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The following factors are persuasive of the requisite state of mind for depraved heart murder: (1) Intoxication. The driver was using alcohol, illegal drugs, or both; (2) Speeding. Usually excessive rates are recorded; (3) Near or nonfatal collisions shortly before the fatal accident. Courts believe that collisions should serve as a warning to defendants that their conduct is highly likely to cause an accident. Failure to modify their driving is viewed as a conscious indifference to human life; (4) Driving on the wrong side of the road. Many cases involve head-on collisions. Included here is illegally passing or veering into oncoming traffic; (5) Failure to aid the victim. The driver left the scene of the accident and/or never attempted to seek aid for the victim; (6) Failure to heed traffic signs. Usually more than once prior to the fatal accident, the driver ran a red light and/or stop sign; (7) Failure to heed warnings about reckless driving; (8) Prior record of driving offenses (drunk or reckless driving or both). The relevance of a defendant's prior record for reckless or intoxicated driving is not to show a propensity to drive while drunk, but to establish that defendant had grounds to be aware of the risk his drinking and driving while intoxicated presented to others.
Following a party for his softball team at a club where he admitted drinking six beers, defendant John P. Doub, III, admitted that his pickup struck two parked vehicles and that he left the scene because he was concerned that he had been drinking. Doub ultimately admitted that, approximately 2 hours after striking the parked cars, he drove his pickup into the rear of a Cadillac in which 9-year-old Jamika Smith was a passenger. Doub offered no aid to the victims, left the scene of the accident, and initially denied any involvement in the collision, suggesting that his pickup had been stolen. Some 15 hours after the collision, Smith died as a result of blunt traumatic injuries caused by the collision. Doub admitted to his girlfriend that he had been drinking alcohol and smoking crack, and had subsequently caused the collision. The girlfriend approached the authorities with Doub’s statements, and the latter was charged with second-degree depraved heart murder, with lesser included offenses of involuntary manslaughter and vehicular homicide, involuntary manslaughter while driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, with the lesser included offense of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, and leaving the scene of an injury accident. The jury found Doub guilty of all three primary offenses, but the court later dismissed the second offense of involuntary manslaughter. Doub appealed, challenging the sufficiency of evidence to support his conviction of second-degree depraved heart murder. Doub argued that his conduct was not even sufficiently egregious to constitute vehicular homicide.
Under the circumstances, was Doub’s conviction for second-degree depraved heart murder warranted?
The appellate court disagreed with Doub’s arguments, holding that that a rational fact-finder could have found defendant guilty of depraved heart second-degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt. The court noted that depraved heart second-degree murder required a conscious disregard of the risk, sufficient under the circumstances, to manifest extreme indifference to the value of human life. In the case at bar, the evidence against Doub was particularly damning, considering that: (i) he admitted that his driving was preceded by drinking; (ii) he admitted that he struck two parked cars and ignored commands to stop, as he was concerned that he had been drinking; (iii) he then consumed additional alcohol and used crack cocaine; (iv) he then resumed driving and caused a fatal collision, due in part to excessive speed; (v) he failed to render aid to the victims; and (vi) he fled the scene in order to avoid criminal liability. The appellate court concluded that these facts clearly demonstrated an extreme indifference to human life.