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People v. Runyan

September 24, 2010

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
PAUL DEAN RUNYAN, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Marcelita Haynes, Judge. Affirmed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BA322080).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bigelow, P. J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Paul Dean Runyan collided head-on with Donald Benge's car while driving intoxicated on the wrong side of the freeway. As part of the judgment, Runyan was ordered to make restitution of $446,486 to Benge's estate. Runyan contends the restitution order was improper because Benge's estate is not a "direct victim" of crime. We affirm the judgment.

FACTS

At approximately 4:30 a.m. on April 6, 2007, Runyan attempted to drive home from a nightclub while intoxicated. In the course of his attempt to drive home, Runyan entered the 134 Freeway travelling in the wrong direction and continued in the wrong direction for approximately one and one-quarter miles. Several motorists called the police.

California Highway Patrol Sergeant Peter Recato and his partner were patrolling the 134 Freeway that morning. From approximately 700 feet away, Sergeant Recato saw Runyan's vehicle coming towards them as it travelled in the wrong direction. Sergeant Recato braked, pulled over to the right shoulder of the freeway, and successfully avoided a head-on collision with Runyan's vehicle. Donald Benge, who was driving his vehicle behind Sergeant Recato's patrol vehicle, was unable to avoid colliding with Runyan's vehicle. Tragically, Runyan's vehicle collided head-on with Benge's vehicle, and Benge was killed. Runyan escaped with only minor injuries.

On October 31, 2007, Runyan was charged with murder (count 1), gross vehicular manslaughter (count 2), driving under the influence causing injury (count 3) and driving under the influence with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or greater causing injury (count 4). On November 4, 2008, a jury acquitted Runyan of murder, but convicted him of the three other charges. The trial court conducted a restitution hearing and ordered Runyan to pay $446,486 to the estate of Benge. Runyan filed a timely notice of appeal.

DISCUSSION

I. The Trial Court Properly Awarded Restitution to the Victim's Estate

Runyan argues that the trial court erred in ordering him to make restitution to the estate of Benge because Benge himself, not his estate, was the direct victim of the crime within the meaning of Penal Code section 1202.4.*fn1 As discussed below, Runyan's argument is without merit, and Benge's estate is entitled to restitution.

A. Standard of Review

"[W]hen the propriety of a restitution order turns on the interpretation of a statute, a question of law is raised, which is subject to de novo review on appeal." (People v. Williams (2010) 184 Cal.App.4th 142, 146, citing In re Anthony M. (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th 1010, 1016; see also In re Tobacco II Cases (2009) 46 Cal.4th 298, 311 [questions of law are reviewed de novo], citing Jones v. Pierce (1988) 199 Cal.App.3d 736, 741 ["Questions of statutory interpretation are, of course, pure matters of law upon which we may exercise our independent judgment."].) Accordingly, the standard of review is de novo.

B. Penal Code Section 1202.4

In 1982, the voters of California adopted Proposition 8, an initiative that amended the California Constitution. (People v. Martinez (2005) 36 Cal.4th 384, 388 (Martinez).) In pertinent part, Proposition 8 established a constitutional right for crime victims to receive restitution from defendants who have been convicted of crimes that cause the victims to suffer economic ...


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