COURSEY: Delivering a message on repeat drunken driving
Published: Friday, June 28, 2013 at 11:22 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 28, 2013 at 11:22 a.m.
Let’s all raise a toast to Mendocino County Deputy District Attorney Matt Hubley, who’s pushing the envelope of the criminal justice system in his efforts to put a serial drunken driver behind bars and prevent her from ever driving again.
The only problem with the case against Joan Ellen Rainville is that it’s “outside the box,” as one DUI defense attorney put it, and “innovative,” in the words of Santa Rosa defense lawyer Chris Andrian.
This should be the norm in cases like this.
Rainville, according to Mary Callahan’s story on Thursday’s Page 1, is not your run-of-the-mill drunken driver. When the 53-year-old Ukiah woman piloted her car through a neighbor’s fence, across the yard – where the neighbors and a few guests were gathered – and slammed it into the side of their house, she had a blood-alcohol level of more than three times the legal limit, prosecutors said. If that’s true, the incident on Memorial Day weekend was her second vehicle crash under the influence this year, and her fifth drunken-driving offense since 1996, according to Hubley. In the majority of those cases, her blood-alcohol level was at least three times the limit of .08 percent.
Imagine how many times in the past 17 years she didn’t get caught.
In the normal course of events – since no one got hurt or killed – Rainville would be charged with misdemeanor drunken driving in this latest case. A person with four drunken driving offenses can be charged with a felony, but those four have to have occurred within the last 10 years. Rainville’s first two were in 1996 and 2001, so they don’t count toward a felony charge this time.
Rainville has had the book thrown at her before. When she took that drive through the fence last month, she was on probation for the previous crash, had a suspended driver’s license and was supposed to have an ignition interlock device on her Toyota Camry that would have prevented her from starting the car with alcohol in her system.
So we know how well that worked.
Unfortunately, we hear about these cases all too often. The roads are peppered with repeat drunken drivers who don’t care that they are on probation, prohibited from drinking and prohibited from driving. They don’t care that they face fines and jail time. They don’t care that they put the lives of others at risk. They care about that next drink, and the rest be damned.
I understand that alcoholism is a disease, and appreciate that Rainville acknowledges she is an alcoholic. I hope she gets the treatment and support that she needs.
But people who repeatedly drive drunk, and who repeatedly disregard the legal consequences and restrictions caused by their past drunken driving, are telling us that they need more than just a suspended license or an order for an ignition lock to prevent them from getting behind the wheel.
Deputy District Attorney Hubley thinks Rainville needs to be locked up.
He has charged her with assault with a deadly weapon in her latest crash. If convicted, Rainville could get four years in prison and have her driver’s license permanently revoked.
The felony charge is based on the warning given to every person convicted of DUI in California. It says the person knows and understands that impaired driving is “extremely dangerous to human life,” and acknowledges that if that person kills someone while driving impaired, they can be charged with murder. Rainville has received and acknowledged that warning, and Hubley wants to apply that “implied malice” to a case in which not only was no one killed, but no one was hurt.
Hubley acknowledges that his charge may be tough to prove. He told Callahan he doesn’t think such a strategy has been tried before.
But, he said, “this particular defendant has not got the picture through years and years and years.”
When the envelope isn’t big enough to deliver the message, it’s time to go outside the envelope.
Chris Coursey’s blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.
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