Compensation for Leaving the Scene of an Accident in California

In People v. Carbajal (1995) 10 Cal.4th 1114, the defendant was convicted of leaving the scene of an accident, in violation of Vehicle Code section 20002, subdivision (a), after he collided with a parked car and fled. The trial court denied the prosecution's request that the defendant be ordered to pay restitution to the person whose car was damaged, and the court of appeal reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeal, determining that the restitution ordered in that case was reasonably related to the defendant's conduct in leaving the scene of an accident because, "by leaving the scene of the accident, the fleeing driver deprives the nonfleeing driver of his or her right to have responsibility for the accident adjudicated in an orderly way according to the rules of law." (Carbajal, supra, 10 Cal.4th at p. 1124.) The Carbajal court held that a trial court "may condition a grant of probation for a defendant convicted of fleeing the scene of an accident on payment of restitution to the owner of the property damaged in the accident," finding that "such a condition accords with the statutory goals of public safety, victim compensation, and offender rehabilitation." (Id. at pp. 1126-1127.) In reaching its decision in Carbajal, the Supreme Court disapproved its prior decision in People v. Richards (1976) 17 Cal.3d 614, to the extent that case limited restitution to acts committed with the same state of mind as the offense of which the defendant was convicted. Specifically, the court stated that Carbajal's state of mind at the time he hit the parked car was irrelevant to the trial court's determination that "upon defendant's conviction for fleeing the scene of the accident, conditioning his probation on a restitution order would make amends 'to society for the breach of the law, for any injury done to any person resulting from that breach, and generally and specifically for the reformation and rehabilitation of the probationer.' " (Carbajal, supra, 10 Cal.4th at p. 1126, quoting Pen. Code, 1203.1, subd. (j).) The Carbajal court did not eliminate the requirement that restitution be ordered only for damages caused by the defendant's conduct. The court noted that Carbajal admitted having caused the damage to the victim's vehicle and that there was "no question" as to his responsibility for the loss. The court specifically stated, " 'Restitution is an effective rehabilitative penalty because it forces the defendant to confront, in concrete terms, the harm his actions have caused.' " (Carbajal, supra, 10 Cal.4th at p. 1124, quoting Kelly v. Robinson (1986) 479 U.S. 36.)