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Emmanuel Castillo-Lopez

Other California Exonerations
On July 29, 2012, a police officer in San Diego made a traffic stop and then ordered both men in the vehicle to show their hands as he moved toward their car. The driver complied immediately, but 25-year-old Emmanuel Castillo-Lopez hesitated and was ordered to get out of the car.

The officer arrested him and patted him down for weapons. The officer found a Swiss Army knife with the blade opened in the front pocket of Castillo-Lopez’s jacket. He was charged with carrying a concealed dirk or dagger.

California’s penal code said dirks and daggers were knives that were capable of “ready use as a stabbing weapon.” Pocketknives qualified “only if the blade of the knife is exposed and locked into position.”

Castillo-Lopez went to trial in San Diego Superior Court in 2013. His attorneys presented testimony that the Swiss army knife was not a dirk, because the blade did not lock. The state’s witnesses argued that the spring that kept the blade opened essentially locked the weapon. The jury convicted Castillo-Lopez on November 9, 2013, and he was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison. The majority of the sentence – two years and four months – was because Castillo-Lopez had a previous assault conviction that allowed California’s “three strikes” sentencing guidelines to kick in.

Castillo-Lopez appealed, and the Fourth District California Court of Appeal overturned his conviction on April 15, 2014. The state appealed, and the California Supreme Court affirmed the lower-court ruling on June 2, 2016, finding Castillo-Lopez factually innocent. Both appellate courts found that the Swiss Army knife didn’t meet the statutory definition of a locking blade.

The case was dismissed August 24, 2016, but Castillo-Lopez did not leave prison. On July 29, 2013, while awaiting trial, he was charged with possession of marijuana and methamphetamine. He was ultimately convicted and sentenced to four years in prison. Because of credit for time served, he was released on the drug charges on January 25, 2017.

After his release, Castillo-Lopez applied for compensation from the California Victim Compensation and Government Claim Board, and on November 5, 2018, the board declared him actually innocent and approved paying him $59,780. He had requested nearly four times that amount, covering his entire incarceration. But the board rejected that request, allowing him compensation only for 427 days, the period from his arrest for the weapons charge to his arrest for drug possession.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 4/26/2019
County:San Diego
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2012
Sentence:3 years and 8 months
Age at the date of reported crime:25
Contributing Factors:
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No