In April of 2015, Leonardo Morales was driving his Chevy Tahoe and exiting the 55 freeway in Costa Mesa when he collided into a tree on the off-ramp. According to California Highway Patrol, two officers patrolling the area spotted the flames that erupted immediately following the collision.
The officers who spotted the flames called in to dispatch for other officers to respond. Responding officers Daryl Hansend and Timothy Montoya found Morales on the floor, 22-year-old Kathy De Rosa in the front passenger seat, and a 2-year-old “running around and crying and pointing at the car,” said CHP Officer Florentino Olivera.
As the officers were attempting to extract De Rosa, they heard the cries of a baby on the floorboard of the rear driver’s side seat. The children, whose parents were Morales and De Rosa, were taken to Children’s Hospital Orange County. Morales and De Rosa were taken to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana.
Morales was later determined to have alcohol in his system and was subsequently arrested.
Both Morales and De Rosa had prior DUI convictions. In 2014, Morales pleaded guilty to misdemeanor driving under the influence and driving on a suspended license. In 2015, De Rosa pleaded guilty to misdemeanor driving under the influence, misdemeanor driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher, and misdemeanor child endangerment since children were present in the vehicle when she was under the influence.
Last month, Morales pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury, driving with a blood alcohol of 0.08 percent or more causing injury, and two counts of child abuse and endangerment, all felonies. Additionally, Morales admitted sentencing enhancement allegations that he inflicted great bodily injury and great bodily injury on a child younger than five-years-old.
Morales was sentenced to seven years in prison just last week.
Unfortunately for Morales, a DUI may be elevated, and was in his case, to a felony when the DUI leads to the injury of another under California Vehicle Code 23153.
Although Morales was sentenced to seven years, he was originally facing two, three, or four years in a California State Prison, an additional and consecutive three to six years in prison for each other person who suffered great bodily injury, a “strike” on his record under California’s Three Strikes Law, up to $5,000 in fines, and 18 or 30 month DUI program, restitution to the victim or victims, a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) status with the California DMV for three years, and a five year revocation of driving privileges.
DUI with injury can also be charged as a misdemeanor. Although it was highly unlikely in Morales’s case given the facts, it is possible. If originally charged as a felony, alternatively a plea deal could involve reducing the charge to a misdemeanor. As a misdemeanor, the penalties include informal summary probation for three to five years, up to a year in county jail, up to $5,000 in fines, a three, nine, 18, or 30-month DUI program, restitution to the victim or victims, and a one or three year suspension of driving privileges.
For this reason, it is extremely important to hire a competent and experienced California DUI attorney to negotiate the best plea deal possible or, if the prosecutors unwilling to budge, fight the case through trial and achieve a not guilty verdict.