Homicide

Hayward DUI Hit and Run Ends in Fatality (CA Penal Code 191.5)

Hayward police claim that the driver of the vehicle that struck another car early Saturday morning was intoxicated when he caused the collision.  The accident happened near Eden Shores and Hesperian boulevards when a 28-year-old man (name withheld) crashed into another car with 2 passengers when he allegedly failed to stop at a red light.  An 18-year-old teenager was killed as a result of the incident.  The unproven perpetrator left his vehicle and attempted to escape on foot; local law enforcement officials were able to detain him within a few minutes and judged him to be under the influence of alcohol or some other drug.  He was eventually arrested for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence (DUI), and hit and run.

In California, when someone is involved in a traffic incident with fatalities and can be proven to have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol while operating their vehicle, this generally falls under the umbrella of ‘vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated’ (CA Penal Code 191.5).  Different from a simple DUI, in this type of case, prosecutors must be able to prove that an individual has not only been driving while under the influence, but has also caused another person’s death due to their own negligence.

According to the law, there are 2 ways in which an individual may be charged under this section: as having acted with ordinary negligence or gross negligence.  In other words, cases like these are California ‘wobblers,’ meaning that it is up to prosecutors to determine how they will treat it.  If you are charged with having acted with ‘ordinary negligence,’ then you may either be facing a misdemeanor or felony charges of ‘ordinary vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.’  This means that you could be looking at anywhere from 1 year in county jail or up to 4 years in state prison, depending on whether the crime is prosecuted as a misdemeanor or as a felony.  However, if you have been charged with having acted with ‘gross negligence,’ penalties rise substantially.  First, acting with ‘gross negligence’ raises the crime to the level of a felony; second, you could spend up to 10 years in state prison.

California State Supreme Court Rules on Getaway Drivers

Until quite recently, the driver of a getaway car involved in an armed robbery with fatalities could not only be tried and convicted of murder, but could also have been put to death by the state.  Now, in a unanimous decision, the California state Supreme Court has determined that getaway drivers may no longer be considered a capital crime.  The original case before the court involved the robbery of a medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles.  During the course of the incident, a security guard was shot and killed.  An individual man was responsible for driving the getaway car, but, the court says, he could not have known that the robbery would end in death and, therefore, could not be accused of murder, nor be given a life sentence without parole or be subject to California’s death penalty.

This marks a significant moment in the history of California law.  Although it is certain that the getaway driver involved in the occurrence at the marijuana dispensary will spend a lengthy period of time in prison, this is due more to the fact that he had priors than the one particular case at hand.  In addition, California defense attorneys and defendants in similar cases have cause for hope that the newly composed state Supreme Court may be a but more open-minded when it comes to fairness from a legal perspective.

The original sentencing guidelines originate from a ballot measure that passed in 1990.  This ballot measure created sentencing guidelines that included a death sentence or life without parole for anyone who could be proven an accomplice in a crime involving a fatality, even when there was no solid proof that the individual knew that there would be a death.

San Jose Man Arrested for Suspicion of DUI and Vehicular Manslaughter (CA Penal Code 191.5)

A 23-year-old man driving a Lexus SUV was allegedly under the influence of alcohol when he accidentally crashed the vehicle against a median on North Capital Avenue in San Jose.  Reports claim that there were up to 6 people in the car that night, 2 of whom were determined dead at the scene, while 3 more were rushed to a local hospital in stable condition.  After the accident, law enforcement agents searched the vehicle and found some type of alcohol, thus assuming that the driver had been under the influence at the time of the collision.  He was arrested for suspicion of DUI and vehicular manslaughter.

There is a very particular California law that applies when the driver of a vehicle is suspected of being intoxicated when they accidentally cause the death of others in a car crash.  California Penal Code 191.5 (“Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated”) addresses the possibility that an individual who has been drinking, and then causes a fatal accident is guilty of a special kind of negligence.  In cases of these types, prosecutors must determine whether they will claim, in court, that a defendant acted with ordinary negligence or with gross negligence.

If ‘gross negligence’ can be proven, then prosecutors must still decide whether they will treat the crime as a misdemeanor or as a felony (this is what is known as a ‘wobbler’).  If a person is convicted of ordinary vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, they may expect to spend up to 1 year in county jail.  However, a conviction on the basis of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated may lead to up to 4 years in state prison.  In either case, the convicted party will be forced to surrender their driver’s license for a time and may also anticipate official DUI courses mandated by the state.

 

Juvenile Murder Conviction Overturned Due to Officer Denial of Attorney (CA Penal Code 187)

You may already know that juvenile offenders are treated differently than adults, even when they have committed the same crime.  You may not be aware, however, that a Second District Court of Appeal recently overturned the murder conviction (CA Penal Code 187) of a 13-year-old boy because, as it turns out, when he asked investigators in the case, “Could I have an attorney?  Because that’s not me,” they didn’t take that as a request for an attorney.

This is one instance in which the spirit of the law was ignored and the letter of the law might have been used for the sole benefit of the prosecutors’ interpretation of the letter of the law.  This is an important decision; the boy has already been tried and convicted of 3 separate murders, all of which he confessed to after having been denied legal representation.  Judge Gail Feuer and 2 other Superior Court justices determined that the confession must now be thrown out, as the police officers involved with the questioning of the boy ignored his request for a lawyer.

If you’re wondering what the legal precedent for this is, it’s the United States Supreme Court ruling that officers of the law repeat a phrase from each time they arrest someone, it’s the 1966 Miranda ruling and it is meant to inform anyone who is taken in by police of their rights as a citizen.  Clearly this boy’s rights were not given due respect and this recent court decision seems to agree with this perspective.  Whether he was an adult or not is beside the point.  It is possible, no likely, that prosecutors will, at this point, simply re-try the case and attempt to gather more evidence against the youth, including finding avenues that will allow them to use his confession against him in other ways.

 

DUI Driver Charged with Vehicular Manslaughter in Oakland (CA Penal Code 191.5)

A man from Livermore (20), name withheld to protect the privacy of the accused) is currently being held in custody in conjunction with a DUI related crash that ended in the death of a passenger in his vehicle on New Year’s Day.  It seems that the accident occurred in the early morning hours near the MacArthur/High Street on-ramp.  Local law enforcement agents believe that both drugs and alcohol were to blame for the incident.

A California DUI should not be taken lightly.  Penalties, especially for a 2nd and 3rd offense are strict and harsh.  In fact, every DUI in California falls into the legal category of a ‘priorable offense.’  This means that, with each offense within 10 years of time, the punishment increases significantly.  Ostensibly, this is mean to decrease the number of DUIs by increasing the level of punishment.  Conviction for a 1st offense DUI, for example, will likely end in only up to 6 months in county jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.  However, a 3rd offense means up to 1 year in county (and 5 years of probation), revocation of your driver’s license for up to 3 years, and attendance at a state-sanctioned DUI school.

Yet, when a person’s death is the result of an accident involving drugs or alcohol, the consequence become even direr (CA Penal Code 191.5).  Although you may not have intended to end another person’s life, the courts will treat your actions as negligence and may be charged with vehicular manslaughter.  This particular law may sometimes be considered a misdemeanor and sometimes a felony (a ‘wobbler’), depending on what prosecutors believe to be the facts of an individual case.  If convicted, you may face 4 years in state prison, along with the aforementioned fines and other penalties.

 

Woman Charged with Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated in San Mateo Pedestrian Death (CA Penal Code 191.5(a))

Recently, a 21-year-old woman (name withheld to protect the accused’s privacy) has recently been charged with gross vehicular manslaughter and a drug-related DUI after an incident in a San Mateo Walgreen’s parking lot.  Law enforcement officials allege that this young woman was under the influence of marijuana when she accidentally ran into an elderly woman, who was walking through the drive-through.  The woman later expired due to the injuries she sustained at the time of the collision.

The younger woman involved in this occurrence will face what amounts to 2 felony charges if eventually convicted.  In the state of California, the crime of “Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated” (CA Penal Code 191.5(a)) is a serious one indeed.   Any individual who finds himself or herself in a similar situation must remember that there are several different elements that prosecutors must be able to prove in order to get a conviction for a violation of this law.  First, it must be proved that either drugs or alcohol were involved; Second, they must have acted with ‘gross negligence;’ Third, another person must have been killed as a consequence of these actions.

If an individual can be proven to have acted with ‘ordinary negligence,’ then penalty is 1 year in county jail.  However, as in the above circumstance, if the individual in question has been charged with a felony (CA PC 191.5(a)), then they will face up to 10 years in state prison and the suspension of their driver’s license.

 

Alameda County D.A. Office Seeks Indictment in Cases Involving the Mentally Ill (CA Penal Code 1370)

When, in 2012, John Doe 1 was arrested for his part in the Oikos University massacre and John Doe 2 (name withheld in order to protect the privacy of the accused) was accused of a murder in the Berkeley hills, there seemed to be little debate as to whether either of these two men should be released, perhaps ever.  Yet, there is something to think about here when it comes to the treatment of mentally ill defendants, especially those who might never make any kind of meaningful recovery.

Recently, the Alameda County district attorney’s office has sought grand jury indictments in both the above-mentioned cases.  The central question from the public has been: Why?  Why is it necessary to procure an indictment against persons who will likely spend the rest of their lives in an institution anyway?  Normally, persons who suffer delusions, hallucinations, and/ or other similar experiences, are deemed unfit for trial.  Prosecutors are now seeking an indictment in order to put into place something called a “Murphy Conservatorship,” a legal maneuver that prevents seriously mentally ill patients who are not fit for trial from being released (CA Penal Code 1370 “Incompetent to Stand Trial”). This is meant to protect both the public and the individual in question.  Under a Murphy Conservatorship, a defendant may be held indefinitely if it is believed that they still present a “substantial danger of physical harm to others.”

Prosecutors in Alameda County argue that, as a Murphy Conservatorship involves getting an indictment, it also means that a trial may eventually occur.  In other words, the county wishes to maintain its right to bring mentally ill persons to trial, if any kind of meaningful recovery occurs.  Others, however, would argue that this step is unnecessary and a violation of the mentally ill defendant’s rights.  The only reason for obtaining an indictment, it seems, is to make things easier for prosecuting attorneys handling the case.

 

Victims’ Families Can Now Sue for Pain and Suffering From Police Shootings

Up until now, there was, for many, a glaring hole in California laws concerning police violence.  From time to time, law enforcement officials take an innocent person’s life without any kind of justification.  As of October 6, 2014, however, the families of the victims of unjustified police violence can sue, not only for their monetary losses, but also for pain and suffering incurred by the original victim.  Now, cases like this that see the inside of a California federal courtroom will likely include a pain and suffering component.

The case that began the road to this switch is that of an autistic young man (name withheld in order to protect the privacy of the accused) who was gunned down by Los Angeles police in 2008.  His family knew he was apt to wandering off without supervision, but were not aware that he was out and about this particular night.  It seems that he, not remembering how to get home, had found a warm nook in the front of an apartment complex to sleep in.  LAPD officers believed him to be under the influence of drugs, so they shook him awake and asked him to show them his ID, which he did.

After that, testimony concerning what happened gets a little shaky.  The police say that hen had a knife and was going to hurt the officer asking for his identification; others say that he had no weapons at all, the knife found at the scene was police issue and had none of his DNA on it.  Thinking his life to be in danger, the officer testified that he shot him 3 times at close range, ending the boy’s life.  However, ballistics reports determined that he was shot in such a way that he was turning away and down from the bullets.  To make matters worse, the coroner’s office in charge of his body lost the boy’s remains for a period of about 3 weeks, making it impossible for his parents to bury them according to their particular customs and beliefs.  Now, they are somewhat comforted by the fact that their son’s case has created a change in the law so that families and individuals who are taken advantage of by the police or who are the victims of police cover-ups can find justice.

 

Innocent Oakland Man May Sue Police for Wrongful Incarceration (Senate Bill 618)

Sadly, the story of John Doe (name withheld for privacy) is not uncommon.  Innocence Project estimates that somewhere “between 2.3% and 5% of all prisoners in the U.S. are innocent.”  That’s close to 100,000 people that could potentially be wrongly incarcerated at the time you are reading this post.  To this effect, in 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 618 into law in an attempt to help rectify this issue in the state.  In this case, the victim of a 2006 shooting, John Doe 2, was evidently forced to misidentify his attacker by a police Sergeant, who was then the investigating officer in the crime.  John Doe 2 identified John Doe from a photo lineup and he is currently entrenched in his second lawsuit against both the city and the officer.  He spent a total of 7 years in a California State Prison and his release was due, in part, to the hard work of the Innocence Project housed at Santa Clara University.

So, where did things to wrong in this case?  He claims that the officer badly mishandled the case by failing to follow appropriate procedure during the photo lineup.  Seemingly, not one of the 5 photographs placed in front of John Doe 2 for his perusal even remotely resembled John Doe, yet the officer pressed his witness to choose the 6th, John Doe.  John Doe 2 had already stated that his assailant was bald, yet his photograph shows him with a full head of hair.  John Doe 2 now claims that he felt pressured to choose the photograph that the officer pointed to because he felt beholden to him for helping with the case.  Additionally, he believed that if he identified his actual shooter that his life and the lives of his family members might be in danger.  What resulted was an inexcusable miscarriage of justice that landed an innocent man in prison.  More than this, it shows just how the unethical conduct of one officer might affect an entire case and other people’s constitutional rights.  This seems too high a price to pay for simply closing a case more quickly or bolstering one’s career.

 

Driver May Face Vehicular Manslaughter Charges for Pedestrian Death in Berkeley (CA Penal Code 192(c))

56-year-old driver (name withheld in order to protect the privacy of the accused) insists that he is not responsible for killing a 98-year-old pedestrian.  The pedestrian was killed when the driver’s car crashed into him while he was walking across the crosswalk near Bancroft Way in Berkeley.  After the accident, which threw the pedestrian 40 feet from the car after impact, local law enforcement agents interviewed the driver to try to get some answers.  The facts were a bit confusing.  First, the accident happened around lunchtime (12:20 p.m.) and the driver definitely had food in the car with him, though no one will be able to prove whether this was what distracted him.  Yet, the driver’s response was that his license had expired about 14 years ago and that he was operating the vehicle even though he is legally blind.

Perhaps the first thing that should be discussed in this odd and unfortunate case is the legal definition of ‘blindness’ in the state of California.  At first, one might think that ‘legal blindness’ means that an individual cannot see at all.  This is not the case.  All that ‘legally blind’ means is that a person’s vision in their ‘best’ eye cannot be corrected with either contact lenses, eyeglasses, or other means to better than 20/200.  What this means is that, while a person with naturally good vision or corrected vision may be able to see something from about 200 feet away, a person who is legally blind may only be able to see that same something from 20 feet – and with their ‘best’ eye.  A person may also be considered legally blind if they experience ‘tunnel vision,’ meaning that their peripheral vision is basically non-existent.

If convicted of vehicular manslaughter (CA Penal Code 192(c)), the driver may face anywhere from 1 year in county jail to 6 years in state prison, depending on whether prosecutors decide to prosecute the charge as a misdemeanor or as a felony.  He will have to prove that he was operating the vehicle while displaying ‘ordinary negligence’ as opposed to ‘gross negligence.’