Monday, August 3, 2020
Man Who Sped at 103 mph, Causing Fatal Crash, Wins New Sentencing
Defendant, Initially Charged With Murder, Might Have Sentence, Set at 10 Years for Vehicular Manslaughter, Reckless Driving, Reduced; Enhancements Invalidated
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A youth who sped his Chevrolet Camaro at 103 mph in a residential area of Hacienda Heights, colliding with another vehicle and causing the death of the driver, succeeded in 2018 in beating a murder charge, and has now prevailed in the Court of Appeal for this district to the extent that he will be resentenced for vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving.
Thursday’s unpublished opinion, by Justice Brian M. Hoffstadt of Div. Two, creates for Aron Harutun Petrosian the prospect of a lower sentence than that imposed on Jan. 25, 2019, by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Steven D. Blades: 10 years in prison. Enhancements, under Penal Code §12022.7, on “great bodily injury” to two passengers must be vacated, Hoffstadt declared, because they punish the defendant a second time for the same conduct.
The opinion specifies that on remand, “the trial court may exercise its usual discretion to impose any sentence at or below the previously imposed sentence of 10 years.”
Petrosian was 17 when he caused the 2014 death of Bertha Alicia Rosales as well as severe injuries to her two sons, whose ages were 10 and 13. He was certified by the Juvenile Court to be tried in the adult criminal court.
Although he’s now 23, the opinion directs a remand “for the trial court to exercise its newly conferred discretion whether to transfer the case back to juvenile court in light of the jury’s inability to reach a verdict on the initially charged murder count.”
Jurors on Nov. 30, 2018, were deadlocked on that charge, but convicted him on the other counts. The Office of District Attorney agreed that the charge be dropped.
Seven years of the 10-year-term Blades imposed was based on injuries to the 13-year-old who suffered traumatic brain damage and was in a coma for 14 days. A mid-term two-year base term was imposed, with a five-year enhancement.
A consecutive 20 month term related to the 10-year-old, who was thrown from the car, was also imposed. That term included a one-year enhancement.
The sentence for vehicular manslaughter was 16 months.
Under a 2000 decision by Div. Five of this district’s Court of Appeal in People v. Beltran, Hoffstadt said, great bodily injury is what boosts misdemeanor reckless driving into a felony, thus constituting an element of the felony.
In 2019, he recited, this district’s Div. Five, in People v. Escarcega, construed the reckless driving statute as creating an enhancement where in the face of great bodily harm.
“We need not decide who is right,” Hoffstadt reasoned, “because, either way, imposition of the Penal Code section 12022.7 enhancement impermissibly punishes defendant twice for causing the same injury to his victims.”
Petrosian had asked Blades to send the case back to Juvenile Court, and the judge responded that he lacked authority to do so. He now has that authority, Hoffstadt said, pointing to Welfare and Institutions Code §707.5, enacted last year.
It permits a case to be lobbed back to Juvenile Court where the offense originally charged was one of those enumerated in §707(b)—which includes murder—but where there was not a conviction of that offense.
“Defendant is accordingly entitled to have the trial court decide whether to exercise its newfound discretion,” Hoffstadt set forth.
Petrosian’s assaults on the convictions failed.
Hoffstadt said Blades properly excluded evidence relating to “adolescent brain development.” Petrosian wanted to call an expert to testify that persons under 25 are impulsive by nature and cannot control their impulses.
California has abolished the defenses of diminished capacity and irresistible impulse, the jurist noted, adding that the elimination of the defenses has withstood due process challenges.
The case is People v. Petrosian, B295732.
Petrosian had high-powered counsel: Mark Geragos of Geragos & Geragos. Also on his legal team were Cliff Gardner and Daniel Buffington of the Law Offices of Cliff Gardner. Deputy Attorneys General Steven D. Matthews and David F. Glassman acted for the People.
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