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Name: People v. Noel
Case #: A099366
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 05/05/2005
Subsequent History: Rev. granted 7/27/05: S134543

In this consolidated appeal from the San Francisco dog mauling trial, the court considered together defendant Knoller’s appeal from her conviction and the People’s appeal from the order granting her a new trial. The court rejected Knoller’s argument that the trial court lost jurisdiction to sentence her after the People appealed the order granting her a new trial, noting that Penal Code section 1242 expressly reserves such jurisdiction to the trial court. The court further agreed with the People that the trial court had erred in granting Knoller a new trial on the second degree murder charge. First, the trial court erred to the extent that it granted the motion based on the comparative culpability of the two defendants, as that is not a proper basis for granting a motion under section 1181. Second, the trial court used an incorrect definition of implied malice, finding that the evidence did not establish that Knoller knew that her conduct was such that a human being was likely to die as a result of her actions. The proper question was whether Knoller knew her conduct endangered the life of another and acted in conscious or wanton disregard for life; knowledge that great bodily injury is likely to result is sufficient. Third, the appellate court found the evidence sufficient to show such knowledge, and rejected Knoller’s argument that because the conduct in which she engaged — walking her dogs — is not likely in the abstract to result in the death of a human being, the element of implied malice was not established. The court likened this argument to an argument that because most drunk driving incidents do not result in a death, a drunk driver who has had actual prior near misses or accidents cannot be guilty of implied malice murder. Here, the evidence established multiple prior near misses, acts of aggression by the dogs, events that showed Knoller’s awareness that she could not control her dogs, and indications that Knoller was indifferent to the dangers posed by the animals. The Court of Appeal expressed concern that the trial court had granted a motion under section 1181 after previously having denied a motion to dismiss under 1118.1, and held that the court had abused its discretion in acting as the thirteenth juror and granting a new trial. As to Knoller’s appeal, the court held that the trial court did not err in admitting evidence of the defendants’ association with the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, noting that the evidence was directly relevant to and probative of Knoller’s reason for having the dogs in her possession and for keeping the dogs in her apartment even after they had displayed aggression beyond her ability to control them. In regard to Knoller’s other evidentiary challenges, the Court of Appeal held that even if their admission were error, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt due to the overwhelming evidence of guilt. Furthermore, the court declined to presume prejudice from the court’s admonishing defense counsel during the prosecutor’s closing argument. Counsel was not precluded from making objections throughout the trial or even throughout closing argument, but only during the last portion of the prosecution’s rebuttal argument. One justice dissented on this point, finding that Knoller was improperly denied the effective assistance of counsel during closing argument and was entitled to reversal. Finally, the court rejected Knoller’s argument regarding judicial misconduct, and although it agreed that the prosecutor had committed misconduct in inviting the jury to put itself in the victim’s position, the court found that this error was harmless under the circumstances.