I have to say my week hasn’t been real great.
Tuesday started off pleasantly enough as my girlfriends and I were enjoying a leisurely afternoon hiking the hills of Marin County, talking mainly about addiction and its devastating effects on some of our friends and family. Then imagine my surprise coming home to see my car being winched onto the flatbed tow truck at San Marin Drive and Simmons Lane, smashed to pieces by a drunk driver.
But what happened next was even more shocking.
Being a reporter, of course I had to find out very stitch of information that was publicly available. I went to the Novato police department the following day and asked for the official police report. I learned that young man who lives with his girlfriend and her mother not far from my house, was arrested for the three car pile-up that totaled my car, and stands accused of being way past the legal limit. Sgt. Nicholas Frey, Novato’s Traffic Sergeant, told me at the scene that the suspect blew .16 or higher on the breath test. He was staggering around, slurring his words, and even his girlfriends’ poor dog wasn’t immune from his drunken behavior (the dog escaped from the car after it finally came to a stop on Sumac Court and was taken away by Marin Human Society officers.)
What I find stunning is that this person had FOUR previous convictions for DUI, (there is some disagreement between the police and DA’s office whether is it two or four previous convictions.) Regardless, he was involved in a felony hit-and-run in Sacramento and his license has been suspended. He is required to have an ignition lock. The report stated he had taken his girlfriends car while she was at work, and his girlfriend actually KNEW he was taking her car and driving on a suspended license.
So ….here’s my question.
IS THE MARIN COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE SOFT ON CRIME?
I was getting a very bad feeling about my situation. Thursday I marched down to the District Attorney’s office and demanded to see a Crime Victim Advocate. I got a nice woman named Donna who took my name and phone phone. Twenty minutes later I got a call from ADA Matthew Jacobs.
“Mrs. Swanson, I’ve been assigned to your case, but only temporarily. Someone else will be taking over next week,” began the soft-spoken young lawyer.
I replied “Mr. Jacobs, thanks for calling. But I think I’m fairly sure I know what you are going to tell me. You are going to regretfully inform me that the District Attorney’s office is going to offer the accused a plea bargain. Please tell me I’m wrong.”
Mr. Jacobs confirmed my worst fear.
“Well, it’s the law in California that we have to offer a plea bargain in 99.9 percent of cases, except for violent crimes.”
I could feel the bile in the back of my throat rising. “Mr. Jacobs, my husband is an attorney, my father was an attorney, and I’m a journalist. Please don’t insult me. I seriously doubt whether there is a law stating you have to offer a plea bargain. I know there is prosecutorial discretion. And I’m telling you what I want. I want you to prosecute this man to the fullest extent of the law, and then I want mandatory alcohol treatment. That’s what I’m telling you as the victim of this crime. And I’m also telling you, and you already know it, that this guy is a ticking time bomb and a serious danger to our community. So, please do the right thing. Save this man from himself and save all of us from him.”
I guess Mr. Jacobs overlooked this great tool called the Internet (thanks Al Gore!) because we used it to look up the minimum and maximum penalties for a third and subsequent DUI conviction. Assuming no bodily injury or death from the DUI the minimum penalty is:
-a $390 fine plus over $1,000 in ordinary penalty assessments, plus other assessments for a total of $1,800
-120 days in jail for a third offense, 180 days for a fourth offense and
-revocation of your driver’s license for three years (third offense) or four years (fourth offense) and completion of a 30-month multi-offender program to get your license back.
The maximum penalties for a third and fourth offense within ten years are as follows: $5,000 fine plus over $13,000 in penalty assessments for a total of $18,000, one year in jail for a third offense, 16 months in state prison for a fourth offense, if charged as a felony, impoundment of your vehicle for up to 90 days or even forfeiture and loss of your vehicle, revocation of your drivers license for three years (third offense) or four years (fourth offense) and a 30-month alcohol program before getting your license restored.
My friend who is a retired police Lt. says that if you are convicted of a third DUI ...you are a Super Duece, or one bad hombre.
But Matthew Jacobs, the Marin County ADA assigned to my case (But-Not-for-Long!!!) didn’t mention ANY of these possibilities. In fact, he discussed maybe a little bit of jail time and some fines, but promised he would push REAL HARD for alcohol treatment, but it would NOT be mandatory, because you know, some people won’t get help even when it is offered.
So you tell me. IS THE MARIN COUNTY DA’S OFFICE SOFT ON CRIME?
I hope to be answer that question myself as I go through this process with the judicial system. I’ll keep you informed.