People v. Munoz, 011019 CAAPP2, B282323

Docket Nº:B282323
Opinion Judge:BENDIX, J.
Party Name:THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. RYAN MUNOZ, Defendant and Appellant.
Attorney:Stephen Temko, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant. Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Lance E. Winters, Assistant Attorney General, Kenneth C. Byrne and Nicholas J. Webster, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plainti...
Judge Panel:We concur: JOHNSON, Acting P. J. CURREY, J.
Case Date:January 10, 2019
Court:California Court of Appeals
 
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THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,

v.

RYAN MUNOZ, Defendant and Appellant.

B282323

California Court of Appeals, Second District, First Division

January 10, 2019

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County No. KA106465, Robert M. Martinez, Judge. Affirmed.

Stephen Temko, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Lance E. Winters, Assistant Attorney General, Kenneth C. Byrne and Nicholas J. Webster, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

BENDIX, J.

Defendant Ryan Munoz appeals from the judgment after a jury convicted him of second degree murder. Munoz, while driving under the influence of alcohol, collided with another vehicle on the freeway, killing the passenger and injuring the driver. The prosecution charged him with murder under a theory of implied malice, as permitted under People v. Watson (1981) 30 Cal.3d 290 (Watson).

On appeal, Munoz raises numerous challenges to the trial court's refusal to instruct the jury on any lesser included offenses to murder. He argues that evidence adduced at the preliminary hearing supplied the necessary elements to deem gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated a lesser included offense of murder, even if those elements were absent from the accusatory pleading itself. He argues that the express exclusion of vehicular homicides from the involuntary manslaughter statute violates his constitutional rights to due process and equal protection of the laws. Finally, he argues that the prosecution was fundamentally unfair to structure the accusatory pleading to deny him instructions on lesser included offenses.

In addition to his claims regarding lesser included offenses, Munoz contends that the trial court erred by not allowing him to contact a juror who wrote two letters to the trial court discussing the verdict after the trial ended. Munoz also argues the trial court unduly prejudiced him by admitting a photograph of Munoz smiling during his arrest for the charged crime.

We conclude that binding Supreme Court authority forecloses Munoz's instructional challenges, that the trial court acted within its discretion in denying Munoz access to the juror's contact information, and that Munoz has failed to show that admission of the photograph resulted in a miscarriage of justice. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

We limit our summary of the evidence elicited at trial to those facts relevant to the issues on appeal.

A. Munoz's prior conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol

In 2012, Munoz was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol. As part of Munoz's guilty plea, the prosecution provided in writing a Watson1 advisement stating that “it is extremely dangerous to human life to drive while under the influence of alcohol, ” and that if Munoz “continue[d] to drive while under the influence of alcohol... and as a result of [his] driving someone is killed, [he could] be charged with murder.”

As a result of the conviction, Munoz attended a first offenders alcohol program. Among other things, the program taught him to avoid driving if he drank. He also attended a victim impact panel class provided by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which discussed the dangers of drinking and driving and the Watson advisement.

At trial, Munoz acknowledged on cross-examination that he had always known to some extent that driving while intoxicated was dangerous, and he understood this to a greater extent after participating in the alcohol program. He also acknowledged that he was aware from his prior conviction and the MADD class that he could be charged for murder if he killed someone while driving while intoxicated.

B. The collision

In June 2014, Munoz went on a camping trip with his extended family. One evening, beginning at about 7:00, he drank at least three 22-ounce craft beers and some fireball whiskey. He was planning to sleep at the campsite that night and not drive.

Later that evening, Munoz's stepsister's husband insulted Munoz's mother when she encouraged him to go to bed. Munoz and his stepsister's husband began arguing, shouting angrily at one another. Munoz put his dog in his truck and drove away.

Witnesses saw Munoz driving down the freeway at a high rate of speed, zigzagging as he changed lanes. Other cars changed lanes to move out of his way.

Michael Mahan was driving his truck further down the freeway at approximately 65 miles per hour. Gevork Krpikyan was in the passenger seat. Mahan looked in his rearview mirror and saw Munoz's truck approaching. He yelled to Krpikyan to “ ‘hold on' ” and attempted to speed up. Munoz's truck collided with the rear of Mahan's truck. Mahan's truck hit the embankment and rolled over at least three times. Krpikyan was ejected from the truck onto the freeway, and another vehicle ran over him. Krpikyan died from multiple traumatic injuries. Mahan suffered injuries to his head and back, and it took him “a couple months” to be able to walk again.

Evidence from Munoz's truck's event data recording system indicated Munoz was traveling at 98 miles per hour five seconds before the collision and 93 miles per hour one second before the collision. Munoz had not applied the brakes immediately before the crash.

C. Postcollision events

Minutes after the collision a witness saw Munoz and his dog sitting outside of Munoz's truck a few hundred feet away from the collision site. Munoz's windshield was completely shattered. Munoz asked the witness, “ ‘What happened to the shit I hit?' ” Munoz “was frazzled and slurring his speech” and the witness believed he was drunk. Munoz put his dog into the truck and drove off towards the nearest freeway exit.

California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers detained Munoz on a side street shortly thereafter. An officer testified that Munoz's breath smelled of alcohol, his eyes were “glossy, ” and he was “swaying” and “unsteady on his feet.” Munoz failed a battery of field sobriety tests. Two preliminary alcohol screening tests taken minutes apart measured Munoz's blood alcohol level at.201 percent and.202 percent. A chemical test performed at a sheriff 's station approximately half an hour later measured Munoz's blood alcohol level at.19 percent.

CHP impounded and searched Munoz's truck, finding a portable breathalyzer in the center console.

D. Defense expert testimony

An expert witness for the defense testified regarding “fight or flight syndrome, ” explaining that when humans experience high stress, fear, or anger, their brains' ability “to process information and to make decisions... is greatly compromised.” The witness testified that threats could trigger this response. He also explained that sleep deprivation affects cognitive processes, memory, and judgment.

PROCEDURE

An information charged Munoz with murder (Pen. Code, § 187, subd. (a))2 and leaving the scene of an accident (Veh. Code, § 20001, subd. (a)). The trial court dismissed the Vehicle Code count pursuant to section 1385.

Munoz requested jury instructions on involuntary manslaughter and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. The trial court denied both requests.

The jury found Munoz guilty of second degree murder. The trial court sentenced him to 15 years to life, awarded credits, and imposed fines and fees.

Munoz timely appealed.

DISCUSSION

A. Munoz Was Not Entitled To An Instruction On Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated As A Lesser Included Offense Of Murder

Munoz argues that because he was charged with murder on the theory that he committed a homicide while driving under the influence of alcohol, he was entitled to an instruction on gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated as a lesser included offense. We disagree.

1.Applicable law

a. Murder and manslaughter

“Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being... with malice aforethought.” (§ 187, subd. (a).) “[M]alice may be express or implied.” (§ 188.) Implied malice does not require an intent to kill. (People v. Swain (1996) 12 Cal.4th 593, 602.) Instead, it is demonstrated by “ ‘both a physical and a mental component. The physical component is satisfied by the performance of “an act, the natural consequences of which are dangerous to life.” [Citation.] The mental component is the requirement that the defendant “knows that his conduct endangers the life of another and... acts with a conscious disregard for life.” [Citation.]' ” (People v. Chun (2009) 45 Cal.4th 1172, 1181.)

Under certain circumstances, malice may be implied when a defendant kills...

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