People v. Knoller

The Facts

Defendants owned two dogs which attacked and killed victim in the hallway of an apartment building.  Female defendant was charged with second degree murder, because she was present at the time of the attack.  Defendants had been informed by a vet that the dogs were untrained, huge, and were a major liability.  Victim had previously been bitten by the dogs and there had been a total of 30 incidents report of the two dogs being “out of control or threatening humans.”

Procedural History

Female defendant convicted at trial on the theory of implied malice:  “that she knew that her conduct involved a high probability of resulting in the death of another.”  Reversed on appeal; new trial granted.  They reversed on the basis of the implied malice instruction.  Appellate court instead instructed that implied malice exists if “the defendant knew his or her conduct risked causing death or serious bodily injury.”


Implied Malice:  “a killing by one with an abandoned and malignant heart.”

The Issue

“Whether the mental state required for implied malice includes only conscious disregard for human life or can it be satisfied by an awareness that the act is likely to result in great bodily injury.”

“Whether the trial court abused its discretion in granting the new trial based on the rejection of the implied malice instruction.”

The Holding/Reasoning

No.  The majority of cases “establish that a killer acts with implied malice only when acting with an awareness of endangering human life.”  A conviction for second degree murder with implied malice “requires proof that a defendant acted with conscious disregard of the danger to human life.”

No. While the trial was correct in viewing implied malice as her awareness that her conduct would result in another’s death (not merely in serious bodily injury), it erred in suggesting that the defendant must subjectively know that her conduct had a high probability of death.  The defendant should be subject to an objective test, rather than a subjective test.  The trial court should have applied the Thomas test, “which asks whether the defendant’s act or conduct involves a high degree of probability that it will result in death.”  The court should also ask whether the defendant subjectively “acted with a base, antisocial motive and with wanton disregard for human life.”  The trial court’s error was granting a new trial based on their theory of implied malice that “unless she appreciated that her conduct created a high probability of someone’s death.”


Newer statutes require knowledge of “a strong probability of death or actions manifesting extreme indifference to human life.”

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