Wednesday, October 30, 2013
C.A. Rejects Constitutional Challenge, Upholds Use of Three-Strikes Law in Recidivist DUI Case
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Third District Court of Appeal yesterday upheld a state statutory scheme that allows prosecutors discretion to elevate a recidivist DUI misdemeanor charge to a felony, then use it as a third sentencing “strike” when the defendant has a prior DUI manslaughter conviction.
The court rejected Douglas Harold Doyle’s argument that using his prior DUI manslaughter conviction to change what otherwise would have been a subsequent misdemeanor DUI charge was illegal and unconstitutional. The panel, in an opinion written by Justice George Nicholson, rejected his arguments, upholding Doyle’s sentence of 25 years to life under California’s Three Strikes Law.
Doyle had previously pled guilty to DUI manslaughter in 1988 after killing a driver in a head-on collision while under the influence of valium, cocaine and alcohol. He was subsequently convicted of spousal abuse in 1996 and assault with a deadly weapon in 2007.
In August 2008, Doyle was arrested again for DUI after being stopped by a sheriff’s deputy. He pled guilty to felony DUI but later challenged his enhanced state prison sentence.
In his appeal, Doyle argued that prosecutors engaged in “impermissible bootstrapping” in order to elevate the misdemeanor to a third-strike felony.
Nicholson disagreed, saying there was “no abstract anti-bootstrapping principle” in the state’s sentencing laws. He said that nothing in case law or legislative intent prevents using a prior DUI manslaughter conviction as a catalyst for both elevating a DUI charge from a misdemeanor to felony and having it serve as a strike.
The court also rejected Doyle’s argument that his three-strikes sentence violated his equal protection rights under both the California and Federal Constitutions. He noted that, under California law, defendants with more serious prior convictions such as murder are only charged with misdemeanors for subsequent DUI incidents, while only those specifically with previous DUI manslaughter convictions have subsequent DUI charges designated as “wobblers” where prosecutors can choose to treat them as felonies instead.
The end result, Doyle argued, is that a person convicted of DUI manslaughter is seemingly treated more harshly than one convicted of murder.
The court held that the law did not violate equal protection principles because a DUI offender with a DUI manslaughter conviction was “not similarly situated” with other DUI offenders who had prior murder convictions.
As to Doyle’s argument regarding sentencing disparities between those who have previous DUI manslaughter convictions and those who have previous DUI murder convictions, the Court said that there was “some rationality” in this distinction because “[t]his difference can be attributed simply to the Legislature’s determination to punish murderers more harshly up front and to be more lenient with those convicted of manslaughter, while providing for harsher punishment for those convicted of manslaughter if they later commit a crime that shows they have not reformed.”
Pointing out that a conviction for DUI murder still “carries a more severe sentence” than a manslaughter charge, Nicholson also rejected Doyle’s claim that his “freakish” sentence violated prohibitions against “cruel or unusual punishment” and due process violations.
In an unpublished section of his opinion, Nicholson held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to vacate one of Doyle’s prior strike convictions for the purpose of sentencing.
The case is People v. Doyle, 13 S.O.S. 5537.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company