This week the California Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of a man who was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison for a DUI accident that killed two men in Lancaster.
In 2009, Tommie Lee Cole was arrested and convicted for a California DUI. At the time of his conviction, Cole signed what is commonly referred to as the “Watson Advisement.” The advisement is a formal acknowledgement that the person convicted of a California DUI knows that it is dangerous to drive drunk and if they drive drunk again and, as a result, kill someone, they can be charged with murder.
In 2012, Cole was once again driving under the influence in Lancaster when he attempted to beat a yellow intersection light and his vehicle broadsided Beau Josh Owen Fluker, 26, and Jeffrey Daniel Gilstrap, 23, who were on their way home from work. The collision killed both Fluker and Gilstrap.
Cole was convicted in February 2014 for the second degree murder of Fluker and Gilstrap in addition to two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and one count of driving under the influence and driving with a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content. The conviction landed Cole 30 years behind bars.
Cole appealed, but in January, a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled against Cole holding that there was sufficient evidence to support Cole’s conviction.
“Defendant’s prior drunk driving offense, his blood-alcohol level and decision to drive while intoxicated, and his highly dangerous acts of speeding and attempting to ‘beat’ a yellow light are substantial evidence to support the jury’s conclusion that the subjective standard for implied malice was satisfied,” said the appellate court judges.
Cole once again appealed, this time to the California Supreme Court. On Wednesday, however, the California Supreme Court announced that it would not hear Cole’s appeal. In doing so, the California Court of Appeal’s decision stood.
The fact that Cole signed the Watson Advisement allowed the California Court of Appeal to conclude that implied malice was present, thus allowing the murder conviction to stand.
Prior to the land mark case of People v. Watson in 1981, a person had to intend to kill someone else to be charged and convicted of murder. However, the California Supreme Court in People v. Watson said that only implied malice needed to be present for someone to be charged and convicted of murder.
As a result of the California Supreme Court’s decision in People v. Watson, trial courts throughout California began expressly advising people convicted of DUIs on the dangers of driving drunk and that if a future DUI caused a death, the person would be charged with murder.
Of course Cole did not intend to kill Fluker and Gilstrap. However, he did engage in an act, the natural consequences of which was dangerous to life, and was deliberately performed by a Cole who knew that his conduct endangered the life of others and acted with conscious disregard for life. This is implied malice.
In other words, because Cole signed the Watson Advisement, he knew that it was dangerous to the lives of others to drive under the influence, yet he deliberately decided to drive under the influence again notwithstanding that knowledge.