In People v. Canizales, the Supreme Court today puts strict limits on when a defendant can be convicted of attempted murder of someone who was not a primary target.  The court’s unanimous opinion by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye states the requirements for liability under what is known as the kill-zone theory:  “(1) the circumstances of the defendant’s attack on a primary target, including the type and extent of force the defendant used, are such that the only reasonable inference is that the defendant intended to create a zone of fatal harm — that is, an area in which the defendant intended to kill everyone present to ensure the primary target’s death — around the primary target; and (2) the alleged attempted murder victim who was not the primary target was located within that zone of harm.”  It is not enough that the defendant acted with “only conscious disregard of the risk that others may be seriously injured or killed.”

Warning that “there is a substantial potential that the kill zone theory may be improperly applied” and “anticipat[ing] there will be relatively few cases in which the theory will be applicable,” the court states that “trial courts must be extremely careful in determining when to permit the jury to rely” on the theory.  And in fact, it concludes that the theory shouldn’t have been injected into the case before it, one involving a gang-related shooting, and that the error was prejudicial.

Resolving a conflict in the Courts of Appeal, the court reverses the Fourth District, Division Two, which had expressly disagreed with a 2012 opinion by the Second District, Division One.  However, the court also finds that the 2012 opinion — and at least five others — are “incomplete.”