Life Sentence for Causing a DUI Crash: It Happens

life-sentence-for-duiLife sentences are rare in the world of DUI offenses. But sometimes a judge feels that a case warrants it. One such case occurred recently in Santa Rosa, California, where a man was tried for causing a drunk driving crash that took the life of a mother of two.

Drunk driving collisions occur every day, and some 10,000 people lose their lives due to impaired driving, but while tragic, those events rarely result in life imprisonment. Clearly one factor was present that persuaded the judge to levy a life sentence for DUI.

Why Prior DUI Convictions Matter

The defendant, Pablo Salinas-Jacobo, had two prior DUI convictions before the current crash. Moreover, he was on probation at the time. These facts led the judge to conclude that the defendant was aware of the risk of drunk driving when he chose to do so anyway.

This awareness is crucial: it makes the crime in question deliberate. It should have come as no surprise that heSalinas-Jacobo was impaired beyond his ability to control a vehicle: he’d already had DUI education, probation, and warnings from the state. He’d even had an ignition interlock device at one point. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. With that device installed he would have been forced to driver sober, or not drive at all.

But at some point the device was removed, and the old habits returned.

In California law, as in the law of most states, penalties go up sharply with ever repetition of a drunk driving offense. Drunk drivers are seen, correctly, as disasters waiting to happen. Some drivers learn their lesson after their first arrest, and others never do: they keep on drinking and driving until they kill themselves or someone else.

Among the great challenges of law enforcement is the repeat drunk driver. Ignition interlock technology is effective, and had the device been installed in this case, the victim would still be alive. But the law specified a term, and the device was employed for that amount of time. Unfortunately, it was not enough.

So we need to look hard for lessons that this case can teach us. Perhaps an ignition interlock cannot prevent every possible drunk driving tragedy. But it can prevent a lot of them, saving measures like life imprisonment for the most extreme offenders.