Drunk Drivers Back On The Street Frustrate Many
The recent arrest of Marco Valencia, a 20-year-old Canyon Country resident suspected of killing cyclist Joseph Novotny on July 11 as he rode through Bouquet Canyon has people talking about the frustrations of the justice system.
And it's not just the neighbors talking.
Deputies and CHP officers arrest those suspected of causing accidents and follow procedures outlined in various state codes that are supposed to bring about justice.
But the fact that Valencia had two prior convictions for driving under the influence make people ask how he could have been allowed to drive.
"It is frustrating because there is nothing we can do to prevent unlicensed drivers or people who have suspended licenses from getting back in a car," said Detective Robert Smoldt, who works in the Traffic bureau of the Santa Clarita station.
"If we stop them on the road, we impound the car for 30 days, but there are car salesmen who will sell an unlicensed driver a car."
Smoldt explained that repeat DUI convictions allow the District Attorney to charge offenders with more serious crimes.
"The third one becomes a felony," Smoldt said.
He added that there are a large number of repeat offenders already driving on local roads. While records are kept of offenses and drivers on probation, restricted resources can limit the amount of time law enforcement can spend watching and making sure they don't hit the road. Drivers can also switch cars and drive undetected.
The problem is big enough to garner the attention of the state's Office of Traffic Safety, which gave the Santa Clarita Sheriff's station a grant to specifically enforce penalties for drivers found to have suspended licenses.
"We've been able to conduct stakeouts, if we know they have a history of DUI or on suspended licenses," Smoldt said. "With the grant, we were able to go through our files and find the guys who had DUI or suspended license, or had failed to complete classes or show up for court. We had teams of deputies and they'd go out twice a month and arrest people or issue warrants."
Smoldt said that 55 people were caught up in this activity.
"People don't realize how many people are driving under these conditions," he said. "And until they're involved in an accident, it's unimportant. Unlicensed drivers are a little different, they don't like them because it costs them with higher insurance premiums."
When it comes to charging the drivers, they build the best case they can and hand it over to the District Attorney.
"Half the time we don't understand it; we go to the work of bringing someone to jail, but some of the sentencing guidelines don't keep them off the street very long," he said.
Sandi Gibbons, spokesperson for the District Attorney's office, said that the charges and penalties are clearly outlined in the California Vehicle and Penal Codes and that any flexibility is in the hands of the courts.
"We cannot go beyond the law when we charge someone," she said.