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Name: People v. Cravens
Case #: S186661
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 01/30/2012

A defendant’s behavior before, during, and after a deadly assault may provide sufficient evidence to satisfy the mental component of implied malice for second degree murder. Appellant was convicted by jury of second degree murder. After a confrontation between the victim and appellant and his friends in a bar, the victim went home. Appellant and his friends followed him there and engaged him in a fight. At the end of the fight victim was unsteady and could not walk straight. Appellant then “sucker punched” victim who fell to the ground and died five days later of blunt-force head injuries. The appellate court ordered the second degree murder conviction reduced to voluntary manslaughter because of insufficient evidence of implied malice, but the Supreme Court here reversed, finding the record contained sufficient evidence to support the conviction. Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. Malice is implied when the killing is proximately caused by an act, the natural consequences of which are dangerous to life, which act was deliberately performed by a person who knows that his conduct endangers the life of another and who acts with conscious disregard for life. (People v. Knoller (2007) 41 Cal.4th 139, 143.) Here, the evidence showed that appellant targeted a much smaller, intoxicated, and vulnerable victim; the punch, being extremely hard, was a “sucker punch,” delivered without warning by a defendant who had a height advantage by standing on the curb and guaranteeing that victim would fall on a hard surface; appellant had been involved in several prior “sucker-punch” incidents where the recipient was either knocked unconscious or left dazed; after the assault, appellant made callous joking comments. The Supreme Court found that, considering the totality of the circumstances, the jury could have reasonably found defendant’s act was predictably dangerous to human life (providing the implied malice) and not a simple fistfight “between friends” as claimed by appellant.