Tuesday, September 17, 2019

In re A.J. (Cal. Ct. App. - Sept. 16, 2019)

It's a tragic case, to be sure.  A minor with a provisional license ("learner's permit") is driving his father's car and makes an illegal left turn that hits and kills a motorcyclist.  Devastating.

Those facts hit home in part because I've got a 16-year old son at home with a provisional license, and like every 15- or 16-year old driver, I can totally imaging him making a similar mistake.  Let's face it:  New drivers are absolutely terrible.  Horrible.  Particularly teenage boys.  (Though, truth be told, my 17-year old daughter isn't exactly awesome at driving either.)

What struck me about this case is not that a motorcyclist was killed when someone took a left turn in front of them.  That happens.  A lot.  Argument number a thousand for not riding a motorcycle.  (As well as why you've got to be aware of your surroundings when you drive any vehicle.)

What's surprising is that this is not a lawsuit by the motorcycle rider (or his estate) against the driver.  It's instead a juvenile dependency wardship case.  The minor was declared a ward of the court based upon this single incident.  And wasn't even placed on informal supervision, even though the probation office itself thought that would be a good idea, given that the minor "was remorseful, had no prior delinquency history or significant disciplinary record, had been receptive to receiving services throughout these proceedings and, in fact, had taken the initiative to obtain services, and had full familial support."  Full dependency wardship and actual probation.

Such a resolution -- indeed, that it was even sought -- strikes me as unusual.  Or, at least, that it should be.  Imagine that your teenage son, or the son of a Court of Appeal judge, did the same thing:  accidentally made a left turn in front of a motorcyclist that ended in the cyclist's death.  Do you think that the usual response in such a case is to try to make the kid a formal ward of the court?  Really?  Particularly when the kid, as here, is remorseful, has no prior bad history, takes initiative in response to the accident, and has the full support of his family?

Maybe there's something not mentioned by the Court of Appeal here that explains why the parties (and court) here did what they did.  But I'll tell you:  If this happened to my kid, and as a result of an (admittedly tragic) accident, they used that one bad thing to make him a ward of the court, I'd be extraordinarily upset.

And "upset" is probably not the word I'd use at the time.