No implied malice murder for car accident that blocked traffic

People v. Superior Court of Riverside County (Cal. Ct. App., May 30, 2024, No. D082865) 2024 WL 2761450, at *1

Summary: While under the influence of prescription painkillers, Chagolla led California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers on a 35-mile, high-speed chase that ended when Chagolla lost control of her vehicle, which crashed into the guardrail and came to rest, blocking the middle two lanes of traffic. Chagolla would not comply with CHP orders to exit her car. After 30 minutes, a CHP officer shot out one of the vehicle’s windows, and 10 minutes later, another officer extracted Chagolla from her car. About 45 minutes had elapsed since she crashed her vehicle. In custody, Chagolla seemed to be under the influence of some substance and was not very responsive. A subsequently performed blood test confirmed that Chagolla had ingested a large dose of oxycodone.

About 30 minutes after Chagolla’s vehicle came to rest in the middle of the I-10, a four-vehicle collision occurred about half a mile to a mile away from Chagolla’s vehicle. A tractor-trailer traveling five to 10 miles above the speed limit and whose driver was distracted looking for his sunglasses, hit another tractor-trailer, went out of control, hit a passenger vehicle, and then struck a second tractor-trailer and burst into flames, killing the driver of the last struck vehicle.

Chagolla was charged with murder (Pen. Code, § 187, subd. (a); count 1) and unlawfully causing death to a person while driving a motor vehicle in attempting to elude a peace officer (Veh. Code, § 2800.3, subd. (b); count 2). Counts 1 and 2 were based on the theory that Chagolla’s actions caused the four car accident and the death of the driver of the second tractor-trailer.

Chagolla’s trial counsel moved under section 995 to set aside the information. The court granted the motion as to counts 1 and 2.

The People then filed this petition for mandate, arguing that the superior court erred in setting aside counts 1 and 2. They asked the Court of Appeal to direct the court to vacate its order and reinstate counts 1 and 2. The Court of Appeal declined to order the requested relie

995 motion: Chagolla argued that her actions were not the proximate cause of the victim’s death. She asserted that there was insufficient evidence of implied malice and she could not have violated Vehicle Code section 2800.3 because she was not driving or trying to elude a peace officer at the time of the victim’s death.

In granting the motion, the trial court explained that it believed Chagolla engaged in a volitional act before she crashed her vehicle, however:

“Where the Court struggles, and ultimately the Court is going to decide, is that there simply is no evidence that after the crash she chose volitionally to stay in the car. On that basis, I am going to grant the motion as to Count 1 and dismiss that count.

“As to Count 2, I will echo Judge Prevost’s concern that the driving here does not occur at the time of the death. And I believe under both the section and the CALCRIM, that element is missing. For that reason, I will grant the motion as to Count 2.”

The law of consideration and review of a section 995 motion

The magistrate’s role at the preliminary hearing is “to determine whether there is ‘sufficient cause’ to believe defendant guilty of the charged offense.” (People v. Abelino (2021) 62 Cal.App.5th 563, 573 (Abelino); see § 872.) “ ‘Sufficient cause’ ” in this context means “ ‘reasonable and probable cause,’ ”—in other words, facts that would lead a person “of ordinary caution or prudence to believe and conscientiously entertain a strong suspicion of the guilt of the accused.” (People v. Uhlemann (1973) 9 Cal.3d 662, 667.) An information will not be set aside if there is “some rational ground for assuming the possibility that an offense has been committed and the accused is guilty of it.” (Rideout v. Superior Court (1967) 67 Cal.2d 471, 474.)

Probable cause “signifies a level of proof below that of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or even proof by a preponderance of the evidence.” (People v. Hurtado (2002) 28 Cal.4th 1179.)

Under section 995, the court must set aside the information if the defendant has been committed without reasonable or probable cause. (§ 995, subd. (a)(2)(B).) “When we review a section 995 motion, we ‘disregard[ ] the ruling of the superior court and directly review[ ] the determination of the magistrate.’ ” (People v. San Nicolas (2004) 34 Cal.4th 614, 654.) But the magistrate’s determination regarding the existence of probable cause “is reviewed as an issue of law.”

No evidence presented at the preliminary hearing of implied malice murder

To support a finding of second degree murder based on implied malice, the evidence must establish that the defendant deliberately committed an act, the natural consequences of which were dangerous to life, with knowledge of its danger to life and a conscious disregard of that danger. (Watson, supra, 30 Cal.3d at p. 300.)

Here, the accident occurred at least a half mile away and 30 minutes after Chagolla’s vehicle crashed and came to a stop, and where there is no indication that Chagolla intentionally remained in her vehicle or appreciated the consequences of remaining in her vehicle.


The deadly accident occurred about 30 minutes after Chagolla crashed her vehicle and came to rest on the I-10, stopping traffic. That traffic safely came to a stop at least a half mile from Chagolla’s vehicle well before Chagolla exited her car. Chagolla remaining in the vehicle  maintained a dangerous condition, giving rise to the deadly accident. However, the evidence at the preliminary hearing did not establish that Chagolla intentionally remained in her car after it crashed and knew that remaining in the vehicle would endanger the life of another. Without establishing those fundamental facts, the People cannot show Chagolla’s act of remaining in her car proximately caused the victim’s death.

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