Friday, January 20, 2023

People v. Morgan (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 20, 2023)

My first reaction to this case was: "Oh my. If you've been previously convicted of involuntary manslaughter for killing a guy -- while intoxicated, no less -- can you please not drive with a .BAC of .25?! You'd think you've have learned your lesson, no?"

Which, to be clear, remains my view.

That said, it's true that, here, the whole "killing the guy" thing happened literally 40+ years ago, when the defendant was only 19 years old. So, yeah, that's a long time ago.

Still. Definitely something you'd remember. The lesson shouldn't exactly fade.

Also, later in the opinion, when I learned that the now-somewhat-elderly defendant was picked up riding a motorcycle, I thought: "Well, at least he's riding a motorcycle instead of driving a car; that way, he's less likely to kill someone this time, and most likely just ends up killing himself. So that's something."

Which is true. Not a legal or moral defense to a DUI, obviously. But something.

Lastly, in the end, on the merits of the appeal, Justice Buchannan seems right. The relevant California statute says that a DUI gets transformed from a misdemeanor to a felony if the defendant has previously been convicted of certain specified offenses, including (as relevant here) Penal Code section 191.5, subdivision (a), which is gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. But the defendant here (Mr. Morgan) wasn't convicted of that; rather, he was convicted of "vehicular manslaughter caused by unlawful exhibition of speed (former Pen. Code, § 192, subd. 3(a); Veh. Code, § 23109) and DUI (former Veh. Code, § 23101, subd. (a)), neither of which is listed as a qualifying prior for elevating a DUI to a felony under Vehicle Code section 23550.5, subdivision (b)." Those are different offenses than 191.5(a); indeed, 191.5(a) wasn't even enacted by the Legislature until 5 years after Mr. Morgan was convicted.

Mind you, the combination of the offenses for which Mr. Morgan was convicted (vehicular manslaughter plus DUI) seem pretty much identical in substance to the subsequently-enacted statute (191.5) that entitles the prosecution to elevate Morgan's current DUI to a felony. True that.

But as Justice Buchanan explains, the statutory language is nonetheless clear. It lists the qualifying convictions. Mr. Morgan's convictions aren't amongst those listed. That's pretty much the end of the matter. So Mr. Morgan's current DUI remains a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

Which -- as a reminder -- doesn't mean that it's a good idea.

But it's not a felony.