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In Re F.H., A Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. v. F.H

February 25, 2011

IN RE F.H., A PERSON COMING UNDER THE JUVENILE COURT LAW.
THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
F.H., DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



(Sonoma County Super. Ct. No. 36112-J) TRIAL JUDGE: Honorable Sandra F. McKeith TRIAL COURT: Sonoma County Superior Court

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

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

While intoxicated and riding in the front passenger seat of a car, defendant F.H. grabbed the steering wheel and caused the car to crash. The driver was injured. The juvenile court found she had committed two misdemeanors, driving while under the influence causing injury (Veh. Code, § 23153, subd. (a)) and driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or more causing bodily injury (Veh. Code, § 23153, subd. (b)). Defendant contends there was insufficient evidence to support the convictions, primarily because she was not "driving" the car in the legal sense of the word. We disagree and affirm.

I. FACTS

On July 12, 2009, at approximately 3:00 a.m., Santa Rosa Police Officer Bryan Ellis was driving north on Fulton Road when he was flagged down by an adult male who stepped into the roadway. The man, Ricardo Mendoza, appeared "discombobulated." His hair stood straight up, dust covered his face, and his eyes were wide open. Officer Ellis concluded that Mendoza was in shock.

Mendoza told the officer he had been in a car accident and there was someone else still in the car. Officer Ellis put Mendoza in his patrol car, and Mendoza directed him to the accident scene several miles away, on Hall Road. When they arrived, Officer Ellis saw a car, which appeared to have rolled over several times, upside down in a ditch. Defendant was lying in the ditch about 20 yards from the car. She had urinated on herself, had scratches, and was covered in dirt. She told Officer Ellis her legs and back hurt.

California Highway Patrol Officer Robert Oates and his partner arrived and took over the investigation.*fn1 While he was being treated for his injuries by an ambulance crew, Mendoza told Oates that he had been driving on Hall Road at 30 to 40 miles per hour. He and defendant had been arguing. Defendant grabbed the wheel and yanked it, causing him to lose control and crash. As Mendoza described the accident to Officer Oates, defendant was placed in the ambulance. She said, "I did [it]. It was my fault."

Officer Oates spoke to defendant at the hospital. Her eyes were red and watery, her speech was slurred, and she smelled of alcohol. Defendant admitted she was in the front passenger seat arguing with Mendoza, who was her boyfriend, when she angrily grabbed the steering wheel and turned it, causing the car to go out of control and crash.

Defendant admitted to Officer Oates that she drank five shots of alcohol-presumably hard alcohol-and some beer. She also admitted having smoked "a little bit of marijuana earlier." She exhibited horizontal gaze nystagmus. A preliminary test showed her blood alcohol level was over .08 percent. Defendant's blood was drawn at 6:16 a.m. A blood test showed a blood alcohol level of .10 percent.

Officer Oates concluded that by grabbing the steering wheel defendant in effect drove the car, thus interfering with the driver, Mendoza, and caused the accident by making an unsafe turning maneuver.

Mendoza told Officer Oates at the hospital that he felt pain in his shoulder and left side. Defendant suffered a broken leg and spinal injuries.

Defendant testified. She admitted drinking before she got into Mendoza's car. She remembered arguing with Mendoza. She did not remember touching the steering wheel, and believed she had "blocked some elements of" the accident.

The juvenile court found that defendant had committed two misdemeanors: driving while under the influence causing bodily injury (Veh. Code, § 23153, subd. (a)); and driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or more causing bodily injury (Veh. Code, § 23153, subd. (b)).*fn2 The court ...


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