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Name: People v. Corarrubias
Case #: D066482
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 05/12/2015

Trial court erred when it admitted unrelated personal-tragedy testimony in drunk-driving murder trial, but error was harmless. Covarrubias was convicted of second degree implied malice murder for causing a traffic accident in which a person died. Covarrubias had a .20 percent blood alcohol level at the time of the crash. During his jury trial, the court admitted testimony of two employees of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which included their own stories of tragedy related to drunk-driving accidents. On appeal, Covarrubias claimed that allowing the personal-tragedy testimony was prejudicial error. Held: Affirmed. The trial court erred when it deemed the personal-tragedy testimony relevant (Evid. Code, § 350), and when it found the probative value of the testimony was not outweighed by its prejudicial effect (Evid. Code, § 352). The tragic aftermaths of the DUI crashes experienced by the MADD witnesses and their family members were wholly unrelated to Covarrubias’s charged offense, including whether he acted with implied malice. Further, the failure to exclude the evidence under section 352 created a substantial danger of inflaming the jury’s passions by engendering feelings of sympathy. However, the error was harmless under any standard because there was overwhelming evidence of implied malice. Covarrubias had already sustained three prior DUI convictions and had attended court-ordered programs and MADD victim panels as a result. There was substantial evidence that he knew the potential catastrophic consequences of drunk driving and he admitted that his cousin had warned him not to drive when they left a party drunk before the crash.