A California driver is being held on homicide charges for allegedly driving under the influences and striking an off-duty Modesto Police Department sergeant who was riding his bike.
According to investigators, 38-year-old Sgt. Michael Pershall was riding his bicycle on Tuesday evening when he was struck from behind by a vehicle. The vehicle then crashed into a fire hydrant. The driver of the vehicle, 32-year-old Matthew Gibbs of Modesto, California, was subsequently arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.
Gibbs was booked into the Stanislaus County Jail and is being held without bail.
Court records show that Gibbs was arrested for a misdemeanor DUI in 2015. That case, however, was dismissed.
Gibbs is facing a homicide charge as well as two charges of DUI causing injury.
Homicide merely refers to the killing of another human being and encompasses murder charges, voluntary manslaughter charges, and involuntary manslaughter charges. It is still unclear exactly what homicide charge Gibbs faces.
Prior to 1981, a person who killed someone while driving under the influence could not be charged and convicted of murder. However, the landmark case of People v. Watson changed that.
California Penal Code section 187(a) provides that “Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.” Malice can be expressed or implied, and implied malice is present when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.
So what does that mean?
Simply put, implied malice is when a person knowingly engages in an act that is dangerous to human life with a conscious disregard for human life.
The court in Watson found that if the facts surrounding the DUI support a finding of “implied malice,” second degree murder can be charged. In other words, if a person engages in driving under the influence when they know that it is dangerous to human life to do so, and they kill someone, they can be charged with murder.
Now the question becomes, “Did the person know it was dangerous to human life to drive drunk?”
While we all know that it’s dangerous to drive drunk, since Watson, courts started expressly advising people who have been convicted of DUI, on the record, that it is, in fact, dangerous to drive drunk. This was not because the court actually thought that the defendant didn’t know it, but rather to ensure that the prosecutor could charge murder instead of manslaughter upon a subsequent DUI causing the death of someone.
Gibbs was only arrested for a prior DUI, but never convicted. Therefore, there’s a good chance that judge never gave Gibbs the “Watson advisement.” Thus, if the prosecutor wants to charge Gibbs with murder, they must find some other way to prove that Gibbs knew it was dangerous to drive while under the influence and that he ignored that danger.