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People v. Knoller

Supreme Court of California
41 Cal. 4th 139, 158 P.3d 731 (2007)



Marjorie Knoller (defendant) and her husband Robert Noel were attorneys who acquired four large dogs from a client. A veterinarian who examined the dogs for Knoller warned her that the dogs lacked any training or discipline and that they would be dangerous to keep at a home. He also implied that the dogs might attack humans. Despite the warnings, Knoller and Noel picked up the dogs from their former owner. While with the former owner, two of the dogs had attacked and killed the owner’s sheep and cat, and another ate his own doghouse. The former owner expressed her concern about all the dogs and suggested that two of them be shot. On April 30, 2000, Knoller and Noel brought two of the dogs to stay at their apartment. On January 26, 2001, the dogs attacked and killed Diane Whipple, who lived on the same floor. Between the date Knoller and Noel brought the dogs home and the date of Whipple’s death, there were approximately thirty incidents in which the dogs were out of control or displayed threatening behavior. Knoller was charged with second degree murder. The jury convicted Knoller based on a theory of implied malice. Knoller moved for a new trial and the trial court granted the motion. The trial court held that implied malice required a finding that Knoller was aware of the high probability that her conduct would cause another’s death, and ruled that Knoller lacked this awareness. The Court of Appeal reversed the decision granting a new trial, holding that implied malice only requires a conscious disregard of the risk of serious bodily injury to another, not an awareness that another person would likely die. The Court of Appeal ordered the trial court to reconsider its decision on Knoller’s motion for retrial in light of its definition of implied malice. Knoller appealed the Court of Appeal’s decision.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Kennard, J.)

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