Appeals Court Rules No Mistake Of Fact In DUI

February 20, 2015

In the case of People v. Givan a California Appeals Court ruled against a DUI defendant who argued he should be exonerated because of a mistake of fact.  Here are the relevant facts:

While driving over the speed limit Givan ran a red light and struck another vehicle, killing one of its passengers and injuring the driver. Givan’s blood alcohol level (BAC) was .17 percent. He was charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence causing injury, and DUI, driving with a .08 percent or higher BAC. Enhancements and prior serious felonies were charged. He was convicted of all counts; the court found the priors true. He was sentenced to 25 years to life, plus five years. On appeal he claimed the trial court prejudicially failed to instruct on mistake of fact when he relied on such a defense.

The appeals court disagreed.  They found Givan presented expert testimony that his consumption of Monster Energy drinks, in combination with alcohol, masked his ability to perceive alcohol impairment. A mistake of fact defense requires an actual belief in a set of facts which, if true, would make the act with which a defendant is charged an innocent one. For general intent crimes, the belief must be both actual and reasonable. However, a mistake of fact instruction is required only if the defendant’s mistaken belief negates an element of the offense. Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated requires gross negligence (conscious indifference to consequences) that applies an objective standard—whether a reasonable person in defendant’s position would have been aware of the risk. Givan’s subjective belief, while a relevant circumstance in determining whether he had a conscious disregard of the consequences of his acts, did not warrant a mistake of fact instruction because the jury could still find that a reasonable person would have appreciated the risks involved in drinking and driving. Thanks CCAP.