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This legal case involves David Earl Fleming, who was convicted of second-degree murder for causing the death of Margaret Jacobsen Haley in a car accident due to his high-speed driving. Fleming argues that he should have been convicted of manslaughter instead. The case involves deciding whether non-purposeful vehicular homicide can be considered murder. Fleming's car was estimated to be traveling at 70 to 80 miles per hour in a 30 miles per hour zone, and his blood alcohol level was tested at .315 percent. The majority opinion, written by Chief Judge Harrison L. Winter, affirms the murder conviction and states that the facts support it. The case was heard in the United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, and was argued on June 7, 1984, with a decision made on July 17, 1984.
Malice aforethought distinguishes murder from manslaughter, and it can be established by reckless conduct that deviates from a reasonable standard of care and creates a serious risk of death or bodily harm. The evidence was sufficient to support a finding of malice aforethought by the jury in this case, despite the defendant's argument that a statute defining and prohibiting involuntary manslaughter should preclude a murder verdict. The difference between malice and gross negligence is one of degree, not kind, and in this case, the defendant's deviation from established standards of regard for life and safety is markedly different from most vehicular homicides, supporting a finding of malice.
The defendant's challenge to his conviction based on erroneous jury instructions is rejected, as the instructions were adequate and not misleading. The defendant's challenge to the admission of his driving record is also rejected, as the record was relevant to establish the defendant's awareness of the risk his drinking and driving presented to others.
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