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The People v. David Forkner

IN THE COURT OF APPEAL OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA THIRD APPELLATE DISTRICT (Nevada)


January 27, 2011

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
DAVID FORKNER, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.

(Super. Ct. No. T090377F)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robie ,j.

P. v. Forkner CA3

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED

California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

A jury found defendant David Forkner guilty of driving with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others while fleeing from a peace officer (Veh. Code,*fn1 § 2800.2, subd. (a)) and three misdemeanor counts of resisting a peace officer (Pen. Code, § 148, subd. (a)). The trial court suspended imposition of sentence and placed defendant on three years of supervised probation with various terms and conditions.

On appeal, defendant argues that insufficient evidence supports his conviction of fleeing from a peace officer. We reject the contention and affirm the judgment.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

During the early morning hours of April 2, 2009, Christopher Peeden was working as a California Department of Food and Agriculture inspector at the Truckee Border Protection Station on Interstate 80 (the highway). A blue Ford pickup truck pulled into the station. Peeden asked defendant, the sole occupant of the vehicle, where he was coming from. Defendant did not answer but instead stared at the ceiling that covered the car lanes. Peeden again inquired about where defendant had come from. Defendant still did not answer. Instead, he offered his driver's license. Peeden observed "an array of pills scattered across the dashboard." Peeden asked defendant whether he was "okay to drive [his] vehicle." Defendant gave no response.

Because of defendant's odd behavior, Peeden told defendant to pull into an adjacent parking lot for inspection. Defendant did not acknowledge the instruction. He proceeded to drive away from the inspection station at approximately 30 to 35 miles per hour. Peeden found this unusual because drivers usually accelerate to freeway speeds after they exit the inspection station. Peeden called 911 and gave descriptions of defendant and his vehicle.

Nevada County Sheriff's Deputy Russell Greene responded to a broadcast to be on the lookout for a possibly intoxicated driver; the broadcast included the description of defendant and his truck. Shortly after Deputy Greene pulled his marked patrol vehicle onto the highway, he spotted defendant's truck going in the opposite direction. Deputy Greene took the next exit and got back on the highway going in the same direction as defendant's truck.

When Deputy Greene caught up to the truck, he confirmed that its license plate matched that given in the police broadcast. The deputy activated the patrol vehicle's emergency lights, including a solid red light visible from the front, and a siren to initiate a traffic stop. Defendant continued traveling westbound on the highway at about 30 miles per hour on the right shoulder of the pavement. For several miles, defendant continued to drive on the shoulder and in the right-hand lane at speeds ranging from 30 to 40 miles an hour. Defendant did not exceed the posted speed limit.

Additional units of the California Highway Patrol joined in following defendant's truck. The truck's speed gradually increased to 65 miles per hour as it approached Boreal Ridge Road. The truck suddenly exited the highway by turning onto the Castle Peak/Boreal Ridge exit. The truck abruptly slowed to approximately 20 to 25 miles per hour before going through a blind intersection without stopping. California Highway Patrol Officer Gavin Graham was following immediately behind the truck and thought that defendant was planning to re-enter the highway by taking a nearby on-ramp. Instead, the truck came to a stop.

The officers initiated a felony stop by surrounding defendant's vehicle with weapons drawn and instructions given over the public address system of one of the patrol vehicles. One of the officers instructed defendant to turn off the truck, place his hands in the air, and exit the vehicle. Defendant placed his hands in the air while holding onto a coffee cup.

The officers loudly and repeatedly instructed defendant to exit the truck. Defendant mumbled something about the door not working. Defendant appeared to be "extremely dazed." Several officers approached the vehicle. One of them shattered the passenger side window and opened the door. Defendant had a blanket across his lap, which the officers removed. Officer Graham shattered the driver's side window before reaching in to turn off the truck's ignition.

A struggle ensued as the officers tried to pull defendant from the truck. Defendant wrapped his left arm around his seatbelt to avoid being removed. Officer Graham used his Taser on defendant, who then let go of the seatbelt and was pulled from the vehicle.

Outside the vehicle, defendant was placed on the ground. Another scuffle occurred when the officers attempted to handcuff defendant. The officers struggled with defendant for a minute before securing the handcuffs on him.

The pursuit had lasted approximately 15 minutes and covered a distance of eight miles.

Defendant was transported to a hospital because he had a cut on his head and Taser probes stuck in his skin. At the hospital, defendant was noncompliant, very agitated, and disrespectful to the medical personnel. The officers were required to stay for defendant's medical tests.

At trial, defendant testified and explained that he has suffered from hallucinations since 2006, when he was still a high school student. The hallucinations involved distortions of people's faces and hearing voices inside his head. In 2007, defendant went to a psychiatric health facility for treatment. At the facility, a doctor prescribed medication which reduced the frequency with which defendant heard voices. Even so, defendant continued to hear voices whenever he got into a fight-or-flight situation.

While testifying at trial, defendant heard voices and explained: "It's how I sort my thoughts."

On the day before his arrest, defendant spent 16 to 18 hours driving across Nevada. During that time, defendant likely heard voices, but they were not intense. Defendant was on his way home to North San Juan, California, when his pickup truck was surrounded by three semi-trucks. Being surrounded by the big trucks caused him to "automatically start freaking out, and that's what triggered the schizophrenia."

Defendant saw Peeden when arriving at the agricultural inspection station. Peeden's face "looked really scary and different" in that "his eye socket things were like sucked in, and his face was . . . skinny like real skeletal, and he was just - he was darker." Defendant looked into Peeden's eyes, which looked "weird." Feeling uncomfortable, defendant avoided further eye contact with the inspector.

Peeden asked defendant where he was coming from, and defendant answered, "Winnemucca." When Peeden told him to pull over, defendant said he would not do so unless other people were there. Defendant asked, "Could you search my vehicle while there's people here?" Peeden told defendant that the search would not happen with other people present. Defendant feared he would be harmed if he stayed at the station, so he decided to drive off.

Defendant pulled off the highway and onto the Donner Pass exit in search of a public area where he could calm down. Defendant searched for a place to buy a drink and cigarettes but found no businesses that were open. Defendant "was practically telling [himself] stop here, but then [he] would say no, [he] need[ed] to stop somewhere with people." Defendant got back on the highway.

Once on the highway, defendant saw that he was being followed by a sheriff's patrol vehicle with unactivated lights. After passing the next highway exit, defendant noticed he was being followed by four police cars with their lights activated. Defendant "didn't notice the noise of the sirens 'cause [his] mind was preoccupied."

Defendant did not stop because he heard "a voice like screaming at me saying not to stop, not to stop because they were going to kill me." Defendant's "intention was to speak with the police in a public place such as a gas station with people over at Boreal." Defendant thought he "would be safer around pedestrians or a store with cameras." Defendant was in a state of panic due to being pursued by the police officers. Despite his panic, he had a coffee cup in his hand during the entire pursuit because he was drinking coffee.

Defendant kept driving because he "was trying to get home, but [he] would have been all right with a public place [to stop]." Defendant decided to stop at Boreal because he thought people might be skiing at that location. Defendant "sort of ran out of ideas" when he saw that the Boreal ski area was closed. He "decided that [he] was going to have to face the music" and brought his truck to a gradual stop. Defendant was still hearing voices, but they calmed down.

Defendant complied with orders to keep his hands up because he was afraid of being shot if he moved them down. There were many commands. "It was as if five people were just shouting different things to do." Defendant did not want to turn off his truck because he did not want to move his hands out of sight. Defendant tried to fix the seatbelt buckle so that he could be removed from the truck but was unable to do so before one of the officers shattered the window. As he was being pulled from the truck, his foot slipped from the brake and the vehicle lurched forward a bit.

Defendant did not remember holding onto the seatbelt as he was being pulled from the truck. The scene was chaotic when defendant was Tasered. The pain and convulsions prevented him from moving. The officers pulled him out of the truck feet first, causing defendant to hit his head on the concrete. Defendant felt as if he was being pulled apart by the officers tugging at him. Defendant submitted to the officers when they placed him in handcuffs.

On cross-examination, defendant acknowledged that he knew the officers wanted him to stop while he was being pursued.

DISCUSSION

Defendant contends insufficient evidence supports his conviction of evading a pursuing police officer with willful or wanton disregard for the safety or property of others. (§ 2800.2, subd. (a).) Specifically, defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence that he had the requisite intent to flee from the officers who pursued him in their patrol vehicles. We reject the argument.

The California Supreme Court has explained that "'[i]n reviewing the sufficiency of evidence under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the question we ask is "whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt."' ([People v.] Rowland [(1992)] 4 Cal.4th [238,] 269, quoting Jackson v. Virginia (1979) 443 U.S. 307, 319, 61 L.Ed.2d 560.) We apply an identical standard under the California Constitution. (Ibid.) 'In determining whether a reasonable trier of fact could have found defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the appellate court "must view the evidence in a light most favorable to respondent and presume in support of the judgment the existence of every fact the trier could reasonably deduce from the evidence."' (People v. Johnson (1980) 26 Cal.3d 557, 576.)" People v. Young (2005) 34 Cal.4th 1149, 1175.

When the evidence supports the conviction, we will not disturb the judgment even if the other evidence presented at trial might have supported an acquittal. (People v. Abilez (2007) 41 Cal.4th 472, 504.)

Section 2800.2 prohibits evading a police officer with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of other persons or property. In pertinent part, the statute provides: "If a person flees or attempts to elude a pursuing peace officer in violation of Section 2800.1[*fn2 ] and the pursued vehicle is driven in a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property, the person driving the vehicle, upon conviction, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison, or by confinement in the county jail for not less than six months nor more than one year. The court may also impose a fine of not less than one thousand dollars ($1,000) nor more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or may impose both that imprisonment or confinement and fine."

As defendant correctly points out, his conviction of section 2800.2, subdivision (a), required proof that he drove his vehicle "with the intent to evade" the officers. He contends the evidence demonstrated no intent to flee the pursuing officers because he did not drive at a high rate of speed or employ evasive driving tactics. In support of his argument, defendant points out cases in which convictions for evading pursuing police officers were based on evidence of high-speed chases or illegal maneuvers that made pursuit difficult. (See, e.g., People v. Pinkston (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 387, 389 [chase reached 100 miles per hour]; People v. Copass (2009) 180 Cal.App.4th 37, 39 [chase speeds exceeded 100 miles per hour]; People v. Mutuma (2006) 144 Cal.App.4th 635, 638 [defendant sped through red light, police gave up chase after going 50 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone].)

That defendant did not drive at an excessive speed does not mean he did not violate section 2800.2. This section does not require defendant to travel at any particular speed in order to be guilty of the offense. Moreover, evidence that defendant drove relatively slowly on a highway does not establish that he lacked an intent to evade the officers. To the contrary, the record contains direct evidence of defendant's intent to evade the four patrol cars that pursued him.

Defendant testified that he saw four marked patrol cars following him with their rooftop lights flashing. Defendant explained that he knew that the police officers wanted him to stop, but that he did not do so out of fear for his life. Thus, he kept driving until he "ran out of ideas" and pulled off the highway onto the Boreal exit. Until he pulled off the highway, defendant intended to drive home or at least to a public place. Combined with the evidence that defendant drove for nearly 15 minutes with the police in pursuit, the evidence suffices to establish that he intended to evade the police officers.

Defendant does not deny that he avoided stopping when the police were pursuing him. Instead, defendant seeks to excuse his failure to stop by pointing out that he "believed he would be hurt or killed if he did not talk to the officers at a public place." At trial, defendant argued that his schizophrenia negated his intent to evade the pursuing police officers.

A jury is not required to conclude that a defendant's mental illness precluded formation of the intent to commit the charged offense. For example, in the case of a murder conviction, "[a] finding of deliberation and premeditation is not negated by evidence a defendant's mental condition was abnormal or his perception of reality delusional unless those conditions resulted in the failure to plan or weigh considerations for and against the proposed course of action. . . . Nor is the necessary mental process lacking when the considerations reflected on by the defendant were the product of mental disease or defect." (People v. Stress (1988) 205 Cal.App.3d 1259, 1270-1271.) Here, the fact that defendant may have heard voices inside his head during the pursuit does not negate his testimony that he chose to keep driving even though he knew that the police wanted him to stop his vehicle.

Substantial evidence supports defendant's conviction of evading pursuing police officers under section 2800.2, subdivision (a).

DISPOSITION

The judgment is affirmed.

We concur:

BLEASE , Acting P.J.

MAURO ,J.


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