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CA Supreme Court Reverses People Vs. Cook Decision

CA Supreme Court Reverses People Vs. Cook Decision

The California Supreme Court has decided that enhancements for personally inflicting great bodily injury are not applicable in vehicular manslaughter cases. (People v. Cook (February 5, 2015, S215927) ___Cal.4th ___.) The personal infliction of great bodily injury enhancement is found in Penal Code section 12022.7, subdivision (a). "Any person who personally inflicts great bodily injury on any person other than an accomplice in the commission of a felony or attempted felony shall be punished by an additional and consecutive term of imprisonment in the state prison for three years." (Pen. Code, § 12022.7, subd. (a).) The defendant in this case was convicted of three counts of vehicular manslaughter for the death of three occupants of a vehicle, but the fourth occupant of the vehicle survived. The trial court applied the enhancement to the surviving victim, who was seriously injured.

The California Supreme Court reversed the decision of the trial court. Penal Code section 12022.7, by its terms, bars the application of the enhancement to murder or manslaughter. The appellate court tried to work around the clear language of Penal Code section 12022.7 by finding that the enhancement applied to victim's who did not die, and thus it was not applying it to murder or manslaughter. The California Supreme Court disagreed. It found that the "clear reading is the unqualified statement that the great bodily injury enhancement 'shall not apply to murder or manslaughter' (§ 12022.7, subd. (g)), not the qualified statement that the enhancement 'shall not apply to murder or manslaughter with regard to a victim of murder or manslaughter for which a conviction on the substantive count has been obtained.'"

The decision of the California Supreme Court applies to all types of fatality cases: "we conclude that no great bodily injury enhancement can attach to a conviction for murder or manslaughter." The remaining question is whether a great bodily injury enhancement is applicable for a defendant convicted of murder and manslaughter, plus an additional crime that is not murder or manslaughter.

This decision is very important to those charged with (or convicted of) murder, involuntary manslaughter, or vehicular manslaughter. For example, imagine a person was repairing a building while on drugs and left huge pieces of metal above a door where it was an obvious danger. Later on, those pieces fell on several people, killing one and injuring three others. The defendant could be charged with involuntary manslaughter due to "criminal negligence" but the great bodily injury enhancement would not apply to the surviving victims. In fact, since those other victims did not die, it is likely no charges would result for those victims. This would decrease the possible prison sentence by nine years. As such, the California Supreme Court greatly limited the punishment for many different crimes in the Cook decision.


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