Monday, May 11, 2020

People v. Kruschen (App. Div. Sup. Ct. - Feb. 21, 2020)

Not much from the California appellate courts today; one published decision each from the Court of Appeal and the Ninth Circuit.

Instead of talking about either of those two (somewhat pedestrian) opinions, I thought I'd briefly mention this opinion from the Appellate Division of the Superior Court instead.  An opinion that, for many readers, may perhaps have more practical import.

It's a brief story about a police officer who tries to be nice.  And, as a result, gets burned.

A deputy sheriff is hanging out in his vehicle in Agoura Hills.  (The opinion identifies the officer as "Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff P. Ferreira" -- weirdly, no first name.  It looks like the officer's first name is actually "Paul," and here's a picture of him welcoming his son to the force after the latter graduated from the police academy.)  He sees a school bus stopped in front of an apartment building with its doors open, its red lights flashing, and that little red sign on the signal arm that says "STOP" hanging all the way out.  Meanwhile, a car takes a left hand turn and blows by the school bus.  That vehicle is driven by Sharon Kruschen.

Deputy Sheriff Ferreira stops Ms. Kruschen to give her a ticket.  Deputy Sheriff Ferreira knows that the penalty for blowing past a school bus is (allegedly) huge; something like $850.  So, instead, he elects to cite her only for blowing past a stop sign, an infraction with a much less serious penalty (and one for which you can simply go to traffic school).

Ms. Kruschen nonetheless decides to go to trial, and is found guilty, but the trial court lets her go to traffic school anyway.  But Ms. Kruschen decides to appeal.  And wins.

The Appellate Division holds that, in being nice, Deputy Sheriff Ferreira ended up letting Ms. Kruschen off the hook entirely.  Because the statute he cited -- going through a stop sign -- doesn't apply when there's a more specific statute (going through a stop sign on a school bus) that governs the offense.

So the conviction for the offense for which she was cited gets thrown out.  And you can't get her for the offense she actually committed due to double jeopardy.

Freedom!  (From traffic school, anyway.)

Which is great for Ms. Kruschen.  Though bad, I suspect, for the next person that Deputy Sheriff Ferreira (or anyone else in his department) spots blowing past a school bus with its lights on.