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People v. Farleigh

Superior Court of California, Appellate Division, Orange

June 1, 2017

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
TAMARA SUE FARLEIGH, Defendant and Appellant.

         Appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court of Orange County No. IRM477178, Harbor Justice Center, Joy Markman, Judge. Affirmed.

          Richard Allen Baylis for Defendant and Appellant.

          Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          OPINION

          DAVID A. HOFFER Judge.

         Defendant/Appellant Tamara Sue Farleigh appeals her conviction of violating Vehicle Code section 22350, the Basic Speed Law.[1]

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On September 9, 2015, at approximately 4:35 p.m., Officer Cody Bates noticed defendant was smoking and holding the cigarette out of the left window while driving. The officer also saw that she was holding a cellphone in her right hand and looking down at the screen, which was activated. The defendant was traveling 45 miles per hour approaching a busy intersection with numerous restaurants and shops and with no hands on the steering wheel. The officer initiated a traffic stop. The defendant told the officer that she was using her cellphone for GPS navigation.

         The officer testified that the weather was dry and clear, there was no water on the roadway, traffic was heavy, and the posted speed limit was 50 miles per hour. Finally, when asked whether the defendant's speed was “appropriate for roadway conditions, ” the officer responded “If you're speaking of the roadway itself and not the conduct of the driver, 45 miles per hour would be appropriate for that roadway.” The officer cited the defendant for violating the Basic Speed Law. On the citation, the officer marked “zero” as the safe speed.

         At trial, the court defined roadway as “everything going on, on that road, not whether it's dry, not whether it's heavy or light traffic; everything going on at that time.” The trial court went on to conclude that the way someone is driving can form the basis of a violation of the Basic Speed Law, holding that “I cannot believe that it's reasonable speed for prevailing conditions, i.e., conditions include not just the speed limit, but how a person is driving. Driving without hands, per se - per se, to me is unreasonable and unsafe, going 45 miles an hour without hands.” At the end of the hearing, the trial court reiterated her conclusion that “prevailing conditions” are “a very general concept, and I think it allows an officer to give a ticket based on all the conditions, including the way a driver drives, the conditions on the road, other cars.”

         The defendant timely appealed.

         DISCUSSION

         This case poses a straightforward question of statutory interpretation. Under the Basic Speed Law, can an officer ticket a person who is driving at a speed which is safe for current road and weather conditions because the speed is unsafe for the manner in which the person is driving? With no case law on point, this question is a matter of first impression.

         “In matters of statutory construction our fundamental concern is with legislative intent. [Citation.] In order to determine such intent, we begin with the language of the statute itself. [Citation.] If the language is clear, there is no need to resort to other indicia of intent; there is no need for further construction. [Citation.] However, ‘every statute should be construed with reference to the whole system of law of which it is a part, so that all may be harmonized and have effect. [Citation.] Legislative intent will be determined so far as possible from the language of the statutes, read as a whole.' [Citation.]” (People v. Moon (2011) 193 Cal.App.4th 1246, 1249-1250.) Finally, “[a]nother ‘fundamental rule[ ] of statutory construction is that a law should not be applied in a manner producing absurd results, because the Legislature is presumed not to intend such results.' [Citation.]” (San Jose Unified School Dist. v. Santa Clara County (2017) 7 Cal.App.5th 967, 982.) Applying these rules to the present case, leads to the conclusion that the Basic Speed Law, read as a whole, regulates speed based on the totality of circumstances, including the way a person is driving.

         Section 22350, the Basic Speed Law, provides: “No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in ...


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