Friday, January 6, 2006
Drunk Driver Liable to CHP for Sobriety Testing—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A California law allowing government agencies to recover emergency response costs caused by drunk and drugged drivers applies to costs of enforcing driving-under-the-influence laws, including the expense of conducting field sobriety tests and making arrests, the First District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Div. Three Wednesday granted a writ of mandate, overturning a summary adjudication by Alameda Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw in favor of a putative class representative who is challenging the California Highway Patrol’s right to recover those costs.
Esteban Allende is a plaintiff in a putative class action challenging the CHP’s practice of billing arrestees for time spent by officers in conducting the sobriety tests, making arrests, transporting suspects to jail and booking them, and conducting chemical tests. Allende paid only $63 of the $360 the CHP billed him for responding to an accident; Allende did not contest the allegation that he caused the accident while driving under the influence of alcohol.
Sabraw ruled that Government Code sec. 53150, which authorizes recovery of such costs up to $12,000 per accident, is limited to costs deemed unrelated to enforcement of criminal statutes.
He held that “the CHP may bill Allende only for the expense of the CHP’s emergency response to the accident...that arose directly because of the response to the incident” including “the salaries of the CHP officers who have to spend time directly related to an incident...such as responding to the scene of an accident . . . , directing traffic and ensuring public safety at the site of the accident . . . , investigating the accident . . . , preparing reports about the accident...[and] transporting any disabled vehicles.”
The state could not, however, “recover for officer time spent because a driver was driving the vehicle under the influence” including “matters such as performing a field sobriety test, making an arrest, transporting the driver, booking the driver, administering chemical tests, and preparing reports about the potential violation of Vehicle Code 23152 or other Vehicle Code sections....”
But Justice Stuart Pollak, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed with the state and its amici, Santa Clara County and the California League of Cities, that the legislative intent was broader than the trial judge ruled.
“Allocating between public safety and law enforcement expenses would require arbitrary distinctions and classification of mixed costs,” the jurist wrote. “...Adopting Allende’s interpretation of [the statute] would cause intractable uncertainty and should be avoided....”
The case is California Highway Patrol v. Superior Court (Allende), 06 S.O.S. 71.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company