Jeff Ackerman: Seeking justice in drunken driver case
“He’s been to state prison on a DUI, and he’s back out doing the same thing. So, from the court’s point of view, we’ve pounded on him and that didn’t do any good, OK? And so now we need to switch to a different hammer and pound on him with that hammer for a while and see what happens here.”
Those were the words of Nevada County Superior Court Judge Robert Tamietti in last month’s decision to send habitual drunken driver Mark Renee DelCarlo to a
Santa Rosa inpatient treatment program.
That case was particularly interesting because it was the fifth time DelCarlo was convicted for drunken driving in the last six years. And when you consider that he was in jail for maybe two of those years, the numbers are mind-boggling. In fact, it makes you wonder if Mr. DelCarlo ever drove sober.
According to court records, DelCarlo was arrested the first time for drunken driving on New Year’s Day in 2001 and was convicted two months later. Three months after he was sentenced for his first offense, he was busted again. And by the end of the summer of 2001, DelCarlo was a three-time loser, that time charged with a felony.
Then-Superior Court Judge Ersel Edwards sentenced him to a year of inpatient treatment and two months later modified his sentence to a year of outpatient treatment. DelCarlo must have convinced the judge that all he needed was a little fresh air.
The fresh air was eventually replaced by a cocktail, and DelCarlo was arrested a fourth time for DUI on March 27, 2003. By then Judge Edwards had seen enough of DelCarlo, sentencing him to two years in prison, revoking his driver’s license and classifying him as a “habitual traffic offender.”
Unfortunately, DelCarlo didn’t spend much time studying his DMV Manual while in prison. And prison didn’t seem to quench his desire to drink and drive. DelCarlo was arrested a fifth time last July, that time blowing a .40 blood-alcohol level (I would be dead with that kind of ratio). Fortunately, there was an ignition interlock system on the car (because he was on parole at the time), which prevented the car from starting. I suspect that if all vehicles were equipped with one of those babies, the traffic in the Basin would be reduced by half. They say an estimated one out of every three or so vehicles is driven by someone who is impaired by alcohol or other substances (medication, pot, crank. etc.). The other two-thirds are driven by sober people who are on cell phones and reading the newspaper.
What to do? That was the question Judge Tamietti wrestled with, and it wasn’t an easy one. As he pointed out, ” … we’ve pounded on him and that didn’t do any good, OK?” So he decided to send him to Santa Rosa for a year to get treatment for alcoholism.
For the sake of argument, let’s say I was Tamietti (and … don’t worry … I’m running for sheriff some day). I’m up there with my black robe and boxer shorts (it’s hot outside) and here comes Mr. DelCarlo, looking a little hungover and wrinkled. Five drunken driving arrests are bound to ruin anyone’s day. His file is sitting right next to my gavel, and it weighs 16 pounds. I move my tuna sandwich over to the side, just in case.
“Your honor, my client has a drinking problem,” says his lawyer. “I’m hoping you will agree that prison is not the best place for him and that what he really needs is treatment.”
Silently, I leaf through the file, adjusting my reading glasses. You can hear a pin drop in the courtroom. Just what I was looking for.
“I’d disagree,” I’d finally say, just because I think it would be fun to mess with attorneys. “I’d say your client doesn’t have a problem drinking at all. I’d say he has a
The court bailiff chuckles, drawing a stern gaze from the top of my reading glasses. It would also be a kick to mess with bailiffs from time to time.
“Your honor, my client feels he would do well to get some really good counseling. He knows he has a drinking problem and really wants to beat it.”
“What was his first clue?” I ask, enjoying the moment. “How many chances does your client think he ought to have? What makes me think treatment will work this time?”
“Well, your honor. My client has been to prison and that didn’t work. He met a guy named Bubba who taught him how to make Pruno (prison booze) from cafeteria fruit, and he was drunk his entire stay. So sending him back to prison probably isn’t such a good idea.”
“How about we chop off his hands?” I ask, just checking to see if the court reporter is paying attention.
“How about we what?” responds the attorney.
“How about we chop off his hands?” I repeat, raising my own hands above the sleeves of my robe for visual effect. I’d read somewhere that they chopped the hands off of a habitual drinker in Jordan, and he never grabbed another cocktail.
“This is California!” the attorney shouts, drawing gasps from the bailiff and the court reporter. “You can’t chop the hands off drunken drivers in California, even for a fifth offense!”
Mr. DelCarlo, meanwhile, collapses and has to be resuscitated with four or five good shots to the chest with my gavel.
“I suppose you’re right,” I say. “Maybe it was the tongue. Are you sure we can’t just cut his tongue off?”
“No way, your honor!” the now-frazzled attorney screams. “No tongues, either!”
More silence as I reach for my Sentencing For Dummies handbook that tells me what my options are.
“OK, here’s what we’re going to do,” I finally say, watching as the journalists flip the pages of their white reporters notebooks. “Mr. DelCarlo, I’m going to send you to Santa Rosa to a treatment facility. When you get out, you are not permitted to ever return to Nevada County. Not even for the county fair. Not even for Cornish Christmas. And especially not for New Year’s Eve. If I ever see you in this county again, you will lose your ears and your nose. I don’t care what the Legislature says.
This is my courtroom and I’ll do whatever I want in my courtroom.
“See that man over there?” I ask, pointing to the bailiff. “All I have to do is point to my ears right now and he’ll blow yours right off your head. Are we clear?”
“Yes, your honor,” the attorney replies, barely above a whisper.
“This court is adjourned,” I say, pounding the gavel and reaching for my tuna sandwich. Just another day in Judge Jeff’s courtroom.
Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.
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