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People v. Valdez

October 12, 2010


Appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court of Orange County, Richard M. King, Judge. Affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded. (Super. Ct. No. 08NF1326).

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



In a prosecution for violation of Vehicle Code*fn1 section 20001, subdivision (a), commonly referred to as a hit and run but more accurately described as fleeing the scene of an injury accident, will the injuries suffered in the accident and not aggravated in any manner by defendant's failure to thereafter stop and render assistance support a Penal Code section 12022.7, subdivision (a) great bodily injury enhancement? That Penal Code section requires infliction of great bodily injury in the "commission of a felony or attempted felony." The existence of an injury suffered in a traffic accident is a condition precedent to the imposition of a duty imposed upon a driver by section 20001, subdivision (a) and section 20003, subdivision (a) to stop and render aid. Thus, section 20001 makes criminal the flight from the accident, not the accident. As the defendant in this case was not committing or attempting to commit a felony at the time of the accident, the injury suffered during the accident was not inflicted in the course of the commission of a felony or attempted felony within the meaning of Penal Code section 12022.7.


The information charged defendant Victor Valdez*fn2 with being an unlicensed driver (§ 12500, subd. (a)), a misdemeanor) and with fleeing the scene of an injury accident (§ 20001, subd. (a)). The information also alleged defendant personally inflicted great bodily injury (Pen. Code, § 12022.7, subd. (a)) during the commission of the felony. The jury found defendant guilty of the charged offenses and found true the great bodily injury enhancement. The count sentenced defendant to state prison for a term of four years four months, consisting of 16 months (low term) for the violation of section 20001, subdivision (a) plus three years for the enhancement.

David Wiesen heard a collision outside his home on Malvern Avenue in Fullerton on February 14, 2008, at about 9:30 or 9:45 in the evening. The collision did not sound like cars colliding. He looked out his window and saw a female in the middle of the street with grocery bags strewn across the street. Once outside, he immediately recognized the woman as a neighbor, Kaitlin Lyons. Wiesen did not think Lyons was conscious.

Anthony Diaz, a police officer with the Fullerton Police Department, determined Lyons had been struck by a vehicle and began a search for the vehicle. He located the vehicle within an hour. The driver's side fender was damaged and the driver's side windshield was broken to the extent it would have been difficult to see out of it. Inside the vehicle, Diaz found an envelope addressed to Victor Valdes. Defendant's college photo identification was in the glove compartment.

Officer Brandon Clyde contacted the registered owner of the vehicle who stated he lent the car to Victor Valdez and that Valdez was paying off the vehicle. It was "quite a few months later" before police made contact with defendant.

In June 2008, defendant telephoned Clyde. Defendant "turned himself in" on June 19. He admitted hitting Lyons during questioning by the police: "[O]ut [of] nowhere like I just saw like the lady, she was crossing the street. And then I saw her looking at me like she saw me and then I'm all, I thought she was going to stop but I saw like she kept like walking so I was losing my speed and then I just started like, like swerving little by little, like that way. But I guess she didn't, she never stopped and then she like just kept on walking and walking and then I just like less and the last thing I did was, like I just tried to swerve but she hit the corner of my car. And that's how she got hurt."

Defendant told Clyde that after he hit Lyons, his foot was on the gas pedal and he kept on going. He made a right turn at the corner, made another right turn at the next street light, and parked the car.

The parties stipulated Lyons suffered the following injuries in the accident: "1) Fractures to her left eye orb, left cheek, right scapula, right clavicle, five ribs, and left hip joint, as well as a chipped sacrum; 2) bruised liver and spleen; and 3) brain injuries."


Vehicle Code section 20001, subdivision (a) requires the driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in the injury or death of another to "immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident and... fulfill the requirements of Sections 20003*fn3 and 20004.*fn4" The driver's duty to stop and fulfill the requirements of sections 20003 and 20004 applies "whether or not he is responsible for the accident. [Citation.]" (People v. Bammes (1968) 265 Cal.App.2d 626, 632.) "Although a violation of section 20001 is popularly denominated 'hit-and-run,' the act made criminal thereunder is not the 'hitting' but the 'running.' The legislative purpose of sections 20001 and 20003 is to prevent the driver of a vehicle involved in an injury-causing accident from leaving injured persons in distress and danger for want of medical care and from attempting to avoid possible civil or criminal liability for the accident by failing to ...

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