People v. Dimacali

Decision Date28 February 2019
Docket NumberD074680
Citation244 Cal.Rptr.3d 268,32 Cal.App.5th 822
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Lourdes Ortiz DIMACALI, Defendant and Respondent.

Mara W. Elliott, City Attorney, John C. Hemmerling, Assistant City Attorney, Michael L. Ficken, Deputy City Attorney for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Angela Bartosik, Chief Deputy, Primary Public Defender, Peter Tran and Euketa Oliver, Deputy Public Defenders for Defendant and Respondent.

O'ROURKE, J.

California law allows the civil compromise of certain offenses involving a person "injured by an act constituting a misdemeanor" who "has a remedy by a civil action" so long as the criminal defendant compensates the injured person and pays all costs incurred. ( Pen. Code,1 §§ 1377, 1378 ; see People v. Gokcek (2006) 138 Cal.App.4th Supp. 8, 11, 42 Cal.Rptr.3d 405.) This appeal presents the question of whether a misdemeanor charge of leaving the scene of an accident causing only property damage in violation of Vehicle Code section 20002, subdivision (a) (commonly referred to as hit-and-run; see California v. Byers (1971) 402 U.S. 424, 91 S.Ct. 1535, 29 L.Ed.2d 9 ; People v. Carbajal (1995) 10 Cal.4th 1114, 1118, 43 Cal.Rptr.2d 681, 899 P.2d 67 ) is subject to disposition by such a civil compromise. The People contend such a violation cannot be compromised as a matter of law; that the damages must flow from the criminal conduct and People v. Martinez (2017) 2 Cal.5th 1093, 218 Cal.Rptr.3d 140, 394 P.3d 1066 ( Martinez ) confirms the crime is not the accident but the failure to stop and provide information, which cannot in any scenario cause the property damage suffered by the victim of the misdemeanor offense. They urge us to reject authority to the contrary— People v. Tischman (1995) 35 Cal.App.4th 174, 40 Cal.Rptr.2d 650 ( Tischman )—as flawed and no longer good law. The nature of the hit-and-run offense at issue and a plain reading of the civil compromise statutes compels us to agree. We reverse.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The People filed a complaint charging Lourdes Ortiz Dimacali with a single count of misdemeanor hit-and-run driving after Dimacali was involved in an August 2016 incident with M.T. The People alleged Dimacali was the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in property damage, but failed to locate and notify M.T. or appropriate authorities in violation of Vehicle Code section 20002, subdivision (a). Dimacali pleaded not guilty to the offense.

Thereafter, Dimacali moved to stay prosecution and for discharge and dismissal of her case under sections 1377 and 1378, based in part on a declaration from M.T. in which M.T. stated she had sustained $1,166.78 in damages as a result of the incident, Dimacali had reimbursed her that amount, and M.T. did not want Dimacali prosecuted. Dimacali argued that hit-and-run accidents qualified for compromise under Tischman , supra , 35 Cal.App.4th 174, 40 Cal.Rptr.2d 650 because her criminal offense shared a common element—monetary damage—with the civil cause of action.

The People opposed the motion on three grounds. They argued (1) the hit-and-run offense did not qualify for civil compromise because the California Supreme Court in Martinez , supra , 2 Cal.5th 1093, 218 Cal.Rptr.3d 140, 394 P.3d 1066 held the act constituting the Vehicle Code section 20002, subdivision (a) offense was fleeing the scene, not the collision, implicitly overruling Tischman ; (2) Dimacali did not meet the statutory requirements for civil compromise because M.T. was not present before the court to acknowledge satisfaction; and (3) the public interest was not vindicated by a civil compromise so as to permit the court to exercise its discretion to grant Dimacali's requested relief. Following a hearing on the matter, the superior court granted Dimacali's motion and dismissed her case on condition she pay court fees and costs.

The People appealed to the San Diego Superior Court's appellate division. (§ 1466, subd. (a)(2).) They argued a violation of Vehicle Code section 20002, subdivision (a) could not be civilly compromised as a matter of law, repeating the arguments that the collision was not an element of the crime and thus damages did not flow from the criminal act, but rather under Martinez , supra , 2 Cal.5th 1093, 218 Cal.Rptr.3d 140, 394 P.3d 1066 the gravamen of the crime was the flight. They argued Tischman 's reasoning was flawed and contrary to Martinez . The appellate division rejected these arguments and affirmed the superior court's order. We granted the People's request to have the matter transferred to this court for review.2

DISCUSSION
I. Standard of Review

The relevant facts—that Dimacali was charged with a violation of Vehicle Code section 20002, subdivision (a) and thereafter satisfied the victim's damages—are not in dispute. Under the circumstances, whether her misdemeanor offense qualifies for civil compromise is a question of statutory interpretation that we review independently. (See Lopez v. Sony Electronics, Inc. (2018) 5 Cal.5th 627, 633, 234 Cal.Rptr.3d 856, 420 P.3d 767 [cases posing a pure question of statutory interpretation are subject to independent review]; Poole v. Orange County Fire Authority (2015) 61 Cal.4th 1378, 1384, 191 Cal.Rptr.3d 551, 354 P.3d 346 [court reviews de novo application of statute to undisputed facts]; Huntington Continental Townhouse Assn., Inc. v. Miner (2014) 230 Cal.App.4th 590, 598, 179 Cal.Rptr.3d 47 [general standards of appellate review—including de novo review of issues of statutory interpretation—apply to appeals transferred from the superior court appellate division for decision in the Court of Appeal].)

We apply settled standards for construing a statute: " ‘Our fundamental task is to determine the Legislature's intent and give effect to the law's purpose. [Citation.] We begin by examining the statute's words " ‘because they generally provide the most reliable indicator of legislative intent.’ [Citation.] If the statutory language is clear and unambiguous our inquiry ends." [Citation.] In that case, the plain meaning of the statute is controlling, and "resort to extrinsic sources to determine the Legislature's intent is unnecessary." " ( Lopez v. Sony Electronics , supra , 5 Cal.5th at pp. 633-634, 234 Cal.Rptr.3d 856, 420 P.3d 767.)

II. Nature of Vehicle Code Section 20002"Hit-and-Run" Offense

We begin by examining the nature of the offense committed by a violation of Vehicle Code section 20002. The statute makes it a misdemeanor if a driver of a vehicle in an accident resulting in damage to property fails to stop and give specified information to the owner of the other vehicle. (See People v. Holford (1965) 63 Cal.2d 74, 80, fn. 3, 45 Cal.Rptr. 167, 403 P.2d 423.)3

The California Supreme Court has characterized the crime as "leaving the scene of the accident." ( People v. Carbajal , supra , 10 Cal.4th at p. 1124, 43 Cal.Rptr.2d 681, 899 P.2d 67 ; see also Martinez , supra , 2 Cal.5th at p. 1102, 218 Cal.Rptr.3d 140, 394 P.3d 1066 [describing Vehicle Code section 20001 offense as " ‘more accurately described as fleeing the scene of an injury accident’ "].) Vehicle Code section 20002 was " ‘enacted by the Legislature to protect owners of unattended vehicles from financial loss caused by irresponsible persons who damage such vehicles and attempt to escape liability by departing from the scene of the accident without leaving any identification or evidence by which to trace them.’ " ( Carbajal , at pp. 1124-1125, 43 Cal.Rptr.2d 681, 899 P.2d 67.) The statute is aimed at "all persons who drive automobiles in California" and thus is " ‘directed at the public at large.’ " ( California v. Byers , supra , 402 U.S. at p. 430, 91 S.Ct. 1535.) It was "not intended to facilitate criminal convictions but to promote the satisfaction of civil liabilities arising from automobile accidents." ( Ibid . )

"The essential elements of a violation of [Vehicle Code] section 20002, subdivision (a) are that the defendant: (1) knew he or she was involved in an accident; (2) knew damage resulted from the accident; and (3) knowingly and willfully left the scene of the accident (4) without giving the required information to the other driver(s)." ( People v. Carbajal , supra , 10 Cal.4th at p. 1123, fn. 10, 43 Cal.Rptr.2d 681, 899 P.2d 67.) " ‘The regulatory purpose of [Vehicle Code] section 20002, subdivision (a) is to provide the owners of property damaged in traffic accidents with the information they need to pursue their civil remedies.’ [Citation.] By leaving the scene of the accident, the fleeing driver deprives the nonfleeing driver of his or her right to have responsibility for the accident adjudicated in an orderly way according to the rules of law. This commonly entails a real, economic loss, not just an abstract affront. Among other things, the crime imposes on the nonfleeing driver the additional costs of locating the fleeing driver and, in some cases, the total costs of the accident. ‘The cost of a "hit and run" violation is paid for by every law-abiding driver in the form of increased insurance premiums. The crime with which the defendant is charged is complete upon the "running" whether or not his conduct caused substantial or minimal (or indeed any) damage or injury; it is the running which offends public policy.’ " ( Id . at p. 1124, 43 Cal.Rptr.2d 681, 899 P.2d 67, citing in part People v. McWhinney (1988) 206 Cal.App.3d Supp. 8, 12, 254 Cal.Rptr. 205 ( McWhinney ).)

Indeed, a person's act of driving at the time of an accident is "conduct that is not in itself necessarily criminal ...." ( People v. Carbajal , supra , 10 Cal.4th at p. 1123, 43 Cal.Rptr.2d 681, 899 P.2d 67.) In California v. Byers , a plurality of the United States Supreme Court pointed out with respect to Vehicle Code section 20002's reporting requirement that "it is not a criminal offense under California law to be a driver ‘involved in an...

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