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Name: People v. Mutuma
Case #: F048799
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 5 DCA
Opinion Date: 11/01/2006
Summary

A determination of whether predicate offenses involve “safe operation of motor vehicle upon highway” is a question of law for the judge, not the jury. Appellant was convicted under Vehicle Code section 2800.2 of felony evasion of a peace officer by car. On appeal, he contended that the court did not properly submit to the jury the question of whether three traffic violations committed during the evasion showed willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others, elevating the offense to felony status. The appellate court rejected the argument and affirmed. Any three violations for which points are assessed under section 12810 are predicate offenses as a matter of law, so no jury findings were required. Further, if the offenses are not those enumerated under section 12810 but arguably fall into a catch-all provision of that section which assesses points for all violations “involving the safe operation of a motor vehicle on the highway,” whether the offense is a predicate offense which satisfies that description is a question of law not requiring a jury determination. The trial judge determines whether the violations asserted by the prosecutor are point violations, and should instruct the jury accordingly. As that is what occurred here, there was no error. Nor did the court’s instructions violate the principles articulated in Apprendi v. New Jersey for the same reasons. Further, the court rejected appellant’s argument that the jury instructions did not specify that the predicate offenses had to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The court’s general reasonable doubt instruction was adequate.