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Prosecutor Misstatement of Law Reversal

People v. Doane Court: California Courts of Appeal, Docket: A153709 (First Appellate District), Opinion Date: July 22, 2021. Doane lost control of his truck and collided head-on with a vehicle driven by Jouaux, killing him. Doane fled on foot and was not apprehended until the following day. At trial, the key disputed issue was whether Doane acted with gross negligence; he conceded he acted with ordinary negligence and was thus liable for the lesser included misdemeanor offense of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence. A jury convicted him of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, with an enhancement for fleeing the scene, and a separate count of leaving the scene of an accident. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison. The court of appeal affirmed the conviction for leaving the scene. Sufficient evidence supported the conviction of gross vehicular manslaughter and a jury instruction on unconsciousness was unwarranted. However, the prosecutor misstated the law involving circumstantial evidence in closing arguments and the trial court incorrectly answered a jury question about the use of post-crash conduct to find gross negligence; those two errors were collectively prejudicial to warrant reversal of the gross vehicular manslaughter conviction. The prosecution may retry Doane for that offense, otherwise, the judgment will be modified to the lesser included offense of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, to which the enhancement for fleeing the scene does not apply.

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