrial because the defense asked for police reports from the DA and a new alibi witness came forward. The second trial was worse: It was a different judge, the DA didn’t hand over discovery and it didn’t matter that the alibi witnesses testified because he was convicted anyway.

Due to a poor defense and fabricated police testimony, the jury found him guilty and, in February 2002, sentenced my husband to five years in prison for attempted voluntary manslaughter. The jury ruled he was not guilty of a gang crime and not guilty of being a street gang member or of any gang activity.

Because that wasn’t the sentence the DA wanted for my husband, the DA asked the judge to sentence him to the maximum sentence, which was 25 years to life on a gun enhancement. Although there was no gun to produce in the case, the judge agreed. At 18 years of age with no adult prior convictions, my husband, who had been a college student working full time when he was arrested and had then spent a year in jail because we couldn’t raise the $1.5 million bail, was sentenced to 30 years to life and sent to Pelican Bay State Prison.

There was not enough evidence to convict my husband or give him such a harsh sentence, but he was convicted anyway and given 30 years to life in prison.

After my husbands’ previous habeas corpus appeal prepared by his appellate attorney was denied in 2009, I knew my husband felt as if all hope was lost. Because there was no more money to pay a lawyer to continue to fight to prove his innocence, in 2010 I decided to take it on myself.

It was tough with little to no support from anyone outside of the walls he was confined in, but I convinced him that I could do it. I knew in my heart something was not right. All the years his appellate lawyer had supposedly been fighting to prove his innocence, which had resulted in two failed appeals, his lawyer couldn’t even respond to my husband in a timely manner, many times ignoring him and failing to provide him with his appellate records, documents and transcripts.

For the past two years, I’ve used the power of attorney my husband gave me to gather strong new evidence of his innocence, including obtaining the crime scene police report that the DA originally withheld. I dug deep and found out that my husband’s appellate lawyer, who had represented him from 2003 to 2009, never once tried to find new evidence of his innocence. He never requested a police report, DNA evidence or gunshot residue test results.

The only thing his appellate lawyer used to file my husband’s appeals was an augmentation report from his defense attorney at trial. No wonder the previous appeals were denied: His appellate attorney never once challenged the evidence that convicted him, never challenged insufficient counsel by my husband’s trial attorney, never challenged prosecutorial misconduct with known Brady Law violations in my husband’s trial etc. I was the one to find all the new evidence of his innocence, track down the victim and witnesses who fought for my husband, stating he was not the man who shot the victim, and discover the records that his defense lawyer failed to present that would have shown my husband’s good character in court.

After my husbands’ previous habeas corpus appeal prepared by his appellate attorney was denied in 2009, I knew my husband felt as if all hope was lost. Because there was no more money to pay a lawyer to continue to fight to prove his innocence, in 2010 I decided to take it on myself.

I remember people laughing at me in these past two years because they never saw anyone try and obtain confidential records with just a power of attorney, but I let them laugh. Many people who didn’t know my husband told me that he was guilty based on what his previous appeal stated or because CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) was falsely labeling him as “worst of the worst.”

I remember looking at them and asking: “Have you read his transcripts in full front to back? Did you study them? Did you speak to those who were there and who have known him for years before he was wrongfully convicted?” When they couldn’t answer, they stayed quiet.

I wasn’t going to depend on anyone else to dig up this evidence. I wasn’t going to wait years again for someone to investigate and help us write an appeal in hopes the court would reopen his case. So I took it into my own hands to obtain the new factual evidence to prove my husband innocent, and I am proud that I did.

I had also helped him file with the California Innocence Project in early 2010. After a year and a half, they declined to take his case in October 2011. They hadn’t obtained any new evidence of innocence nor looked deeply into what I had pulled up. Since they are a great organization, I figured they had too many cases to take on one more.

Even while my husband and I have been helping fight for the human rights of all prisoners throughout the state of California and trying to find legal help for others, we never asked an attorney to help us individually. We always put our needs last to ensure others who weren’t as proficient in law received legal help first. That’s just the type of people we are, and the denial by the California Innocence Project did not discourage us.

I wasn’t going to depend on anyone else to dig up this evidence. I wasn’t going to wait years again for someone to investigate and help us write an appeal in hopes the court would reopen his case. So I took it into my own hands to obtain the new factual evidence to prove my husband innocent, and I am proud that I did.

For the past year, since my husband has been put in segregation, he has been studying how to write an appeal himself. He came to believe he could do it because he had been challenging his validation by CDCR. He currently has a writ filed with the California Supreme Court challenging his validation and prison conditions which he wrote himself. If his appeal is granted, it will overturn his false validation that has him placed in segregation.

Robbie is a very intelligent man and while he studied his transcripts that I provided him, I would use Google search to find court cases that people had won based on evidence similar to what my husband is using to prove his innocence. He found more case cites in his own research.

We put our minds together, our strength, our love and we told each other we could do this and we did. He wrote his appeal himself with the documents I sent him. I compared his appeal to his previous appeals that were filed in court, and I must say I am very proud of my husband for being so dedicated and working so hard on it.

My husband filed his appeal in September in pro per in Long Beach Superior Court with Judge Joan Comparet-Cassani, and he filed in pro per with the attorney general in Los Angeles. This would be the first time in 11 years that an appeal in my husband’s case has new evidence that backs up his innocence. My husband is requesting an evidentiary hearing, he’s requesting appointment of counsel with declaration of indigency and he’s asking the court to obtain legal declarations from his trial counsel and appellate counsel.

We put our minds together, our strength, our love and we told each other we could do this and we did. He wrote his appeal himself with the documents I sent him. I compared his appeal to his previous appeals that were filed in court, and I must say I am very proud of my husband for being so dedicated and working so hard on it.

These are the new grounds he’s raising in his appeal:

Ground 1: Petitioner’s conviction violates due process of law. Evidence is insufficient to support the conviction in violation of petitioner’s rights to due process as guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and 14th Amendments.

Ground 2: Ineffective assistance of counsel at trial and on appeal violates petitioner’s right to effective assistance of counsel as guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Fifth, Sixth and 14th Amendments and Article I, Section 15, of the California Constitution.

Strong new factual evidence that backs up these new grounds includes prosecutorial misconduct: The prosecution failed to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense – evidence that could have exonerated my husband of all charges. Brady Law violations by the prosecution during my husband’s trial never were mentioned in his previous appeals. The police purposely destroyed notes and withheld more evidence they had gathered during interrogation that was never handed over to the defense.

Ineffective assistance of counsel applies to both trial counsel and appellate counsel. Trial counsel failed to call officers to testify who were at the crime scene. It is the responsibility of the defense to call any and all officers and witnesses to testify if it could help prove my husband’s innocence.

If I were in my husband’s situation, I know he’d do the same for me. I love my husband so much; he’s my best friend. I’ve known him for 18 years and I will continue to help him fight to overturn his wrongful conviction. If this appeal he just filed is denied, if he is denied a new hearing, if he is denied new counsel with declaration of indigency, I will be the first one to raise hell with the state of California, because it’s been 11 years since he was wrongfully convicted. That’s too long and he needs to be freed. My husband, Robbie Riva, is innocent!

A big thank you to Mary and Willie Ratcliff at the San Francisco Bay View for publishing stories that enable many men and women to tell their stories of injustice and for fully supporting my husband and me.

Please wish us luck.

Kendra Castaneda is a prisoner human rights advocate whose husband Robbie Riva has not only been fighting his wrongful conviction for 11 years, but he’s being tortured in segregation at Calipatria State Prison ASU. She can be reached at kendracastaneda55@gmail.com.

 

12 COMMENTS

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  2. Dear Kendra,

    Your story very much hits home to me and my family. I also along with my husband had attonerys file appeals for us which failed; so to make a long story short we wrote the habious ourselves with no more education than a Associates/ Liberal arts degree, which has been found to have enough evidence for a do over. We were then appointed council he took our habious and tweaked it and are currently awaiting hearing. I feel as though we have a very good chance. In most circumstances if you want something done and done right you just have to do it yourself and along with you there was no one that belived in my husband and had as much determination as me. So I know exactly where you stand I wish you all the luck in the world and I hope you nail this …. and after dealing with the sytem I am completely convinced it is completely flawed YOU are guilty until proven innocent … and I now wonder how many innocent people are in prison for lack of funds, education or just scared into a plea….
    SINCERLY ..NO FAITH IN THE SYSTME

  3. IM 26 YRS OLD MY DAD WAS ARRESTED LAST YEAR, AFTER THE INCIDENT TOOK THEM 10 MONTHS TO ARREST MY DAD BECAUSE THEY DID NOT HAVE ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO ARREST HIM. THROUGH THE WHOLE HAERING TO THE JURY WAS JUST NO WAY TO CONVICT MY DAD FOR SOMTHING THAT HE DID NOT DO, I NEED HELP. NOW WE FILED FOR AN APPEAL BUT NEED TO KNOW, HOW TO CHOOSE AN APEAL LAWER, WE ARE GATHERING ABOUT 25,000 DOLLARS TO GET A LAWER TO REPRESENT MY DADS CASE AND ALSO THE INNOCENCE PROJECT TEAM WILL TAKE A LOOK ON MY DADS CASE, I KNOW WHAT YOUR GOING THROUGH AND I WISH YOU THE BEST

  4. I found ur case online after looking for help with my own. I pray that if ur husband has been wrongly acused that ur hard efforts are rewarding. Me and my family know and understand the fellings of pain anger and hopelessly behind all this. Im a black male who in 2013 was shot by a white man and him and his family stated I had guns and pointed them at their mother so they shot me once and
    I grabbed my stomach with the gun and sat down. Then got back up and pointed the guns at their mom again so they shot me again. These two brother who had rifles were to my right one at a 40-46°angle and the other far right 90°. Big problem with their story is that I was only shot once and I was shot on the left side of my stomach which the bullet came out my right side and went into my arm. In efford to explain this wound the brother who shot me lied on stand and said he saw a small wound on my right side with fleshy meat protruding out of it then he also stated that he was getting updates and seen pictures that had a drain tube hanging out the exact same hole. Problem with that is that the doctors cut the hole and put the dain tube in on 07/03 three days after I was shot. The police admitted that they didnt investigate anything I told them when they came to see me 8 days after I was. They admitted that despite the fact they had 1st responders training three office came and didnt help me at all one took evidence one so-called secured the arae while the other took witness statements. Everyone left me to die!!!One of there witness after being impeached on her written statements b/c she said I had two gun on the stand but wrote that night in her statement that I only had one. When forced to confront this she swore I had two gun then said ‘but he didnt point them at anyone he use them as a extension of his hand point at the grond as he spoke. The mother was the states star witness b/c they claim I aimed at her, therefore she is the actual victim in my case not the brothers who had guns trained on me as I walked down a county road, couldnt even pick me out in a open court room although I was the only black person in there and I was at the deffense table. One brother claim only his brother was there giving me aid to keep me alive after the shooting, while the brother himself said it was him and his girlfriend but the girlfriend says it was only her. 3 more of their witnesses where also impeached for their testimonies not matching up to what they wrote that night. The police found no prints on the gun or if they did its one of the boys b/c outta two guns they only claim they printed one. They also had linked the gun to me after finding no prints and finding out that the eyewitnesses were lying with DNA evidence. Problem is that I was hit in artery and had suffed major blood lost med report said I was pale with no distal pulse and a weak central pulse. Photos also show so much blood on the ground, towels, medical pads etc. And yet they claim only 1 swab of blood was on the guns. In the police report there is no mention of blood until the 9th which was 9 days after I was shot were the offer who interviewed me 1st learned I wasnt shot twice. He claim he was reviewing the report of the lead investigator’s report and he said the brothers moved the guns away from me and blood was found on the trigger guard. Well if you read the police report made by the lead investigator on 07/01, the very day they was suppose to find this blood together, his report says nothing about blood. In fact by the time they enter blood on the gun into the report the only thing at this point the report was only talking about was picking up bullet fragments from the hospital. When asked where they found the blood they stated we dont remember. When asked what side the blood was found on, seeing we had great pic of one side, they stated they dont remember. When asked where they suppose to photograph it they said yes but didnt when ask after seeing pics of all the blood could he sure he didnt have blood on his hands when he handled the weapon he stated he couldnt. The only reports of the testing of the guns is the report showing that Missouri State Highway Potrol recieved them on 07/02 then a report was sent to the county on 8/14 saying no prints found and swab for future DNA test. Hell I was formallly charged 07/23rd although they knew that their eyewitnesses were lying and knew I wasnt shot twice also knowing I was shot while turning to go, how else would you explain shooter on the right and Im shot from left to right not right to left. I truely believe the guns went to the MSHP and my prints wasnt found so the MSHP sent them back and only after talking to me on the 8th and learning that I was shot once and the direction of the bullet wound I recieved is way off from what they say they take blood from my sweetpants put it on the gun and then makes an entry of blood evidence in the report on the 9th then come get DNAA swab from me on the 10th and sent the guns back another with my DNA. And as for me carrying two guns I was wearing sweats without pockets that day and without a drawstring which the cops have and was used at trial. I was carrying a 32oz beer in one hand and a pack of cigarettes in the other which they have photos of it sitting at the edge of their driveway where I sat them down to show I wasnt armed. When the cop was asked how could he carry a beer, which the father claims he seen me 20feet down the road and didnt see any gun but he did see the beer, he said I dont know maybe he had on really tight underwear. The trial ended in a mistrial b/c when the jury went in to deliberate one of the jury members wrote a note saying that he knew state’s star witness. Refuse to make a decision and this was right on he heels of the alternate walking out. He sat their a full day after the so-called victim/star witmess testified then derailed my train. One of the last things that the prosecutor attorney said in his closing arguments was “I knownthis is hard for you to do but don’t believe anything that yhe deffense is telling you today” He admitted that he lost!
    I pray for you and ur husbands case and ask that you pray for mine. Ive bonded out 3 different time racked up tons of med and legal fees lost our home and my great paying job because of this. Your husband has lost his freedom so I guess Im blessed.
    If you have any pointers you have learned any resources that I can check into please email or text me. I have all my medical records, my dicovery, and trial recordings. May God lend u guys a hand.

  5. It's good that you took action in helping your husband gain his freedom. It is not uncommon for innocent people to be charged with what they didn't do and in most cases, there is no one to stand for them. And many often go to prison or jailed for a long time for crime they never committed.

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