6 Month Prison Sentence for Misdemeanor First Offense Drunk Driving Conviction Not Excessive, Appeals Court Rules

While news stories often cover incidents where drivers facing second, third, or subsequent drunk driving offenses receive seemingly very light sentences, this does not mean that you should fail to take your DWI case seriously. Even first-offense misdemeanor charges can mean jail, as one southeast Louisiana man discovered when the Louisiana Court of Appeal refused to overturn his six-month prison sentence for the misdemeanor of operating while intoxicated.

During the early morning hours of Sept. 27, 2011, a Louisiana State Trooper observed Daniel Morales driving erratically in St. Bernard Parish. The trooper pulled Morales over and ordered the driver to perform field sobriety tests, which he failed. While in custody, Morales refused to take a breathalyzer test. He admitted having consumed 2-3 shots of whisky the night before, but he claimed that his condition was the result of having awoken very early that morning.

The trial court found Morales guilty of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, a misdemeanor, and issued him the maximum prison sentence of six months. Morales appealed the sentence, contending that it was excessive. The driver argued that, because the 2011 incident was his first offense and his illegal behavior neither caused nor threatened serious harm to anyone, imposition of the maximum prison sentence allowed by the statute was improper and that the court should have considered probation.

The appeals court upheld the sentence. The court explained that, in some cases, a sentence may still be excessive even if it is within the limits imposed by the statute. This occurs if the severity of the punishment grossly outweighs the severity of the crime, or if the sentence does not contribute to any of the “acceptable goals of punishment.”

Neither of these circumstances were true in Morales’ case. Although the 2011 incident was the first time the driver had faced a charge of DWI, it was not the first time he’d encountered law enforcement. Morales was involved in a 2002 homicide and, based upon the information collected in that case, the trial court concluded that Morales had driven drunk twice before.

The trial court also had enough proof to back up its finding that Morales’ behavior did pose a threat of serious harm. The trooper witnessed Morales, among other things, following another vehicle at a dangerously close distance shortly before pulling the driver over. The mere fact that Morales did not become involved in an accident that injured himself or others did not mean that his driving drunk did not present a risk of serious injury, according to the court.

Morales’ case serves as a clear warning to anyone facing a charge of driving while impaired in Louisiana. Even if your charges are only your first offense, the penalties can be substantial. Regardless of whether the charged crimes are felonies or misdemeanors, you should take the matter extremely seriously and promptly seek out experienced Louisiana counsel to assist you and present your case. To discuss your situation, contact the Louisiana DWI attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm right away. The sooner you contact us, the sooner our DWI attorneys can begin working to put this matter behind you.

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

More Blog Posts:

State Puts New, Tougher DWI Penalties into Effect, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, July 28, 2014
Appeals Court Weighs the Permissibility of “Cost-of-Investigation” and “Cost-of-Prosecution” Fees in DWI/DUI Cases, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, April 13, 2014

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