Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Court of Appeal:
Can’t Impose Restitution Order Based on Hit-and-Run Without Finding Causation
By a MetNews Staff Writer
—Courtesy Santa Cruz Sentinel
A handcuffed Joanna Steele waits to be taken from Santa Cruz Superior Court after being sentenced to three years in state prison on Feb. 10
The Sixth District Court of Appeal yesterday reversed an order that a woman who pled no-contest to leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death, as well as misdemeanor driving under the influence of alcohol, pay $18,988 to survivors of the decedent, holding that restitution cannot be ordered absent a finding that the defendant caused the injuries.
It was undisputed that Joanna Marie Steele, driving a truck while intoxicated, struck pedestrian Adolfo Galvan, 70, resulting in his death less than two weeks later. However, unpublished the opinion by Justice Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian pointed out, it was unclear whether Steele caused the accident or a worsening of the injuries by virtue of her flight.
“Although the parties at the sentencing hearing made conflicting factual assertions about the victim’s conduct before he was struck by defendant’s truck, the trial court did not expressly resolve that conflict,” she noted.
May 25 Opinion
Bamattre-Manoukian drew attention to the California Supreme Court’s May 25 opinion in People v. Martinez, decided after Santa Cruz County Superior Judge Timothy Volkmann imposed the restitution order on Steele. (He sentenced her to three years in prison for the hit-and-run, to be served conterminously with 180 days for the DUI.)
Justice Leondra R. Kruger wrote the opinion in Martinez. She said that where the defendant unlawfully left the scene of an accident, “the trial court was authorized to order restitution for those injuries that were caused or exacerbated by defendant’s criminal flight from the scene of the accident, but it was not authorized to award restitution for injuries resulting from the accident itself.”
There, the defendant was not a cause of the accident.
The Sixth District jurist said that the matter must be remanded for a determination of whether Steele’s flight from the scene “caused or exacerbated” Galvan’s injuries, and whether her intoxication was a “cause” of the mishap.
Bamattre-Manoukian rejected the contention of the Office of Attorney General that Steele had waived the right to contest the order for restitution. She wrote:
“In this case, defendant orally agreed that she was ‘waiving any rights to appeal concerning this matter.’ Defendant’s appellate waiver was nonspecific, and thus she only waived the right to appeal error occurring before, but not after, the waiver….Before she entered the appellate waiver, the trial court had ordered restitution in favor of the victim’s family members but the court did not determine the amount of restitution. Because defendant entered only a nonspecific appellate waiver and because the trial court had not yet determined the amount of restitution, defendant is not precluded from challenging the amount of restitution awarded on appeal.”
The case is People v. Steele, H043846.
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