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People v. Watson

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

October 8, 2013

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
JULIE ANN WATSON, Defendant and Appellant.

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Imperial County No. JCF21457, Christopher W. Yeager, Judge.

Cynthia A. Grimm, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Julie L. Garland, Assistant Attorney General, Michael T. Murphy and Sabrina Y. Lane-Erwin, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

BENKE, Acting P. J.

The defendant in this case was driving an off-road vehicle at 60 miles an hour in sand dunes in Imperial County at 10:30 in the evening. The defendant did not have her headlights on, and she had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.18/0.17. The defendant struck the rear of a much slower moving four-wheel all-terrain vehicle (quad), which was being driven in the dunes by a 15 year old. The 15 year old was thrown from the quad and suffered severe injuries to his leg that required multiple surgeries and left him with a limp.

The defendant pled nolo contendre to one count of driving with a BAC of 0.08 or greater and causing bodily injury. (Veh. Code, § 23153, subd. (b).) At a restitution hearing under Penal Code section 1202.4, subdivision (b), the trial court declined to apply comparative fault principles and awarded the victim the entire amount of his medical expenses, which exceeded $96, 000.

We find no abuse of discretion in the trial court's unwillingness to employ civil comparative fault principles in making its restitution order. Although under extraordinary circumstances such principles may be useful to a trial court in determining the amount of restitution (see People v. Millard (2009) 175 Cal.App.4th 7, 41-42 (Millard)), there is no requirement in Penal Code section 1202.4 that they be employed in all cases where a defendant, although guilty of a crime, did not act intentionally. Here, the record fully supports the trial court's award of the victim's substantial medical expenses. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's restitution order.


A. The Offense

Around 10:30 on the evening of November 2, 2007, Stormey James Trammel, who was then 15 years old, was riding his quad on the top of a hill in the Imperial County dunes. According to Trammel, he was driving the quad about 15 miles an hour. Trammel saw what is known as a sand rail or dune buggy, without any headlights on, coming from behind him at a high rate of speed; Trammel veered to his left but was unable to avoid being struck by the sand rail and was thrown from his quad.

The sand rail was being driven by defendant and appellant Julie Ann Watson. According to a statement she gave at the scene, Watson was driving the sand rail at approximately 60 miles an hour up the hill when her passenger yelled to her to watch out for the quad in front of them. Watson put on her brakes, and her sand rail hit the back of Trammel's quad. Watson said she saw Trammel flying off his quad. Watson believed the sand rail was going about 30 miles an hour by the time she hit Trammel.

At the scene, Watson's breath smelled of alcohol, her eyes were bloodshot, her gait was unsteady and her speech was slurred. Watson admitted consuming an eight-ounce cocktail and some vodka. The responding California Highway Patrol officer attempted to perform a field sobriety test, but Watson was unable to follow the officer's instructions.

Watson was arrested and transported to a facility where she consented to a breathalyzer test. As we indicated at the outset, the breathlyzer showed a BAC of 0.18/0.17.

Trammel was taken to a local hospital where surgery was performed on his severely shattered leg. Trammel was initially hospitalized in Yuma, Arizona, where two surgeries were performed on his leg; Trammel was later admitted to a hospital in Flagstaff, where two additional surgeries were performed. According to his mother, Trammel missed several weeks of school and, as a result, received failing grades in many of his classes.

B. Trial Court Proceedings

On June 11, 2008, Watson pled guilty to one count of driving a motor vehicle with a BAC in excess of 0.08 percent and causing bodily injury. (Veh. Code, § 23153, subd. (b).) The trial court placed Watson on formal probation and, as a condition of probation, ordered that Watson pay Trammel restitution.

Trammel initially submitted $102, 462.72 in medical bills to the probation department. Watson objected to that amount as her restitution obligation.

By virtue of requests for continuances and Watson's own repeated failures to appear, the restitution hearing did not occur until March 22, 2012.

At the hearing, the People presented $96, 182.69 in medical billings.

For her part, Watson presented expert testimony from a retired California Highway Patrol Officer who had investigated approximately 11, 000 accidents during his 30-year career. Based on his review of the statements Watson, Trammel and other witnesses had provided, the expert concluded Trammel was 25 to 30 percent at fault for the accident. He based his estimate of fault on Trammel's statement that he veered to the left instead of the right ...

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