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Name: People v. Munoz
Case #: B282323
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 01/10/2019

Defendant was not entitled to an instruction on gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated as a lesser included offense (LIO) of a Watson murder under the accusatory pleading test. Munoz, while driving under the influence of alcohol, collided with another car, killing its passenger and injuring the driver. He had a prior DUI conviction and attended classes on the dangers of driving while intoxicated. He was charged with implied malice “Watson” second degree murder (People v. Watson (1981) 30 Cal.3d 290) and convicted. On appeal, he challenged the trial court’s refusal to instruct on vehicular and involuntary manslaughter as LIOs of murder. Held: Affirmed. Two tests are used to determine whether an uncharged offense is necessarily included within a charged offense: (1) the accusatory pleading test and (2) the statutory elements test. Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is not a lesser included offense of murder under the statutory elements test because the elements of murder do not include the elements of driving a vehicle or intoxication. Citing to the preliminary hearing and jury instructions, Munoz argued gross vehicular manslaughter was an LIO of murder under the accusatory pleading test because the prosecution relied on driving while intoxicated to show implied malice for the charged murder. The accusatory pleading in this case set forth the statutory definition of murder and did not allege use of a vehicle or intoxication. The California Supreme Court has repeatedly held that when applying the accusatory pleading test, courts should not look beyond the actual pleading and its allegations in order to promote consistent application and ease the burden on courts. The court declined to follow the “expanded” accusatory pleading test based on due process applied by the Sixth District in People v. Ortega (2015) 240 Cal.App.4th 956, which did not address Supreme Court precedent. [Editor’s Note: In another part of the opinion, the court noted the prosecution was within its discretion to charge Munoz with murder only and refuse to consent to an instruction on gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.]

Excluding vehicular homicides from the involuntary manslaughter statute does not violate defendant’s right to due process. Munoz argued that the statutory scheme eliminating involuntary manslaughter as a lesser included offense of an implied malice murder when committed by an intoxicated driver violates his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Court of Appeal disagreed. Involuntary manslaughter (Pen. Code, § 192, subd. (b)) is an LIO of murder. However, “acts committed in the driving of a vehicle” are explicitly excluded from the involuntary manslaughter statute. The right to instruction on LIOs in noncapital cases derives from California law rather than any federal constitutional provision. Therefore, the failure to instruct on an LIO does not implicate a fundamental right and the Legislature could reasonably distinguish unintentional homicides committed in the driving of a vehicle from other unintentional homicides given the prevalence of deaths caused by vehicle accidents. “The fact that, as a consequence of this statutory scheme, courts no longer must instruct on either involuntary or vehicular manslaughter as a lesser included offense of a Watson murder does not render the scheme invalid.”

Excluding vehicular homicides from the involuntary manslaughter statute does not violate defendant’s right to equal protection under the laws. Munoz argued there is no justification to treat him differently from other defendants who commit implied malice murder with some instrumentality other than a vehicle, and who might therefore have involuntary manslaughter available as an LIO. The Court of Appeal disagreed. Equal protection of the law requires that similarly situated persons be treated similarly unless there is sufficiently good reason to treat them differently. Assuming that defendants charged with Watson murder are similarly situated to defendants charged with other forms of implied malice murder, the vehicular manslaughter statutes are reasonably related to the legitimate state purpose of providing a wider range of penalties given the large number of deaths caused by motorists. The vehicular manslaughter statutes and the exclusion of vehicular homicides from the involuntary manslaughter statute do not violate equal protection.

Trial court acted within its discretion in declining to disclose identifying juror information after the trial. Following the jury verdict, Juror Two wrote two letters to the court, opining that Munoz was found guilty because of the death of the passenger rather than the law. Trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding this did not constitute good cause to unseal juror information because any evidence of misconduct was speculative and unsupported.

Admission of mugshot depicting defendant smiling did not result in a miscarriage of justice. Munoz argued the photo was irrelevant and inflammatory. It was admitted as relevant to show the extent of his intoxication. In light of the strong evidence of conscious disregard for the lives of others, it was not reasonably probable the photo affected the verdict.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: