People v. Knoller

41 Cal. 4th 139, 59 Cal. Rptr. 3d 157, 158 P.3d 731 (2007)



Implied malice requires a defendant's awareness of engaging in conduct that endangers the life of another.


Two Presa Canario dogs owned by a woman and her husband attacked and killed a female victim in the hallway of an apartment building. The wife was bringing them out for a walk when the incident happened. A case was filed against the wife for second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter against the husband. A jury convicted the couple for involuntary manslaughter. The trial court, however, granted the wife a new trial on the second degree murder charge on the ground that implied malice can be based simply on a defendant's conscious disregard of the risk of serious bodily injury to another. On appeal, the court reversed the order. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of California.


1) Does implied malice only include a conscious disregard for human life or can the mental state for implied malice be found by an awareness that the act is likely to result in great bodily injury


2) Was a new trial proper?


1) No 2) Yes


The trial court erroneously concluded both that defendant could not be guilty of murder, based on a theory of implied malice, unless she appreciated that her conduct created a high probability of someone's death, and that a new trial was justified because the People did not charge her husband with murder. Even assuming a new trial could be granted based on differential treatment of defendants, it was not justified here. Defendant and her husband were not similarly situated with regard to the fatal mauling. The immediate cause of the victim's death was defendant's own conscious decision to take one of the dogs unmuzzled through the apartment building, where they were likely to encounter other people, knowing that the dog was aggressive and highly dangerous and that she could not control him. The intermediate appellate court also erred in concluding that implied malice required only a showing that defendant appreciated the risk of serious bodily injury.

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