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People of the State of California v. Kevin Ray Harris

June 28, 2012

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
KEVIN RAY HARRIS, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



Appeal from judgment of conviction after court trial, San Bernardino Superior Court, Rancho Cucamonga District, Michael R. Libutti, Judge. (Trial Court: 31954NKKH)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: P E R C U R I A M

pub. certification 7/16/12

OPINION

Reversed.

THE COURT:*fn1

Facts

Procedural Background

On August 14, 2011, appellant Kevin Harris was cited for driving his three-axle tractor-trailer rig in the lane immediately to the left of the far right-hand lane, in violation of Vehicle Code section 22348, subdivision (c). Appellant entered a plea of not guilty, and the matter was set for court trial. At the trial on October 21, 2011, the court heard testimony from the citing officer, Officer Hernandez of the California Highway Patrol, and from appellant. The sole issue at trial was whether the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane, otherwise known as the "carpool" lane, counts as a lane of travel for purposes of Vehicle Code section 22348, subdivision (c). That statute prohibits a three-axle vehicle, such as appellant's tractor-trailer rig, from driving in any lane other than the far right-hand lane, except where the roadway contains four or more lanes of travel in the same direction.

The undisputed evidence at trial established that the roadway upon which appellant was driving at the time of his citation*fn2 consisted of one HOV lane on the far left, and three additional lanes of travel in the same direction. Thus, if the HOV lane was included in the counting of lanes, the roadway consisted of four lanes of travel in the westbound direction, and appellant was legally entitled to drive his tractor-trailer in the second lane from the right. If, on the other hand, the HOV is not included in the counting of lanes, the roadway consisted of only three lanes in the westbound direction, and appellant's driving in the lane to the left of the right-hand lane was a violation of the law.

At trial, Officer Hernandez testified he has been a Highway Patrol officer for about 13 years, and has been assigned to commercial vehicle enforcement since May of 2011. He was trained not to include the HOV lane when counting lanes, "because it was a federal lane." He was never given any legal authority for that instruction.

In contrast, appellant testified that his training as a truck driver led him to understand that on a four-lane highway in California, he was entitled to drive in either of the two right-hand lanes. In preparation for driving a commercial vehicle in California,*fn3 appellant reviewed the Commercial Driver Handbook published by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. That handbook contained a section addressing which lane to use on a three- or four-lane highway. That section states that on a divided highway with four or more traffic lanes in one direction, commercial vehicles may be driven in either of the two right-hand lanes. The section does not say that the HOV lane is excluded as one of the lanes of travel.*fn4

The court ultimately agreed with Officer Hernandez, and concluded the HOV lane is not counted when determining the number of travel lanes for purposes of Vehicle Code section 22348, subdivision (c). The court stated: "In my estimation, based on the code, let's put that issue to rest, I find the code, the spirit of the code, the common sensical reasoning behind the legislation and the safety issues and the fact that HOV cannot be traveled by the bulk of the people, standing the thing on its head, I don't believe the legislature, on the face of the law, as I read it, is saying that, and I am not counting, under law, that that fourth lane, that HOV lane, counts as a fourth lane. It needs to be a regular non-HOV lane, in my reading, and so that issue is put to rest for me." Accordingly, the court ruled that appellant had violated that statute, and found appellant guilty. This appeal followed.

Discussion

This appeal involves the application of statutory law to undisputed facts. It is therefore subject to de novo review. (People v. Alvarez (1996) 14 Cal.4th 155, 182; People v. Williams (1988) 45 Cal.3d 1268, 1301.) Similarly, to the extent this appeal involves the interpretation of the statutes at issue, it is also ...


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