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Appeal filed in death of Westlake teen

July 30, 2009
by Raul Hernandez

A lawyer for a defendant charged with the 2003 traffic death of a 17-year-old Westlake High School student is asking an appellate court whether it is constitutional to try his client, who suffers from incurable dementia, he said.

Attorney Howard Price of Beverly Hills said Thursday that he filed the appeal with the 2nd District Court of Appeal, Division 6, in Ventura last month asking the court to rule on whether a judge’s action was unlawful.

On June 20, Price said, Ventura County Superior Court Judge John Dobroth ordered Price’s client, Diana Shakhov, to be placed in the custody of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department before being taken to Patton State Hospital, a mental health facility in San Bernardino County. The hospital would determine whether Shakhov is competent to stand trial.

Price said he immediately got a stay order from the appeals court in Ventura on June 23, suspending the action, and Shakhov, 37, was released from jail without having to post bail.

Shakhov, of Agoura Hills, was charged with the traffic death of Nicole Johnson in May 2003. Shakhov was prosecuted after her car slammed into the back of the teen’s vehicle on Thousand Oaks Boulevard.

In February 2006, Shakhov’s first trial ended in a mistrial when jurors deadlocked 9-3 to acquit her of gross vehicular manslaughter while driving under the influence. Price argued that Shakhov was under the influence of a muscle relaxant, which she had been taking for two years for her back spasms from work-related accidents.

 

“What the state wants to do is to punish her because they couldn’t convict her,” said Price in an interview, adding that he views the current situation as nothing more than a punitive measure being meted out by Prosecutor Scott Hendrickson.

Hendrickson was unavailable for comment Thursday.

Price claims his client has irreversible dementia and would languish in the county jail for four months before she would be able to go to Patton Hospital because of the lack of bed space there.

In his legal papers, Price said there is a legal constitutional question the appeals court will take up, and that is whether a person with an incurable mental condition can be put on trial.

“Nothing can be done to restore her competency, and at the same time, it (trial) can be harmful to her,” Price said, claiming that this legal issue has never been decided.

In January, Price and Hendrickson agreed to have Shakhov plead guilty to vehicular manslaughter. But Price wanted his client to be put on probation, while Hendrickson told the court that he wanted Shakhov to serve some time behind bars, according to Price. The plea bargain deal fell apart at that time.

The appellate court has not issued a ruling in the case.

 


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