Criminal Conviction Upheld in Serious California Bicycle Accident Case
November 14, 2017
In some cases, in addition to civil claims, a person is able to bring a criminal charge. Such was the case in a very serious recent California hit and run bicycle accident case.
In the case, the victim testified that he was riding his mountain bike inside a crosswalk one June evening when he was struck by a truck. The victim was unable to wrestle free from the vehicle and was dragged under the truck while he reportedly screamed and struck the truck very hard more than 10 times in an attempt to get the driver’s attention. Once the truck slowed, the victim was able to push out from under the truck, but both of his legs were then run over, and he was forced onto his back. As a result, the victim’s tibia was severed in half, he lost two teeth, and he was in a full lower body cast for nine months. The victim now has to use a cane in order to walk and can no longer ride a bike. His bike was broken in two as a result of the accident.
Fortunately for the bicyclist, another driver was present at the scene and witnessed everything. In addition, the driver followed the truck and eventually cut the driver off, reached into his window and pulled out the keys, and then sat the driver onto the curb while his wife called 911. (Please note that this is not an endorsement of these actions, but only a retelling of the facts as set forth by the court in the appeal.)
The driver in the case claimed that while he may have “felt something weird” upon turning, he was not aware that he had hit anyone. Additionally, he claimed to be unaware as to why the other driver was following him, and as the car ran a red light after him, he began to fear for his safety. He also claimed that he was unaware that he was driving on a suspended license, of which the police informed him when they arrived on the scene.
At trial, of particular significance to the discussion in the appeal, the prosecutor elicited testimony (on cross-examination) from the defendant’s expert witness that he had not visited the site of the accident, nor had he spoken with any of the parties involved, and he had spent a total of about four hours on the case, according to his bill to the defendant. The prosecutor then made statements during the closing argument indicating that the expert might lie on the defendant’s behalf because he was getting paid to do so. The defendant’s attorney raised an objection to the comment, which was sustained.
Ultimately, the jury found the defendant guilty of leaving the scene of an injury accident (hit and run), but it did not agree with the great bodily injury enhancement allegation. With regard to sentencing, the court put the defendant on formal felony probation for five years with various terms and conditions, to which the defendant also objected on appeal, but this is not particularly relevant to the discussion.
The defendant appealed the verdict on the grounds that the prosecutor in the case made unfair statements with regard to his expert witness and that those statements may have unfairly influenced the jury against him. The court of appeal reviewed the relevant standard (for closing arguments) and found the rule to be that, “although counsel may not denigrate the integrity of opposing counsel, an attorney is free to argue that the opinions of paid expert witnesses may be biased.”
Furthermore, the court found that the prosecutor’s statement was not unfairly prejudicial to the defendant because defense counsel was able to elicit further testimony from the defendant’s expert witness, stating that he would not lie for pay and that his mathematical calculations were not influenced by payment. Additionally, defense counsel’s objection to the statement was sustained, indicating to the jury that it was improper. Lastly, the court instructed the jury that statements made during closing arguments were not to be considered as evidence. For various related reasons, the court found that the prosecutor’s statements during closing arguments regarding the veracity of the defendant’s expert witness were not unfairly prejudicial, and thus they did not entitle him to a new trial. It further found his two additional arguments regarding ineffective assistance of counsel and a challenge to his probation condition were both unfounded.
The ruling was thus affirmed.
When someone else's negligence or misconduct is to blame for your bicycle accident, you may be legally entitled to compensation for your injuries. The Rubinstein Law Group bicycle accident lawyers can work hard to advocate on your behalf. We work zealously for the compensation you deserve so that you can focus on the physical and emotional recovery. If you or a loved one has been involved in a bicycle accident, contact us today in order to schedule your free initial consultation.