Wednesday, October 13, 2010
C.A. Throws Out Injury Enhancement in Hit and Run
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday that a sentencing enhancement for causing great bodily injury did not apply to a motorist convicted of fleeing the scene after he hit and severely injured an Orange County pedestrian.
Noting that the driver, Victor Valdez, was not committing or attempting to commit a felony when the collision occurred, Div. Three said the enhancement was not supported because the injuries were caused by acts which occurred prior to Valdez’s crime, not as a result of it.
“[Vehicle Code] Sec. 20001 makes criminal the flight from the accident, not the accident,” Justice Eileen C. Moore wrote for the panel.
A jury convicted Valdez of driving without a license and fleeing the scene of an injury accident, commonly referred to as “hit and run,” after he admitted that he struck Fullerton resident Kaitlin Lyons on the evening of Feb. 14, 2008 and kept driving.
A neighbor found Lyons unconscious in the street with grocery bags strewn about her. Lyons suffered fractures to her face, ribs and hip, bruising to internal organs and brain injuries.
Police located Valdez, who had been borrowing the vehicle, months later, and he told them he thought Lyons saw him and that she was going to stop crossing the street in his path when the collision occurred. Valdez said he slowed down and swerved to avoid Lyons, but he also admitted that he kept driving, made two turns and then parked the vehicle.
At trial before Orange Superior Court Judge Richard M. King, the jury found true a great bodily injury enhancement under Penal Code Sec. 12022.7(a) and King sentenced Valdez to 16 years in prison for violating Sec. 20001, plus three years for the enhancement.
Sec. 12022.7(a) creates a three-year enhancement for “[a]ny person who personally inflicts great bodily injury on any person other than an accomplice in the commission of a felony or attempted felony,” but Valdez argued on appeal that he was not committing a felony at the time of the collision.
Examining cases involving “situations analytically indistinguishable from the present one,” Moore agreed. Pointing to “an unbroken line of cases stretching back more than 50 years,” she wrote that they led “to but one conclusion: the injuries sustained in the accident in this case were not inflicted in the commission of a felony or attempted felony based upon defendant’s subsequent flight.”
The justice clarified that a great bodily injury allegation could attach to a violation of Sec. 20001, such as when the injury was actually caused or aggravated by a defendant’s failure to stop and render aid, or if a defendant caused a second collision resulting in great bodily injury while fleeing the scene of a first collision.
But she flatly rejected the government’s assertion that an injury suffered solely from a collision and not from any other element of a violation of Sec. 20001 was nevertheless “caused” by the violation because the crime could not be committed without the collision causing injury to the victim.
“The fact that defendant subsequently fled does not retroactively alter the character of the accident from noncriminal to criminal,” Moore wrote.
Justices William W. Bedsworth and Richard M. Aronson joined Moore in her opinion.
The case is People v. Valdez, G042837.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company