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Two men whose street race claimed the lives of a mother and her two children in 2007 were sentenced today. On charges including gross vehicle manslaughter and second degree murder of each victim, Robert Canizalez, and Martin Ariel Morones received sentences of 48 and 45 years to life, respectively.
As reported by the LA Times, these sentences relate to street race that occurred between 5:15 and 5:45pm on Monday afternoon in October of 2007. Then 18 year old Canizalez and the 21 year old Morones were racing as Dora Groce pulled out of the mobile home park in which they all lived. She, her 8 year old son and 4 year old daughter were blindsided by Canizalez.
Canizalez, who stayed at the scene unlike Morones, was also convicted of witness intimidation using the threat of force or violence. According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Canizalez threatened a young witness at the scene before being arrested.
This case illustrates a trend in prosecutors charging street racers with murder when someone dies as a result of a race crash.
There are a variety of homicide charges that can come into play following a car accident. Whether a car is involved or not, the general line between manslaughter and murder is whether the person was acting with bad intent. Here, Mr. Canizalez and Mr. Morones were convicted of variants of both manslaughter and murder charges for all three victims.
Like California, many states have vehicular homicide charges, specifically designed to deal with auto-related homicides. In this case, both men were convicted on three counts of gross vehicular manslaughter. That means committing an unlawful killing while driving where the person's death is caused by you either: being intoxicated, committing an unlawful act, or committing a lawful act with gross negligence when that act could be deadly. Here, they caused the deaths while in the unlawful act of street racing.
These men were also convicted on three counts of murder -- second degree murder. Generally, second degree murder is a killing that is either intentional but unplanned, or unintentional, but showing an obvious disregard for human life.
In California, to be guilty of murder, one must have acted with "malice aforethought." That pretty much means "bad intent." It can mean the intent to kill a person, or the intent to act with complete disregard to whether you do so. Second degree murder, in California, is any murder that's not premeditated or committed while in the act (or attempt) of a variety of grave offenses (including arson, rape and kidnapping).
Prosecutors in California and many other states have moved street racing deaths into the murder category. A race that lasted seconds cost 3 lives and will also cost these men most, if not all, of their remaining years.