Jim Porter: Murder conviction for street racing
October 21, 2011
TRUCKEE/TAHOE andamp;#8212; Some people deserve a long prison sentence. Robert Canizalez and Martin Morones raced through the residential streets of El Monte in Canizalezandamp;#8217;s fast Mustang (red, of course) and Moronesandamp;#8217; andamp;#8220;hopped upandamp;#8221; street-illegal Honda andamp;#8212; at speeds up to 87 miles per hour. They had both been drinking beer.At the intersection of Elliott Avenue and Parkway Drive they ran a four-way stop sign, hitting a Nissan Altima and driver Dora Groce and her two children, Robert and Katherine. The Altima went up in flames. First responders were unable to break the windows and free the trapped family.Canizalez got out of his Mustang and helped Morones push his Honda onto a side street to make it look like it was not involved in the accident. Morones fled to Mexico but was later deported back to the States. Although Canizalez denied driving the Mustang and denied he was racing, witnesses testified otherwise.They also reported what Canizalez said right after the accident: andamp;#8220;Look at my car. I crashed my car. My car is F—ed.andamp;#8221; When he was told to be quiet, andamp;#8220;thereandamp;#8217;s kids in that vehicle,andamp;#8221; Canizalez responded, andamp;#8220;I donandamp;#8217;t give a F— about those kids. I give a F— andamp;#8212; look at my car. I donandamp;#8217;t give a F— about those kids.andamp;#8221;What can I say?Murder chargeCanizalez and Morones were charged and convicted of second degree murder, vehicular manslaughter and dissuading a witness by force or threat. Canizalez was given 48 years to life and Morones 45 years to life. They appealed, arguing in particular there was insufficient evidence to sustain their second degree murder conviction andamp;#8212; i.e., if anything, they were guilty of only manslaughter. Morones argued that the Mustang hit the Nissan, not his modified-to-race Honda.Murder with implied maliceMurder is andamp;#8220;the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.andamp;#8221; It can be express or implied. Implied malice requires that the defendant andamp;#8220;act with a wanton disregard for the high probability of death andamp;#8230; malice may be inferred from the circumstances of the murder.andamp;#8221;The two street racer-defendants argued there was not enough evidence of implied malice because murder is not the natural and probable consequence of engaging in a speed contest, and if it were then every act of engaging in a street race would be tantamount to an act of attempted murder, which it is not. Further, they claimed not to be aware of the risk of their conduct.Court of AppealThe Court of Appeal had no difficulty upholding the juryandamp;#8217;s conviction. The Court quoted the trial court, andamp;#8220;Theyandamp;#8217;re engaged in a speed contest andamp;#8212; at 80 or 90 miles per hour. How much more knowledge do they need? Theyandamp;#8217;ve got a thousand andamp;#8212; several thousand-pound vehicle that theyandamp;#8217;re running at 70, 80 miles per hour. I mean, what does it take for a person to understand that what theyandamp;#8217;re doing is inherently dangerous to human life? andamp;#8230; There is a tsunami of contrary circumstantial evidence andamp;#8230; Appellantsandamp;#8217; (Canizalez and Morones) callous disregard for the safety of others is no more evident than by their conduct after the crash. With Dora and her two children being incinerated in the Altima, appellants showed no remorse or concern. They made no effort to help the victims or even inquire about their condition.andamp;#8221;andamp;#8220;This mountain of circumstantial evidence overwhelmingly establishes appellantsandamp;#8217; subjective awareness of the risk of death that their racing created and their callous indifference to its consequences.andamp;#8221; Even if Moronesandamp;#8217; car did not hit the Altima, he caused the victimsandamp;#8217; deaths.Forty-five and 48 years hardly seems enough.Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno. He is a mediator and was the Governor’s appointee to the Fair Political Practices Commission and McPherson Commission, both involving election law and the Political Reform Act. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or-at the firmandamp;#8217;s website http://www.portersimon.com.