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The case of San Francisco’s most unpopular dog owner seems to have no end in sight. In 2002, a jury convicted Marjorie Knoller of second-degree murder after her two Presa Canario dogs mauled her neighbor Diane Whipple to death. Months later, the judge threw out the verdict and granted Knoller a new trial � only to be reversed by the First District Court of Appeal in 2005. Now, the California Supreme Court says both the trial court and the appeal court got it wrong. The trial court abused its discretion and the appeal court used faulty reasoning for reversing the trial court’s order, according to the unanimous ruling issued Thursday. Justice Joyce Kennard authored the opinion. Why all the twists and turns? At the core of this ongoing debate is the definition of “implied malice,” a requirement for the second-degree murder conviction to stick. Former Superior Court Judge James Warren granted a new trial and vacated the murder conviction because he said Knoller wasn’t aware that taking her dogs out carried a “high probability” of death. Later, the First District said Knoller only had to know she risked causing serious bodily injury. But according to the Supreme Court, the “Court of Appeal set the bar too low” and “the trial court set the bar too high.” “In short, implied malice requires a defendant’s awareness of engaging in conduct that endangers the life of another � no more, and no less,” Kennard wrote in People v. Knoller, 07 C.D.O.S. 6178. She also reaffirmed the implied malice test the court set in 1966 with People v. Phillips, 64 Cal.2d 574, which requires that a person act “with conscious disregard for life.” According to Kenneth Phillips, a Beverly Hills dog bite attorney who watched the Knoller trial closely, the ruling makes prosecuting dog mauling cases more difficult. “A dog owner is never going to be aware of the risk of death,” he said. Although the Supreme Court said that Judge Warren gave the 2002 jury proper instructions, he granted the new trial based on an inaccurate definition of implied malice. The “high probability of death” standard was just one of two parts of the implied malice test set forth in 1953′s People v. Thomas, 41 Cal.2d 470, and Judge Warren had applied it incorrectly, the court said. Now, another superior court judge will have to consider whether Warren � who has since retired � should have denied the defense’s motion for a new trial. Both the defense and prosecution claimed victory on Thursday. “[T]he Supreme Court made clear that the law may not be bent for the purpose of reaching a result which some judges may deem desirable in a single case,” Knoller’s lawyer Dennis Riordan said in a written statement. “The high court applied to Ms. Knoller’s case those legal principles which govern every murder case in California, whether the defendant be viewed as a pillar of the community or a social pariah.” But Deputy Attorney General Amy Haddix said the high court’s preference for the Phillips definition of implied malice � where one acts with conscious disregard for life � still applies to Knoller, despite the reversal of First District’s ruling. “Ultimately, I think it’s the people’s victory,” Haddix said. According to Haddix, the high court provided clarification that brings the prosecution one step closer to successfully fighting Warren’s 2002 decision granting Knoller a new trial. If the new judge reinstates Knoller’s conviction, she could go back to prison to serve a 15-year sentence. She has credit for four years of time served. Haddix said it may take months before they go back to court to argue the new trial motion.

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