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Name: People v. Dawson
Case #: A120628
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 04/02/2009

For purposes of a preliminary hearing, the magistrate must hold the defendant to answer if either the specific intervening act was reasonably foreseeable, or if it was reasonably foreseeable that an injury of the type sustained could result from the activity engaged in by the defendant. (em>People v. Brady (2005) 129 Cal.App.4th 1314 [Liability exists if the harm is a direct, natural, and probable consequence of defendant’s conduct and as the normal and reasonably foreseeable result of the original act.].) Appellant was charged with vessel manslaughter while intoxicated and unlawful operation of a vessel while intoxicated resulting in bodily injury. At the preliminary hearing, evidence was presented that appellant was the owner of a boat on which he, the decedent, and several others had gone waterskiing. Throughout the day, the decedent had consumed a large amount of alcohol and was belligerent, uncooperative, and unwilling to listen to advice of the others. For most of the day, one of the boating party members who had not been drinking heavily was responsible for operating the boat, however, appellant took over the operation when the driver left the wheel to look for a water skiing flag. Appellant started to slowly back up the boat as it began to drift toward shore. Witnesses testified that there was nothing wrong in the way the boat was put in reverse. As the boat backed up, decedent either fell or jumped out of the boat from the stern area and was struck by the propeller and died. At the time of the incident appellant may have had a .14% blood alcohol level. The magistrate ruled that although appellant was negligent in operating the boat while under the influence of alcohol, his conduct was not the cause of decedent’s death, the death being caused by decedent’s own action of jumping or falling into the water, and declined to hold appellant to answer on the felony charges. The appellate court held that under the evidence presented, it was foreseeable the decedent would end up in the water and be subjected to the risk of harm from a moving propeller. As “captain of the ship,” appellant was responsible for those on board, particularly if they were intoxicated. Whether appellant would be ultimately found guilty was not the issue; but refusal to hold him to answer for a jury to determine guilt was error and the charges were ordered reinstated.