Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Los Angeles Superior Court Appellate Division:
Change in Law on Crossing the Street Is Retroactive
Pedestrian Who Entered Crosswalk When It Was Unlawful to Do So With ‘DON’T WALK’ Flashing Will Get New Trial in Light of Statutory Change
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A pedestrian who was fined $25 plus penalty assessments for entering a crosswalk after the “DON’T WALK” sign began flashing will have a second day in court, under a decision of the Los Angeles Superior Court Appellate Division, made public yesterday.
The opinion was filed Feb. 20 and released after the Court of Appeal deemed transfer of the case to itself to be unnecessary.
Pamela Monk’s transgression occurred on April 13, 2017. At that time, the Vehicle Code provided that when “DON’T WALK” is flashing, “[n]o pedestrian shall start to cross the roadway in the direction of the signal.”
Monk was spotted by an officer violating the provision, pled not guilty, and was fined, on July 6, 2017, by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Shannon Knight.
On Oct. 2, 2017, a bill was signed into law, as “urgency” legislation, amending the code section. It now provides:
A flashing ‘DON’T WALK’ or ‘WAIT’ or approved ‘Upraised Hand’ symbol with a ‘countdown’ signal indicating the time remaining for a pedestrian to cross the roadway means a pedestrian facing the signal may start to cross the roadway in the direction of the signal but must complete the crossing prior to the display of the steady ‘DON’T WALK’ or ‘WAIT’ or approved ‘Upraised Hand’ symbol when the ‘countdown’ ends.”
Raised Issue Itself
The Appellate Division raised the issue of the retroactivity of the amendment on its own and asked for briefing. The Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office submitting a brief conceding that the amendment should be applied to Monk.
Writing for the Appellate Division, Judge Alex Ricciardulli quoted the California Supreme Court’s 1965 decision in In re Estrada as saying:
“When the Legislature amends a statute so as to lessen the punishment it has obviously expressly determined that its former penalty was too severe and that a lighter punishment is proper as punishment for the commission of the prohibited act. It is an inevitable inference that the Legislature must have intended that the new statute imposing the new lighter penalty now deemed to be sufficient should apply to every case to which it constitutionally could apply.”
The judge noted that the state high court 11 years later declared in People v. Rossi:
“Estrada itself...noted that ‘[it] is the rule at common law and in this state that when the old law in effect when the act is committed is repealed, and there is no saving clause, all prosecutions not reduced to final judgment are barred.’ ”
No Retroactivity Bar
Ricciardulli noted that the Vehicle Code section, as it was amended, “contains no saving clause stating the change in the law is to have only prospective effect,” that “there is no intent apparent in the text of the statute indicating the law is to apply only prospectively,” and the legislative history reveals no such intent.
A reversal, he said, would be consistent with legislative intent, explaining:
“Although defendant was already cited, convicted and ordered to pay a fine, applying the amendment to her case would serve the Legislature’s intent of relieving pedestrians from the financial burden of being fined for an offense which it concluded was unnecessary to maintain safety at intersections controlled by countdown timers.”
But Monk must face a retrial, the jurist said. It was determined at the first trial, he noted, only that Monk entered the crosswalk after “DON’T WALK” started flashing; there was no testimony as to whether she got across the street before it stopped flashing.
The case is People v. Monk, JAD18-01.
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