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People v. Nicholas B. (In re Nicholas B.)

Dec 20, 2017
A149962 (Cal. Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2017)




In re NICHOLAS B., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. NICHOLAS B., Defendant and Appellant.


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 This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115. (Contra Costa County Super. Ct. No. J1600684)

Appellant Nicholas B., a minor, appeals from a judgment entered after he was found to come within the provisions of Welfare and Institutions Code section 602. He contends that the jurisdictional finding of the juvenile court that he committed a hit and run offense in violation of Vehicle Code section 20001, subdivision (a) (section 20001(a)) is not supported by substantial evidence because his mother, who was in the car with him, should be considered the driver under the hit and run statute. We disagree and affirm the judgment.

All further undesignated statutory references are to the Vehicle Code.


A. Procedural History

On July 6, 2016, the Contra Costa County District Attorney filed an original wardship petition pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 602, subdivision (a), alleging that 14-year-old appellant came within the jurisdiction of the court because he left the scene of an injury accident without identifying himself or providing aid to the injured parties (§ 20001(a); count 1), and drove without a license (§ 12500, subd. (a); count 2). A contested jurisdictional hearing commenced on September 19, 2016. On September 26, 2016, the court sustained the petition as to both charges. On November 28, 2016, the court adjudged appellant a ward of the court and placed him on probation with a six-month camp placement. A timely notice of appeal was filed. B. Evidence at the Contested Jurisdictional Hearing

Prosecution's Case

Around 12:30 a.m. on July 2, 2016, Jaysaun Reagor was walking home with Tania Hammond and Curtis Frasier. While the group was on the sidewalk, the driver of a Toyota Camry lost control, driving off the road and onto the sidewalk. The car hit Reagor and then crashed into a tree. Reagor lost consciousness at the time of the accident and woke up when the ambulance arrived. No one from the vehicle spoke to him or offered him any assistance. Reagor was brought to the hospital, where he was treated for his injuries; Reagor was on crutches for a month after the incident.

Antioch Police Officer Jacob Ewart arrived at the accident scene and saw a vehicle with significant front-end damage next to a tree. The airbags in the car had deployed. Two injured individuals, Hammond and Reagor, were seated on the curb with cuts and abrasions. Two ambulances transported the victims to the hospital. No one at the scene identified himself as the driver of the vehicle or took responsibility for the accident.

Job Mejia was driving his vehicle in Antioch at approximately 12:45 a.m., on July 2, 2016. He observed a white car driving "pretty fast" collide against the sidewalk. Mejia was traveling in the opposite direction from the white car; he made a U-turn and came back to the accident scene. A young African-American male, wearing a black shirt and jeans got out of the driver's seat. An older female got out of the passenger seat. She told Mejia to "call the cops[,]" but Mejia was already on the phone with the police. The male and female walked away from the scene. The female returned to the vehicle and removed something from the driver's seat. The police arrested the male and female whose identity Mejia confirmed. Mejia identified appellant as the driver and the female as the passenger in the car. Mejia was certain of his identification on the night of the incident.

The prosecution entered into evidence a certified Department of Motor Vehicles report which reflected appellant was never issued a driver's license.


Appellant's mother, A. Hill, (hereafter "mother"), testified that she was driving her car to Walmart before the accident. Appellant was in the rear passenger seat. Another car cut in front of her; she slammed on the brakes, her car jumped the curb and skidded into a tree. She saw a male get hit by the car. Appellant got out of the car and went to the driver's side, and told her to get out of the car. The car was smoking and leaking fluids. Both airbags deployed. The left side of her body was injured from the impact. Mother turned off the car and removed the keys from the ignition. Appellant told her to give him the keys. Mother was in shock and walked away from the vehicle because she was afraid it would explode. She and appellant walked across the street. Initially, mother told the police that Jason Foster was driving because she had never been in a car accident and was afraid.

Appellant testified that he was 14 years old, born July 2, 2002. On July 2, 2016, his mother was driving him to Walmart to get a birthday cake; appellant was in the back passenger seat. A car swerved in front of his mother and she lost control of the car. Appellant heard the car strike a pedestrian; the car ran into a tree. Appellant got out of the car and ran to the driver's side of the car to his mother. The car was smoking and making strange noises. Appellant urged his mother to get out of the car. His mother had a seat belt mark and injuries to her arms. Appellant took the keys out of the ignition because his mother's boyfriend's car keys were on the key ring. Appellant explained if the boyfriend could not drive to work and earn money, appellant and his mother would not have a place to live.

Appellant and his mother went across the street. His mother returned to where the injured victims were located. Appellant never offered assistance or spoke to the injured people at the scene. The police contacted appellant as he was walking down the street.


On July 2, 2016, Antioch Police Officer Cole Shaffer detained appellant and a female approximately 150 yards from the accident scene. Appellant and mother were walking away from the accident scene. C. Disposition

Probation Officer's Report

According to the probation report, appellant showed no remorse for the accident. When asked if he would do it again, appellant said he did not have anything to do with this offense and did nothing wrong. However, he said that he felt sorry about not checking on the victims to make sure they were alright. Appellant said in the future he would not walk across the street and would check on the victims. Appellant's mother told him that he was not responsible for the offense; there were no consequences at home for this conduct. Appellant was upset about being in custody and going through the court process, instead of being able to enjoy his birthday. When asked about the victims, appellant said that he knew they were injured in the accident. However, appellant said that the victims did not look injured to him when they were in court. He added that one of victims lied about needing crutches, because he saw the victim walking outside of the courtroom without using crutches. Appellant believed the witnesses were paid to lie about what had happened.

At the time of the incident, appellant was in 8th grade and had three Fs. For the current school year, appellant had 66 unexcused absences and was tardy 16 times. In the preceding year, appellant had 20 disciplinary incidents at school for truancies, class disturbances, fighting, bullying, defiance, and dress code violations.

Appellant's mother said that she would want her son to take responsibility if he did something wrong, but she maintained that he was not responsible for the accident. She confirmed that there were no consequences for appellant's behavior, because he did nothing wrong.

Although both appellant and his mother denied any contact with the Child Family Services, a check revealed three closed referrals in Contra Costa County between 2008 and 2016; the most recent one taking place less one week after the accident. The referrals were alleged for general neglect of appellant and his younger half-sibling.

Appellant's mother reported that, at the time of the accident, she had been on probation for a 2011 petty theft offense. She reported being detained in custody for six days on child endangerment charges associated with the accident. She further reported her boyfriend had an extensive criminal record spanning the last 25 years.

The probation officer reported that appellant and his mother lied to the police and continue to lie to the Probation Department about the minor not being responsible for the accident. In addition, appellant and his mother had disparaged the victims, stating the victims in court were not the same people at the scene, and that one victim did not actually need crutches.

Despite the grave concerns about the family situation, the Probation Department recommended 90 days of home supervision, with various treatment programs. Although appellant was technically eligible for out-of-home placement, the Department did not believe that this type of placement was appropriate because this was appellant's first referral to probation.

Dispositional Hearing

After hearing argument, the juvenile court disregarded the Probation Department's recommendation and committed appellant to six months at the Orrin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility, subject to various conditions upon release. Appellant's maximum remaining custodial time was calculated to be three years and thirty-four days.

Prior to rendering its decision, the juvenile court addressed appellant: "Nicholas, you are . . . a young guy. You are only 14 years old, and I think what happened with you and your mother is that your mother had an influence on you that . . . is really problematic with regard to this situation. . . . [¶] I think your mom helped create a story with you, and out of fear, you followed . . . that story. I have made credibility findings. I did find that you lied to the court, and you committed perjury, and your mom has . . . also been untruthful. You know, the victims identified you clearly as coming out the driver's door . . . [I]t's a very unusual case because usually you have parents who love their kids, but they won't go that far. They won't . . . lie for them. [¶] . . . [¶] And so I want you to know that I understand that mom's kind of lead you down this criminal path . . . but . . . you made choices, too, because you're 14 now. [A]nd you've been able to tell the truth from a lie for a long time. . . . I think it's out of fear . . . You're afraid to tell the truth."

The juvenile court further explained that in light of the severity of the injuries and appellant's lack of remorse, it would not reduce the offense to a misdemeanor.


In the juvenile court, appellant took the position that he was not the driver. On appeal, he does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the finding that he was the driver or that he failed to comply with the hit and run statute. Rather, his position is that his mother should be deemed the driver under the law because she owned and controlled the operation of the car and because she, as his parent, had a duty to control his actions. He further argues that his mother attempted to comply with the hit and run statute and that her partial compliance should be imputed to him.

Aside from the obvious forfeiture issues, the arguments on appeal fail on the merits. A. Standard of Review

As noted, the primary issue on appeal is whether the court's determination that appellant violated section 20001(a) was factually supported by the evidence. "In juvenile cases, as in other areas of the law, the power of an appellate court asked to assess the sufficiency of the evidence begins and ends with a determination as to whether or not there is any substantial evidence, whether or not contradicted, which will support the conclusion of the trier of fact . . . . Where there is more than one inference which can reasonably be deduced from the facts, the appellate court is without power to substitute its deductions for those of the trier of fact. [Citation.]" (In re Katrina C. (1988) 201 Cal.App.3d 540, 547; accord, In re David H. (2008) 165 Cal.App.4th 1626, 1633.) B. Hit and Run Laws Section 20001(a) provides: "The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to a person, other than himself or herself, or in the death of a person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident and shall fulfill the requirements of Sections 20003 and 20004." Sections 20003 and 20004, in turn, require the driver to stop and provide identification and render aid to the victim, as well as to report the accident to authorities if there is no police officer present. Failure to comply with these requirements is a criminal offense. (§ 20001, subd. (b)(1) & (2).)

"As courts have repeatedly observed, although the . . . section 20001(a) offense is commonly referred to as a hit and run, the term is something of a misnomer; the offense is 'more accurately described as fleeing the scene of an injury accident.' [Citation.] That is to say, ' "the act made criminal" ' under the statute ' "is not the 'hitting' but the 'running.' " ' [Citation.] ' "The legislative purpose of sections 20001 and 20003 is to prevent the driver of a vehicle involved in an injury-causing accident from leaving injured persons in distress and danger for want of medical care and from attempting to avoid possible civil or criminal liability for the accident by failing to identify oneself." ' [Citation.]" (People v. Martinez (2017) 2 Cal.5th 1093, 1102.)

Under section 20001(a), " '[t]he occurrence of an injury accident is a condition precedent' to the imposition of a duty to stop, provide identification, and render aid—'but [it] is not an element of the crime' in the sense that it constitutes part of the conduct forbidden by the statute. [Citation.] Nor is any degree of fault required for conviction; a defendant who flees the scene of an injury accident has committed a crime even if the accident was solely the result of the victim's own negligence. ([]§ 20001(a).) As the United States Supreme Court once explained in upholding . . . section 20001 against constitutional challenge, 'it is not a criminal offense under California law to be a driver "involved in an accident." An accident may be the fault of others; it may occur without any driver having been at fault.' [Citation.]" (People v. Martinez, supra, 2 Cal.5th at pp. 1102-1103.)

The basic purpose of this statute is to "prohibit negligent or wanton drivers from seeking to evade civil or criminal prosecution by escape before their identity can be established, and similarly to prohibit all drivers, whether negligent or not, from leaving persons injured in collisions with cars driven by them, in distress and danger for want of proper medical treatment. [Citations.]" (2 Witkin & Epstein, Cal. Criminal Law (4th ed. 2012) Crimes Against Public Peace and Welfare, § 311, p. 1056; People v. Capetillo (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 211, 218.) C. Analysis

Appellant argues that he did not violate section 20001(a) because his mother, as the owner of the car was obligated to comply with the statute. The law has long considered "an owner present in his [or her] vehicle at the time of an accident and who has full authority to direct and control its operation, although some other person is doing the actual driving, is considered to be a driver as the term is used in [sections 20001 and 20003]." (People v. Monismith (1969) 1 Cal.App.3d 762, 766; see also People v. Mace (2011) 198 Cal.App.4th 875, 886; People v. Rallo (1931) 119 Cal.App. 393, 397; People v. Steele (1929) 100 Cal.App. 639, 644.) However, the liability of the owner has never been held to negate the liability of the actual driver.

For example, in People v. Odom (1937) 19 Cal.App.2d 641, 643, the defendant was the owner riding in the backseat of his own car while his 16-year-old son was driving. The car hit a pedestrian, and the defendant told his son " 'to drive on.' " (Id. at p. 644.) Affirming the defendant's conviction under an earlier hit-and-run statute, the court recognized, "The offense of failing to stop an automobile which has struck and injured a person and to render assistance to the victim of the accident, as provided by [the predecessor statute] of the Vehicle Code, applies with equal force to the owner of the machine who is riding therein at the time of the accident with full authority to direct and control the operation as it does to the person who is actually driving the vehicle." (Id. at p. 647, italics added.) The court explained that "[u]nder such circumstances the owner of the machine becomes guilty as does the driver thereof of violating the statute." (Ibid., italics added.)

In the present case, appellant, as the driver of the car, violated the statute when he left the scene without either identifying himself or attempting to render aid to the victims. That his mother was also legally obligated to perform these statutory duties does not shift his liability to her. Rather, the law impose such duties on both appellant and his mother. To the extent appellant's argument is that his mother's partial compliance with section 20001(a) should be imputed to him, this argument similarly fails. Even overlooking the fact that the hit-and-run statutes do not authorize substantial compliance, appellant's mother was not vicariously or derivatively liable based on appellant's conduct. (People v. Mace, supra, 198 Cal.App.4th at p. 887.) Her duties arose under section 20001(a) independently because, under the ownership-and-control theory, she had the duties of a "driver." (Ibid; see also People v. Rallo, supra, 119 Cal.App. at pp. 396-397 [recognizing that owner/passenger could be charged under the hit-and-run statute where actual driver had been acquitted of same charge].) Thus, appellant, as the driver, was required to comply with section 20001(a), irrespective of his mother's partial attempt to render assistance.

Appellant also argues that as a minor, just 30 minutes into his 14th birthday, it was his mother's legal duty to control his actions. First, to the extent appellant's argument is that his age should negate his culpability, this argument lacks merit. It is true that if appellant was still 13 at the time of the accident, Penal Code section 26 would have required the prosecution to prove by clear and convincing evidence that appellant knew it was wrong to leave the scene without first identifying himself or attempting to render aid. However, contrary to appellant's contention, this 30-minute variance is not "the difference between guilt and innocence" in this case. Generally, speaking "the older a child gets and the closer he approaches the age of 14, the more likely it is that he appreciates the wrongfulness of his acts. [Citations.]" (In re James B. (2003) 109 Cal.App.4th 862, 872-873.)

Although we agree that most 14 year-olds would not understand the specific duties set forth in section 20001(a) (identification and assistance), Penal Code section 26 requires that appellant should have known that his conduct (leaving the scene of an injury accident) was wrong, not that he should have been aware of every criminal statute he was violating, or aware of the elements of those crimes. (See, e.g. In re Harold M. (1978) 78 Cal.App.3d 380, 387-388 [juvenile defendant did not need to have understanding of the intricate elements of conspiracy].) Appellant heard the car hit a person, yet he walked away from the scene. Section 20001 was designed with the twin goals of protecting persons injured in an accident and prohibiting " 'drivers under, pain of punishment, from leaving such persons in distress and danger for want of proper medical and surgical treatment. Reasonable and prompt assistance may prevent aggravation of or further injuries, or may save a life. These are but humanitarian acts required to be performed by all drivers of vehicles involved in accidents causing injuries . . .' [Citation.]" (People v. Mace, supra, 198 Cal.App.4th at p. 888.) Considering the basic humanitarian purpose of the hit-and-run statutes, it is not irrational to suggest that a 14-year-old (or nearly 14-year-old) would appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct in walking away from injured victims who had been hit by a car. Indeed, appellant, although denying that he was driving, admitted to feeling sorry about not checking on the victims.

Finally, it is well-established that "parents have affirmative legal duties toward their minor children." (In re D.C. (2010) 188 Cal.App.4th 978, 984.) Most fundamentally, parents must "exercise reasonable care, supervision, protection, and control" over their conduct (Pen. Code, § 272, subd. (a)(2); see Williams v. Garcetti (1993) 5 Cal.4th 561, 570-571). "By imposing upon parents a duty to exercise reasonable care, supervision, protection, and control over their minor child, Penal Code section 272 is intended to 'safeguard children from those influences which would tend to cause them to become delinquent." (Brekke v. Wills (2005) 125 Cal.App.4th 1400, 1411.) Parents violate Penal Code section 272 when they fail to perform these statutory duties. (Pen. Code, § 272, subd. (a)(2); Williams v. Garcetti, supra, 5 Cal.4th at p. 571.) Parents may also be held financially responsible for a minor child's misconduct. (In re D.C., supra, 188 Cal.App.4th at p. 985; see also Civ. Code, § 1714.1 [willful torts]; Welf. & Inst. Code, § 730.7 [joint and several liability for restitution]; Gov. Code, § 38772, subd. (b) [graffiti]; Ed. Code, § 48904, subd. (a) [school injuries and property damage]; Pen. Code, § 490.5, subd. (b) [theft].)

Penal Code 272, provides, in part, as follows: "(a)(1) Every person who commits any act or omits the performance of any duty, which act or omission causes or tends to cause or encourage any person under the age of 18 years to come within the provisions of Section 300, 601, or 602 of the Welfare and Institutions Code . . . , is guilty of a misdemeanor. . . . [¶] (2) For purposes of this subdivision, a parent or legal guardian to any person under the age of 18 years shall have the duty to exercise reasonable care, supervision, protection, and control over their minor child." --------

In the instant case, appellant's mother utterly failed her statutory duties to appellant under Penal Code section 272. Indeed, as noted by the juvenile court, appellant's mother led him down the path of delinquency. Although we are deeply troubled by mother's extremely poor judgment and improper supervision of appellant, this imprudent behavior does not shift appellant's criminal liability to mother. Mother could have been criminally liable for violating her statutory duties to appellant under Penal Code 272. As the owner of the car, she could have also been charged with violating section 20001. (See People v. Mace, supra, 198 Cal.App.4th at p. 887.) Another possibility is that mother could have been charged with aiding and abetting appellant in leaving the scene of an injury action. (See People v. Holford (1965) 63 Cal.2d 74, 81 [person who encouraged driver to leave the scene of the accident could be charged as an accomplice]; see also People v. Gutierrez (2002) 28 Cal.4th 1083, 1126 [father charged with aiding and abetting his minor son's rape of victim].) The various theories of possible criminal liability against mother does not, however, absolve appellant from his own criminal conduct.

The foregoing notwithstanding, we acknowledge that parents have long been held vicariously liable for the children's misconduct under California tort law. (Williams v. Garcetti, supra, 5 Cal.4th at pp. 571-572.) For obvious policy reasons, there are no analogous provisions in our criminal law that seek to hold parents vicariously liable for criminal offenses committed by their children. (See Weinstein, Visiting the Sins of the Child on the Parent: The Legality of Criminal Parental Liability Statutes (1991) 64 So. Cal. L.Rev. 859, 864-865.)


The judgment arising from the jurisdictional finding and disposition is affirmed.


REARDON, ACTING P. J. We concur: /s/_________
RIVERA, J. /s/_________

Summaries of

People v. Nicholas B. (In re Nicholas B.)

Dec 20, 2017
A149962 (Cal. Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2017)
Case details for

People v. Nicholas B. (In re Nicholas B.)

Case Details

Full title:In re NICHOLAS B., a Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. THE…


Date published: Dec 20, 2017


A149962 (Cal. Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2017)