Sentencing Enhancements for Prior DUI Convictions in California

In a recent California appellate decision, a defendant appealed a judgment entered after a jury trial in which he was convicted of a DUI under Vehicle Code section 23152 and DUI with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or greater. The lower court found the defendant had been convicted of three prior DUI offenses and determined to be true the allegations for enhancement purposes that the defendant drove under the influence with a BAC of .08 or greater within 10 years of 3 prior DUI convictions under Section 23550. The lower court put in place a three year jail sentence.

The defendant claimed his identity was not established by certified minute orders presented as proof of prior convictions and therefore the lower court’s findings about his prior convictions were not bolstered by substantial proof. The appellate court disagreed.

The case arose when the police pulled over the defendant on I-110 after he was seen weaving and almost hitting another car. The officer saw the glossiness of the defendant’s eyes and observed he was slurring his words. He asked for help from the California Highway Patrol in connection with a DUI. The officer came to the scene and immediately saw the defendant showed signs and symptoms of intoxication such as slurred speech and red and watery eyes. The defendant claimed this was the result of one margarita. However, field sobriety tests showed he was impaired because of alcohol and his BAC was .187-.179.

The officer arrested the defendant for a DUI and the defendant submitted to a chemical breath test. The samples from the test showed a .17 BAC. A criminologist said that in order to get this .17 BAC, a male would need about 7.3 drinks within his system at the time of the test. The defendant stuck to his story when he gave his testimony. He also claimed he had been unsteady during the field sobriety tests because of a knee surgery he had undergone 20 years previously and his knee acted up when it was cold.

The defendant claims that due to minor variations on the names on the certified dockets of prior DUI convictions and the defendant’s name as charged, the proof was not enough to establish his identity as the person suffering those convictions.

After the conviction, the defendant waived the right to a jury and chose a court trial to decide the truth of the three earlier DUI conviction allegations. The court admitted the certified dockets from three prior convictions into evidence and took judicial notice of the files for those cases.

One of the certified dockets listed two misdemeanor DUIs. Another identified the defendant by a slightly different name and charged him with two misdemeanor violations, to which he pled no contest and for which he was put on probation. The third certified docket identified him and showed him charged with two misdemeanor DUI offenses. In determining the truth of the prior conviction allegations, the lower court also looked at the court records and evidence from the existing case. The defendant disputed one of the DUI convictions claiming he had been charged with having alcohol on his breath, but that this was reduced to a reckless driving misdemeanor. He argued it should not count as a prior.

The appellate court explained every element of a sentence enhancement needs to be established beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden requires the prosecutor to establish beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant’s identity as the person who was previously convicted. However, it has long been recognized that someone’s identity can be inferred or presumed from the identity of the name unless there is some proof to counter it. Without evidence to show that variations in the name signify a different person, the trivial differences are not material to the person’s identity. In this case, there was enough evidence to bolster the lower court’s conclusion that the identities in the current and prior convictions were the same.

The judgment was affirmed.

If you have been charged with a DUI and you have prior DUI convictions, your liberty is in jeopardy and you should hire an experienced DUI attorney to strategize and present the strongest possible defense. The Law Offices of Susan L. Hartman may be able to help. Call us for a free consultation at (619) 260-1122.