Substantially as I predicted, the California Supreme Court has reversed the trial judge in the Diane Whipple murder case (People v. Knoller).
The high court ruled that the lower court incorrectly applied the test for second degree murder. The Supreme Court held that a defendant can be convicted of second degree murder if he has “awareness of engaging in conduct that endangers the life of another.”
The case has been sent back to the trial court. The lower court will have to rule again as to whether a new trial is warranted.
The case has great significance for a number of reasons. Dog owners need to realize that juries can and do find irresponsible owners guilty of murder under the right circumstances. Prosecutors need to keep in mind that they should not introduce evidence of the dog owners’ bad character, because being evil is not a proper ground for conviction, but being reckless with a dog certainly should be. And state legislatures around the USA must provide the specific, dog-oriented statutes necessary to punish dog owners for criminal behavior.