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Name: People v. Vanegas
Case #: B165475
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 7
Opinion Date: 02/04/2004
Subsequent History: Rev. den. 4/28/04

Appellant Vanegas hit a pedestrian with his vehicle. He was under the influence of alcohol and speeding when the accident occurred. The victim died from his injuries. During his trial for second degree murder, the trial court instructed the jury it could find appellant guilty of second degree murder based on implied malice if it found that the killing resulted from an intentional act and the natural consequences of the act were dangerous to human life. The court further instructed the jury that a violation of the basic speed law was the commission of an act inherently dangerous to human life. The appellate court here reversed. The instruction on the dangerousness to human life element of implied malice, together with the instruction regarding any violation of the speed law created an impermissible mandatory presumption that proof of the latter is proof of the former. Once the jury determined that Vanegas violated the speed law, they did not need to make an independent determination of dangerousness. Further, the prosecutor relied on the speed issue, and did not put on evidence that appellant’s driving was impaired. Therefore the error was prejudicial and reversal was required. It was not error for the trial court to have prohibited the defense expert from testifying as to the opinion of the previous defense expert on appellant’s speed in the alley.