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Name: People v. DiSandro
Case #: E049726
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 07/07/2010

A person charged with an infraction has a statutory right to a court trial and a right to confront and cross examine witnesses, and the court cannot conduct a trial in the person’s absence unless the absence is knowing and voluntary. Appellant, a rural mail carrier, was cited for unsafe speed and driving with a load obstructing her view. The United States Attorney’s Office sent an untimely letter to the superior court, noticing an intent to remove the matter to the United States District Court. According to the record, there was no indication these documents were received by the state court, and a court trial was conducted in appellant’s absence, with appellant being found guilty. Appellant appealed, claiming her Sixth Amendment right to confrontation of witnesses had been violated. The appellate court observed that it is unclear whether a person has rights under the Sixth Amendment in minor cases, especially those not leading to imprisonment. (Scott v. Illinois (1979) 449 U.S. 367; Lewis v. United States (1996) 518 U.S. 322.) The California Constitution provides for rights similar to the federal constitution. Under California statutory law, however, a person charged with an infraction does have some constitutional rights, including a right to a court trial and the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses. (Veh. Code, sec. 40901, subd. (c).) Further, Vehicle Code section 40512.5, subdivision (a) provides for the procedures to be followed if a person does not appear for a court trial, stating that if a person does not appear, trial may not proceed unless the court makes a finding that the person’s absence is knowing and voluntary. Here, because the record does not reflect that the court made such a finding, it was error for the court to proceed. However, the error was harmless as there is nothing to show that appellant’s presence would have resulted in a different outcome.