Teen Driver's Tweets Cited in Murder Charge

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on August 16, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A California teen will now be charged with murder for the death of a bicyclist, partly because he allegedly boasted about speeding on Twitter.

Cody Hall, 18, of Pleasanton, was initially charged with vehicular manslaughter when he struck and killed a bicyclist. But because of his troubling tweets and his driving record, prosecutors decided to up the ante and upgrade his charge to second-degree murder.

But what exactly warrants second-degree murder?

In Cody Hall's case, he was allegedly flooring it at 83 mph in a 40 mph zone. But then he lost control, killing Diana Hersevoort, 58, and injuring her husband Johannes, 57, who were pedaling on the busy road, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Second-Degree Murder

Second degree murder can be an appropriate charge for a death caused by a reckless disregard for human life.

Murder requires proof of "malice aforethought," which refers to the defendant's intent or state of mind. If that is missing, prosecutors must pursue manslaughter charges instead of murder charges.

Here, after analyzing Hall's driving record and taking into account his tweets proclaiming how fast he liked to drive, prosecutors decided to ratchet his charge up from vehicular manslaughter to murder.

Implied Malice?

In California murder cases, prosecutors must prove that the defendant exhibited express or implied malice.

Express malice means a defendant deliberately chose to commit murder. Implied malice, on the other hand, means a defendant's conduct reflected an "abandoned and malignant heart."

In this case, prosecutors will likely try to show implied malice. They will probably argue that by speeding, Hall intentionally created the dangerous circumstances that resulted in Hersevoort's death, and that he had utter disregard for the potential damage that his actions could have caused.

Does a tweet bragging about a love for speeding rise to that level? Perhaps not. But taken in conjunction with his allegedly shoddy record and risky driving habits, it just may be enough.

Teaching a Lesson

The undercurrent of this move is that prosecutors are out to make examples of people when it comes to roadway safety.

Prosecutors in the San Francisco Bay Area have been particularly zealous about pursuing murder convictions for motor vehicle deaths -- especially those caused by drunk drivers with past DUI convictions, reports the Chronicle.

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