Neil Storm Stephany, 24, of Huntington Beach was sentenced earlier this month to 15 years to life in prison for a second degree murder conviction stemming from an October 26, 2015 hit-and-run collision with killed a bicyclist. It was later determined that Stephany was under the influence of heroin at the time of the collision.
On October 19, 2014, Stephany veered his Toyota Tacoma pickup into the bike lane on E. Coast Highway colliding into the back of bicyclist Shaun Eagleson, 30, or Fountain Valley. Stephany drove into the guardrail and fled the scene.
Eagleson later died from his injuries.
Newport Beach Police located and arrested Stephany shortly after the collision. Several witnesses had called 911 prior to the collision to report Stephany’s erratic driving.
Following his arrest, Stephany was originally charged with felony DUI causing great bodily injury, hit and run, narcotics possession, and possession of drug paraphernalia. However, upon discovering that Stephany had a 2011 California DUI conviction, a second degree murder charge was added.
Normally, a prosecutor must prove “implied malice” to be able to charge and convict someone of second degree murder. When someone drives drunk and kills someone they don’t intend, either actual or implied, any ill will toward the person whom was killed.
This, however, changes when someone has suffered a prior DUI conviction.
In his 2011 case, Stephany signed a document which included the following:
“I understand that being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, impairs my ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Therefore, it is extremely dangerous to human life to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both. If I continue to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, and as a result of my driving, someone is killed, I can be charged with murder.”
Furthermore, it is likely that the judge who sentenced Stephany advised him of this as well.
Nonetheless, this acknowledgement, known as the “Watson Advisement” makes it possible for prosecutors to charge and convict someone of second degree murder if they kill someone in the course of driving under the influence and they have suffered a prior DUI conviction.