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Second-degree murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought, but without the additional elements that it be willful, deliberate and premeditated, which are required for first-degree murder. Pen. Code, §§ 187, subd. (a), 189. Malice may be implied when a person does an act, the natural consequences of which are dangerous to life, which act was deliberately performed by a person who knows his or her conduct endangers the life of another and who acts with conscious disregard for life. Pen. Code, § 188.
The Angeles Forest and Angeles Crest Highways form a steep, two-lane, two-way, mountainous, winding road that runs through the Angeles National Forest. The Highway has numerous turnouts and a passing lane and commuters use the highway as a shortcut but the highway was not suitable for heavy trucks. Defendant Marcos Barboza Costa was at the wheel of his 25-ton semitrailer truck carrying a load of vehicles when he sped down Angeles Crest Highway, ran a red light, and hit a small vehicle on Foothill Boulevard, killing the two occupants. Others were also injured as the truck continued its perilous trek through the intersection, stopping only when it crashed into a bookstore and nail salon. After considering the evidence, a grand jury returned an indictment against defendant charging two counts of second-degree murder. Defendant moved to dismiss these charges under Penal Code section 995, arguing there was insufficient evidence before the grand jury of implied malice to warrant the indictment. The People opposed the motion. The trial court agreed with defendant and granted his motion, concluding Palomino’s warnings did not rise to the level of creating in Costa a sufficient subjective awareness of the risk involved in driving down the Highway. The People filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the trial court’s ruling, contending the evidence before the grand jury was sufficient to warrant the indictment for second degree murder.
Should the petition for writ of mandate challenging the trial court’s ruling be granted?
The court granted the People's petition for writ of mandate. The appellate court found that the evidence before the grand jury was sufficient to suggest that defendant was actually aware of the great risk of harm posed by continuing to drive the truck, thus, was also sufficient to support a finding of malice under Pen. Code, § 188. The court ruled that a reasonable inference from the evidence was that defendant knew that fully functioning brakes were required for the safe operation of his truck, that he was required to perform a pre-trip inspection, and that defendant either failed to perform the inspection or performed one and ignored the fact the brakes were not working as required. That, even assuming that while driving, defendant failed to notice his brakes were overheating, a firefighter who observed him driving told him that the truck was emitting a continuous cloud of white smoke from its rear left wheels, along with a smell of burning rubber, therefore, letting defendant know exactly what was happening with his truck. Additionally, the court held that despite being apprised of the condition of his brakes, the nature of the steep, winding road ahead, and the fact many drivers would be on the road at that time, defendant decided to continue driving his 25-ton, 18-wheel truck, past two turnouts while the brakes were still barely working.