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Name: People v. Saucedo (2023) 90 Cal.App.5th 505
Case #: A160851
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 5
Opinion Date: 04/13/2023
Summary

Sufficient evidence supported defendant’s second degree murder convictions because a jury could reasonably infer he acted with conscious disregard for life when he drove a stolen truck while high on meth and attempted a risky escape from police. Defendant drove a stolen truck while under the influence of methamphetamine. An officer began following him, and he suddenly veered off the freeway, accelerated down the exit ramp, and careened through a red light without attempting to brake. He collided with another truck, and killed two young girls. The jury also heard evidence about nine prior minor driving and drug offenses committed by appellant. Among other offenses, defendant was convicted of two counts of second degree murder. He appealed, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence. Held: Murder convictions affirmed (conviction for evading a police officer causing injury (Veh. Code, § 2800.3, subd. (a)) reversed in unpublished portion). The Court of Appeal concluded there was sufficient evidence that defendant acted with conscious disregard for human life. The jury could reasonably infer defendant was acting with implied malice by getting behind the wheel while high on methamphetamine and attempting a risky escape even though his course of dangerous driving was brief. While there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction for evading a police officer (unpublished portion), there was sufficient evidence defendant was aware a patrol car was following him. Additionally, while defendant’s prior driving history was not probative (see below), this did not establish that insufficient evidence supported the jury’s finding of implied malice.

The trial court erred in admitting testimony regarding numerous minor driving offenses committed by defendant to prove he acted with implied malice, but the error was not prejudicial. The trial court admitted nine prior uncharged acts, including speeding, spinning tires, failing to stop at a stop sign, driving on a sidewalk, stopping in an intersection, running a red light, and driving without a license. The jury was allowed to consider this as evidence of implied malice when defendant acted in this case. “A jury is entitled to infer that regardless of the mental state or condition that accompanies an instance of reckless driving—whether intoxication, rage, or wilful irresponsibility—the driver’s subsequent apprehension and prosecution for that conduct must impart a knowledge and understanding of the personal and social consequences of such behavior.” (People v. Ortiz (2003) 109 Cal.App.4th 104, 115.) However, the inference described by Ortiz is not one a jury could permissibly make from the prior incidents at issue in the present case. There was no evidence that in any of his prior driving incidents defendant was prosecuted or obligated to attend a class regarding the dangers of reckless or intoxicated driving, and none of the prior incidents actually involved any danger to life. However, because the prior acts did not involve any clearly dangerous driving, they did not have an inherent tendency to prejudice the jury against appellant, and it was not reasonably probable the error affected the outcome of the trial.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/A160851.PDF