Velasquez v Superior Court (2014) H&FLR 2014-35

Jorge Velasquez, Jr v Superior Court of Los Angeles County and The People (2014) H&FLR 2014-35

Court of Appeal of California (Second Appellate District)

17 July 2014

Coram: Klein PJ, Aldrich and Kitching JJ

Appearing for the Petitioner (Velasquez): Messrs Ronald Brown, Albert Menaster, Kenneth Erlich and Dylan Ford (public defenders)
Appearing for the Respondent (Superior Court): No appearance
Appearing for the Real Party in Interest (People): Mesdames Jackie Lacey, Phyllis Asayama and Beth Widmark and Mr Matthew Brown (District Attorneys)

Catchwords: California – criminal law – bicycle – intoxicated cyclist – injury – reckless – vehicle – definition.

Facts: On 1 April 2013 the defendant was travelling downhill on his bicycle after a prolonged drinking session. His bicycle had no brakes and could only be stopped with foot pressure. A car pulled in front of him and to avoid it he veered onto the wrong side of the road, colliding with Ms Sudha Russell, who suffered significant injuries. The defendant’s blood alcohol reading was 2.18 and he was charged with reckless driving of a vehicle causing injury under §23103 of the Californian Vehicle Code (Code).

The Code is ambiguous as to its application to bicycles. Section 670 defines a vehicle as “a device by which any person or property may be propelled, moved, or drawn upon a highway, excepting a device moved exclusively by human power …” However, §21200(a) states that a “person riding a bicycle … upon a highway … is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division”.

On the basis that a bicycle is not a vehicle, the defendant applied to dismiss the proceedings. The trial court denied the application but invited the defendant to seek a writ of prohibition in the Court of Appeal: People v Velasquez (Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Priver J, 7 November 2013, unreported).

Held: Dismissing the application, that –

1. A specific provision prevails over a general one. Because §21200 (and by extension §23103) applies specifically to cyclists, it is to be preferred to the generally drawn §670. A cyclist can therefore be subject to criminal charges for reckless driving.

People v Ahmed (2011) 53 Cal. 4th 156 and People v Calderon (2013) 214 Cal. App. 4th 656, followed.

Clingenpeel v Municipal Court (1980) 108 Cal. App. 3d. 394, not followed.

2. While bicycles and motor vehicles will often pose significantly different levels of danger to the public, the unfairness is mitigated by the availability of lesser penalties for reckless cyclists.

Judgment

The court’s judgment is available here.