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Name: People v. Cowart
Case #: A141043
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 07/17/2015

Leaving the scene of an accident in violation of Vehicle Code section 20001 is not a “felony involving death” within the meaning of Penal Code section 1601, subdivision (a) when there is no evidence that the victim’s death resulted from the flight. Cowart was charged with a hit and run offense (Veh. Code, § 20001, subd. (a)) and misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter (Pen. Code, § 192, subd. (d)(2)) after he hit and fatally injured a bicyclist with his car, then left the scene of the accident. He was found incompetent to stand trial due to vascular dementia. At a hearing to consider Cowart’s placement, the parties disputed whether Cowart was charged with a “felony involving death” under section 1601, subdivision (a), which would require that Cowart be confined before receiving outpatient treatment. The trial court ordered Cowart confined to Napa State Hospital and he sought writ relief. Held: Order reversed. Under certain circumstances, an outpatient placement may be ordered for a person found mentally incompetent to stand trial. However, at the time of the court’s order in this case, Penal Code section 1601, subdivision (a) provided that where the defendant was charged with a “felony involving death,” outpatient treatment was only available after the defendant was confined in a state hospital or other treatment facility for 180 days or more. Here, after reviewing section 1601, section 20001, and relevant case law, the Court of Appeal concluded that Cowart was not charged with a felony involving death within the meaning of section 1601. The gravamen of a hit-and-run offense is not the initial injury to the victim, but leaving the scene without rendering aid or providing the required information. There was no evidence or admission that Cowart’s act of leaving the scene caused the victim’s death. The court distinguished and disagreed with People v. Rubics (2006) 136 Cal.App.4th 452. [Editor’s Note: Effective January 1, 2015, section 1601, subdivision (a) was amended to give the trial court discretion to place a mentally incompetent defendant charged with a “felony involving death” in an outpatient program.]