D.A. must remove judge from all DUI cases
“By PHIL STRICKLAND – For The Californian courtesy of NCtimes.com
Justice may be blind, but it’s easy to see there is precious little of it in the courtroom of Judge James Warren for drunken driving victims and their families.
In rapid succession two weeks ago, the Riverside County jurist gave a slap on the wrist to two people who killed while driving drunk. Both had agreed to sentences in plea deals with the district attorney’s office —- sentences the judge decided to shorten.
The first was Sherri Ann Smith, the 42-year-old Lake Elsinore woman who killed a man and maimed his wife when her sport utility vehicle collided with their motorcycle. He reduced her agreed-to sentence of two years in prison to one year in the county jail.
The second instance of justice denied occurred only two days later when he sentenced Danny Xavier Sanchez, 26, to one year in jail for guilty pleas to vehicular manslaughter and one count alleging driving under the influence causing injury in the death of a 62-year-old woman. The plea deal to which Sanchez agreed was a sentence in state prison not to exceed 18 months.
Apparently, the judge thinks a life has a net worth of about a year.
Thankfully, the Riverside County district attorney’s office is as outraged as many Southwest County residents. Last week, a spokeswoman for the office said that if Warren’s judicial imprudence continues, an affidavit of prejudice would be filed on a case-by-case basis where drunken drivers caused deaths. That’s fine —- as far as it goes.
Filing such an affidavit automatically would remove the judge from a case. Such filings must be made in advance of a plea deal, because the law requires that a judge who accepts a plea deal must be the judge who renders the sentence. That means the district attorney’s office must determine in advance whether it believes the judge will go along with the bargain.
A judge’s hands should not be tied by plea deals. Too many deals result in absurdly light sentences, so jurists need to have some discretion in the matter. On the other hand, the prosecutor needs to be reasonably confident that a judge will honor the arrangement. It can be, as Warren’s actions show, a crapshoot.
The problem with the district attorney’s decision is “If (Warren’s) predisposition on these types of cases continues … .” If? Continues? Heavens to St. Monica, if you walk past a dog and it jumps out and bites you, are you going to walk past it again or cross the street?
The district attorney’s office is reviewing the judge’s cases involving vehicular manslaughter where drunken driving was a factor.
Why? Warren already has demonstrated, in the space of less than a week, his unfitness to be involved in DUI cases that involve deaths.
It is good that the DA’s office is prepared to take preventative measures in this matter. It is bad that it is being done on a case-by-case basis. The law allows the district attorney to issue a blanket disqualification against Warren that would bar him from hearing any such cases in the future.
District Attorney Grover Trask did just that against a judge in 2004 when he decided the jurist was prejudiced in favor of the defense in a number of felony cases. Prudence demands that a blanket disqualification be issued against Warren. He deserves no less.”
Judges know when to send hardened criminals to jail. Judges know when to send a meek homemaker to county for one year after having two glasses of wine and an unfortunate accident. If you take the discretion from the Judge, then you are left with an insurance adjuster. Nobody is happy with insurance adjusters. Justice requires discretion and decision not blind rule application.