Tuesday, September 8, 2009

90210: I Know What You Did Last Summer

90210: To New Beginnings
(originally aired Sept. 8, 2009)

Facts: At an end of the school year party, Naomi (wrongly) accuses Annie of sleeping with Naomi's boyfriend, Liam. Annie, who's been drinking, denies the allegation but Naomi continues to berate Annie in front of everyone. Annie calls the police on the party and runs out in tears.

While driving home, Annie is still emotionally distraught and driving erratically. Because of poor lighting, she does not see someone walking in the road and she runs him over. She knows she hit someone but does not stop. Instead, she heads home and hides in her bedroom all summer checking news stories about a comatose man (John Doe) who was the victim of a hit and run.

Right before the school year starts, Mr. Doe dies as a result of the accident.

Issue: Did Annie murder John Doe?

Law: Murder is the intentional killing of another person. Involuntary manslaughter---a lesser-included offense to murder---is the unintentional killing for another person due to the actor's reckless conduct.

Analysis: Looks like Annie might be graduating from high school into a correctional facility. While Annie likely did not intentionally hit Mr. Doe, her hitting him with her car was the proximate cause of his death, and her behavior that night was reckless: driving after drinking, swerving on the road, and in an extreme emotional state. This is a classic case of involuntary manslaughter.

There aren't enough facts to know if Annie was intoxicated but even if she were intoxicated, it's not a defense to manslaughter because manslaughter is not a specific intent offense. Recall that the defense of voluntary intoxication can only negate the intent in specific intent offenses, and voluntary intoxication is all Annie could argue because it appears she knowingly consumed alcohol before driving.

Bonus: Most states also make it a crime to leave the scene of an accident (i.e., a hit and run). According to California Vehicle Code § 20,000 (which applies in the 90210 zip code), a driver who leaves the scene of an accident that results in serious injury or death of another faces imprisonment "in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for not less than 90 days nor more than one year," as well as a possible fine of $1,000 to $10,000. But the judge can, "in the interests of justice," reduce or eliminate the confinement.

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