By a MetNews Staff Writer
Div. Two of the Fourth District Court of Appeal has affirmed an order that a motorist who pled guilty to felony vandalism and misdemeanor reckless driving pay $108,487.36 in restitution to a man as a condition of probation although the only evidence that the defendant hit the man with his car was an assertion appearing in a police report by the purported victim, a motorcyclist, contradicted by eyewitnesses.
It was undisputed that on July 3, 2017, defendant Alfonso Campos Jr., driving his car on an interstate highway, tailgated a motorcyclist identified in the opinion only as “Eric,” that the two engaged in an altercation on the side of the road, and after the fight ended, Campos returned to his car and ran into the motorcycle. When interviewed by police, “Eric” said nothing of being injured by Campos running into him with his vehicle.
There were six eyewitnesses; three saw the fight and three saw Campos damaging the motorcycle; one of those who viewed the vandalism, did not say if “Eric” was also hit, and two stated affirmatively that he was not. In a follow-up interview, the motorcyclist said he was hit by the car.
The Riverside County Probation Department recommended the amount of restitution, with $103,063.71 of the amount representing medical bills. Riverside Superior Court Judge Mark Mandio made his award in conformity with the recommendation.
In an unpublished opinion filed Tuesday, Justice Marsha G. Slough said:
“Here, though Eric was the only witness to say he was hit, he was also in the best position to observe what happened (because it happened to him). We assume the trial court found Eric’s second statement to the police a more credible account of events than his first or the statements of the other witnesses. And there is a reasonable basis for doing so. Two of the three witnesses were driving on the freeway when they saw the altercation, and the other was about a football field away when he stopped to watch the events unfold. Based on these perception issues, the court could reasonably conclude that Eric was in the best position to observe what happened to him and his account was the most reliable.”
Not Under Oath
“Campos argues Eric’s second statement to police cannot constitute substantial evidence to support the court’s factual finding because Eric wasn’t under oath at the time, and thus his uncorroborated statements are not technically testimony. He argues that this fact makes his case distinguishable from those cases which hold that the uncorroborated testimony of a single witness is sufficient to prove a critical fact….But this argument ignores that all of the evidence before the court was unsworn testimony, including the eyewitness statements Campos relies on. Thus, all the evidence the court relied on was of the same value from a legal perspective, and there was no purely legal basis to conclude Eric’s unsworn statements were less credible than the eyewitness’s unsworn statements.”
The jurist added that it was “a close call” and that “the evidence here is relatively slim” but said there is no basis for concluding that Mandio “acted irrationally in believing Eric’s second account of the incident or in relying on probation’s determination as to the validity and credibility of his claimed medical expenses.”
The case is People v. Campos, E074824.
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