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People v. Johnson

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, Second Division

October 21, 2016

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
WILLIAM DONALD JOHNSON, Defendant and Appellant


          APPEAL from the Superior Court of Riverside County, No. BAF1400096, Michael B. Donner, Judge.

Page 453


         David McNeil Morse, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

         Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Julie L. Garland, Assistant Attorney General, Scott C. Taylor and Daniel J. Hilton, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

         Opinion by Hollenhorst, J., with Ramirez, P. J., and Codrington, J., concurring.


          [209 Cal.Rptr.3d 124] HOLLENHORST, J.

          A jury convicted defendant and appellant William Donald Johnson of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated (Pen. Code,[1] § 191.5, subd. (a); count 2) and hit and run with injury (Veh. Code, § 20001, subd. (a); count 3). The jury also found true two enhancement allegations; defendant fled the scene (Veh. Code, § 20001, subd. (c); count 2) and the collision resulted in a fatality (Veh. Code, § 20001, subd. (b)(2); count 3). The jury did not reach a unanimous verdict on the other charged count, second degree murder (§ 187, subd. (a); count 1), and the trial court

Page 454

granted a mistrial with respect to that count. On retrial with respect to count 1, a new jury found defendant guilty of second degree murder.

         In this appeal, defendant contends that the trial court erred during his retrial by not informing the jury that he had been convicted in the first trial of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and that the error requires reversal of his second degree murder conviction. We agree that the trial court's instructions to the jury for defendant's retrial were erroneous in several respects, and the second degree murder conviction must be reversed.


         On December 29, 2013, a vehicle driven by defendant veered into and across oncoming traffic lanes, striking a bicycle travelling in the opposite direction in the bicycle lane. Defendant did not slow or stop after the collision. The bicyclist died on January 11, 2014, of injuries sustained in the collision.

         Defendant had recently been hospitalized for treatment for addiction to pain medication, and at the time of the collision on December 29, 2013, was driving home from follow-up outpatient therapy. He had taken several antianxiety medications, Xanax and Neurontin, as well as Cymbalta for depression. He also drank a half-pint bottle of vodka during the drive.

         After the collision, another motorist saw defendant run a stop sign, nearly causing another collision, and shortly thereafter, at a stoplight, observed him to be " hunched down" in the driver's seat. Defendant's son observed that defendant appeared " out of it" and " shaken" when he arrived home on the day of the accident, and that his vehicle had suffered new damage. After the accident, a neighbor saw defendant and his family examining the front end of the car, and then covering the vehicle with a tarp or car cover. Defendant's daughter testified that defendant asked her to look for a windshield repair company located " outside the local area" to fix his broken windshield. On January 6, 2014, while the vehicle's [209 Cal.Rptr.3d 125] windshield was being repaired, a passing law enforcement officer recognized it as matching the description of the vehicle that had struck a bicyclist; he ordered the workers to stop, and reported the vehicle to his supervisor. Responding investigators were able to match a piece of a broken headlight recovered from the scene of the collision to defendant's vehicle.

         In addition to evidence of defendant's actions after the collision, the prosecution also introduced evidence of defendant's past experience with the dangers of driving while intoxicated. In 2006, defendant was injured in a single-car crash, in which he was the driver and only occupant of the car.

Page 455

Defendant was too severely injured to perform field sobriety tests, but a responding law enforcement officer found him to smell strongly of alcohol, and a blood test revealed his blood-alcohol content to be 0.24 percent, three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent. After the 2013 collision, when asked by police why he had driven under the influence again despite the previous serious accident, defendant responded, " Yeah just horrible decisions. You know."

         The prosecution also introduced evidence that from fall 2012 to fall 2013, defendant regularly attended meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, in which the topic of driving under the influence was regularly discussed. Additionally, the parties stipulated that several medications taken by defendant came with warnings about alcohol consumption ...

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