Landmark California Cases on Vehicular Murder

In vehicular murder cases the prosecutor must prove that the defendant acted with implied malice. (People v. Watson (1981) 30 Cal.3d 290, 300.) Implied malice may be established by prior crimes evidence admissible under Evidence Code section 1101, subdivision (b). (People v. Ortiz (2003) 109 Cal.App.4th 104, 111-113 (Ortiz).) "Courts have recognized repeatedly that a motor vehicle driver's previous encounters with the consequences of recklessness on the highway -- whether provoked by the use of alcohol, of another intoxicant, by rage, or some other motivator -- sensitizes him to the dangerousness of such life-threatening conduct." (Id. at p. 112.) "Here, the evidence of prior driving conduct was offered to prove an intermediate fact (knowledge that conduct is life threatening) necessary to the establishment of the ultimate fact of implied malice, an element in the charges of second degree murder." (People v. Eagles (1982) 133 Cal.App.3d 330, 340 evidence of excessive speed resulting in a near collision is relevant to knowledge of the great risk of harm of excessive speed.) For uncharged misconduct to be admissible, it must be sufficiently similar to the charged offenses, and the probative value of the evidence must be both substantial and not largely outweighed by the probability that its admission would create a serious danger of undue prejudice, confusing the issues, or misleading the jury. (People v. Kipp (1998) 18 Cal.4th 349, 369, 371.) We review the court's admission of the evidence for an abuse of discretion. (Ibid.) Evidence of uncharged misconduct is inadmissible to prove a defendant's criminal disposition to commit the charged crime. (Evid. Code, 1101, subd. (a).) However, such evidence may be admissible if offered to prove other facts such as motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake or accident, or consent. (Evid. Code, 1101, subd. (b).)