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Jose Arteaga

Other California Exonerations with Mistaken Witness ID
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On December 11, 2015, police were called to investigate a report of several males brawling in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Garden Grove, California.

As a Garden Grove police officer detained one youth, a gold-colored SUV backed out of a parking space and began to drive away. The officer ordered the driver to stop, but the vehicle sped away. The youth being questioned told the officer that the driver was a member of a local street gang named “Edgar.”

Not long after, the officer learned that moments after the SUV left the apartment complex, it crashed into a tree and the driver fled on foot. The SUV, records showed, had been reported stolen two days earlier.

The SUV crashed on the border between Garden Grove and Anaheim. Anaheim police responded to the scene and discovered the name of a street gang on the owner’s manual. Police subsequently put together a photographic array of members of that street gang who had “Edgar” as part of their names. The officer who saw the SUV drive away from the apartment complex viewed the photographs and identified Jose Edgar Arteaga as the person who was driving the SUV.

On December 11, 2015, Arteaga was arrested and charged with vehicle theft, hit and run with property damage, as well as two gang crime enhancements.

On April 21, 2016, during a hearing in Orange County Superior Court on a defense request to reduce Arteaga’s bond, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office disclosed that touch DNA tests had been performed on the steering wheel, gearshift and other areas of the vehicle, including the owner’s manual.

The only testable DNA recovered came from the owner’s manual, where a mixture of three male DNA profiles was discovered. None of them was linked to Arteaga.

After the judge reduced Arteaga’s bond from $100,000 to $50,000—an amount that Arteaga still was unable to post—and although the DNA did not link Arteaga to the crime, the prosecution offered a deal: plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of theft of a vehicle and the pending felony charges would be dismissed. Arteaga accepted the offer and pled guilty. He was sentenced to probation and 116 days in jail—which he had already served—and was released.

Subsequently, police submitted the most robust of the DNA profiles from the manual to the FBI’s DNA database and it matched a member of the same street gang whose first name was Edgar.

Under the Orange County District Attorney’s Red Flag program, the various law enforcement agencies in the county report DNA database hits to the prosecution. If there are DNA matches involving pending or closed cases, the prosecution discloses the information to defense attorneys in pending cases and re-investigates closed cases.

The prosecution re-investigated the case when it learned that the DNA matched another gang member named Edgar. As a result of its re-investigation, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office requested that Arteaga’s conviction be vacated. The other man was not charged.

On September 13, 2016, the court granted the motion to vacate the conviction and the prosecution dismissed the charge.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/17/2017
State:California
County:Orange
Most Serious Crime:Theft
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2015
Convicted:2016
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:116 days
Race:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:26
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*