Louisiana Court of Appeal Reduces Driver’s Sentence Because Trial Court Did Not Follow Statute

A man facing conviction on his fifth drunk driving charge could not be required to serve the entire 20-year jail sentence without the possibility of parole, probation, or suspension of his sentence. The trial court’s sentence was improper, according to a recent Louisiana Court of Appeal ruling, because the statute governing DWI sentences expressly required the driver to serve only two years of his 20-year term before being eligible for probation, parole, or suspension of his sentence.

Bernal Aguilar had a long history of interactions with law enforcement related to drunk driving, even before March 2012. In fact, he’d already been convicted of drunk driving offenses four times when he was arrested again.

The trial judge in Aguilar’s case originally ruled that two of the four prior convictions couldn’t count against him in the current case (meaning his DWI charge would be a third offense, not fifth) because he pleaded guilty in those previous cases, and the judges in those two cases didn’t warn him that pleading guilty, and receiving a conviction, could possibly lead to stiffer penalties if he ever faced another DWI charge. The court of appeals, however, reversed that decision and ruled that the state could use all of Aguilar’s convictions. After the case returned to the trial court, the driver changed his plea to guilty, and the trial judge sentenced him to 20 years without the availability of parole, probation, or suspension.

The driver appealed. While the appeals court rejected many of the driver’s arguments, Aguilar did achieve a measure of success with regard to a change in his sentence. The trial judge sentenced him to 20 years without the availability of parole, probation, or suspension. Louisiana statutory law, however, has specific limitations on the sentences that can be handed down in DWI cases.

Section 14:98(A)(E)(1)(a) contains the parameters for fourth or subsequent DWI convictions. That section requires that the court fine the driver $5,000 and sentence him to 10-30 years in jail. Aguilar’s sentence complied with these elements of the statute. The statute also says, though, that the driver must serve exactly two years of his jail sentence with no chance of parole, probation, or suspension. The trial judge did not have the legal authority to sentence Aguilar to 20 years in jail “without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.” As a result, Aguilar’s sentence must be modified to reflect these statutory requirements.

If this driver receives probation, parole, or suspension of his sentence after serving his mandatory two years in jail, the consequences of another conviction could be very severe. If a driver in that position received another conviction, he’d face a sentence of 10-30 years and would be required to serve the entire sentence without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.

The Louisiana legislature modified the sentence parameters of Section 14:98 effective January 1 of this year. With the new, tougher sentences, a driver faces serious consequences any time he stands charged with a drunk driving crime. That’s why it is so important to take any DWI charge seriously and address it head-on. For aggressive and skillful representation regarding a DWI charge facing you or a loved one, consult the Louisiana DWI attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm. Our DWI attorneys have decades of experience handling these cases and can help you get the defense you need.

For a confidential consultation, contact us online or phone Cardone at 504-522-3333.

More Blog Posts:

6 Month Prison Sentence for Misdemeanor First Offense Drunk Driving Conviction Not Excessive, Appeals Court Rules, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, Aug. 20, 2014

State Puts New, Tougher DWI Penalties into Effect, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, July 28, 2014

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