Eye on the Courts: 23 to Life For a DUI

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crash

There was a time when DUI convictions, even for accidents that caused the deaths of innocents, were given small prison terms, virtual slaps on the wrist.  One of the great success stories has been the rise of the power of the MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) lobby.  In this county, even accidents not involving alcohol have been treated at times as vehicular manslaughter.

A few years ago we saw a case before Judge Fall, where an elderly woman driving in a parking lot was given gross vehicular manslaughter when she killed a pedestrian.  In a more recent case, Judge Mock in a court trial ruled that ten seconds of inattentiveness by the driver of a delivery truck that slammed into stopped traffic on I-5 warranted vehicular manslaughter, but without the gross negligence component.

That turns us to the case of Ryan Baird, a 2007 graduate of Davis High School.  The Vanguard covered the trial back in May.  It is a tragic story where four young men were celebrating a friend’s 21st birthday, which ended in a tragedy that left one man dead and the birthday boy in a coma with severe brain damage, while a third man suffered broken bones that required surgery.

According to the DA’s press release, Mr. Baird and the other men had all been drinking heavily.  They got into his vehicle and entered I-5 at Main Street in Woodland, exiting at County Road 102, “where it was calculated that he was traveling between 79 to 94 miles per hour before locking his brakes and launching his car off the side of the road, rolling the car numerous times.”

One of the victims would testify that he didn’t even need to get on the highway.

He would be charged and convicted of second degree murder on top of other charges and, last week, he received the sentence of 23 years to life.

There are factors here in aggravation and mitigation.  First, this was Mr. Baird’s third driving under the influence conviction, and the second time it led to a collision as the result of driving under the influence.

His blood alcohol level was .18 and they found the presence of marijuana in his blood, though no one could be sure that he was under the influence of marijuana.

More critically, Mr. Baird “had been warned and acknowledged of the fact that driving under the influence was dangerous to human life when he pled no contest in each of his two prior convictions.”

The DA writes, “Baird had been subject to alcohol education classes and the study guide from those classes was retrieved from the wreckage of his car, along with a hand written statement within the study guide written prior to this crash expressing the fact that he knew that driving under the influence is dangerous to human life and could cause death.”

During his trial, Judge Janet Gaard instructed the jury that his previous DUI convictions could be used to show implied malice or gross negligence.

The MAIT (Major Accident Investigation Team) investigator testified that, based on the speed analysis, the calculated speed before the car became airborne was about 71 mph, but at the time he hit the brakes and the wheels locked, the estimate of the speed was around 89 mph.

As bad as these facts are, there are other factors that need to be taken into account.

First, his friends knew he was drinking – in fact they were all drinking themselves.  They entered the car willingly.  And finally, they failed to wear their seatbelts – something that the DA does not state in his press release, but that is clear when it states that all three victims were ejected.

Had Mr. Baird hit another vehicle and injured effective innocent bystanders, that would be one thing.  But these individuals were well aware of his condition and knew the risks.

In arguing for second degree murder, Deputy DA Amanda Zambor argued that second degree murder required committing an intentional act and when Mr. Baird deliberately disregarded the natural and probable consequences of his actions, he got into the car and his driving was not an accident.

He deliberately disregarded all warnings, prior convictions and his DUI education – where he had enrolled in an alcohol education program and had a restricted driver’s license that only allowed him to drive to work and classes.

Once the jury came back with a finding of guilty for second degree murder, the life sentence was automatic.

Judge Gaard at sentencing said that she did not have the authority to avoid the life sentence, but also added that, even if she did, she wouldn’t, because of his decision to drive and his two prior DUIs.

This case challenges us on the difference between utter stupidity and malice.  Our general belief is that life sentences should be reserved for the truly dangerous, not just the incessantly stupid.

Mr. Baird is young and dumb, and there is no effort to diminish the gravity of what he has done.  Still, in a more ideal situation, his punishment would be more appropriate at a lengthy prison sentence and then a restorative justice process to make amends for his terrible decisions that have cost people their lives.

Mr. Baird was warned and disregarded the warning, and as a result the lives of four young men are forever altered, as well as those who have been touched by those lives.

There is a cure for being young and dumb, and it is time.  The parole board will ultimately weigh Mr. Baird’s fate, 23 years or so from now, when he becomes eligible for parole.  He will still be a relatively young man at that point, and what he does with his life depends heavily on how he chooses to respond to this horrific incident.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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36 thoughts on “Eye on the Courts: 23 to Life For a DUI”

  1. SODA

    Believe he is a 2007 Davis HS, not UCD grad……
    What will prison do in this case? Besides harden him? I am not minimizing the tragedy or his role but if alcohol and his inability to make good decisions and/or abstain is the problem, would an anklet and some sort of house arrest or community service be more productive to him and society?

  2. Phil Coleman

    “This case challenges us on the difference between utter stupidity and malice. Our general belief is that life sentences should be reserved for the truly dangerous, not just the incessantly stupid.”

    Tragically, it was not just incessantly stupid that was in play here. The defendant was also truly (and incessantly) dangerous, as evidenced by the results of his actions in 2007 and before.

    Baird’s behavior pattern easily fits the mode of being indiscriminately dangerous to the greater society. Compared with 1st Degree Murder convictions (save serial killers)are, in actuality, less threatening to innocent society than Baird, because most murder convictions involve a solitary premeditated act towards an isolated person.

    “Mr. Baird is young and dumb, and there is no effort to diminish the gravity of what he has done.”

    This comment was immediately contradicted with remarks that tried to diminish the severity of the offense.

    The mitigating remarks could only note the defendant’s youth and intelligence. “Young and dumb” are afflictions almost all of us have experienced in our life chronology, and we became older and wiser by the process of being held fully responsible over time for our unacceptable actions.

    We can only hope the same result is found with Mr. Baird in due course. Until such time, society must be assured he will never get behind the wheel of a car, with others, and with such a high percentage of blood alcohol.

  3. Davis Progressive

    “This comment was immediately contradicted with remarks that tried to diminish the severity of the offense. The mitigating remarks could only note the defendant’s youth and intelligence.”

    to me this piece read like david was not approving of the conduct of baird, thought it was dangerous, but felt that he doesn’t represent the type of threat that should be incarcerated for life (or potentially so barring the action of the parole board). i tend to agree with soda, that there are other approaches and while the da’s office likes to tout the neighborhood courts as an example of enlightenment, their stance means little until they are willing to take on more troubling conduct.

  4. Frankly

    It is one cost of a free society. People that are unable to control themselves and are prone to making reckless decisions that harm others, or that pose significant danger for harming others, should be taken away from a free society. How we do that in our system of justice is to lock them up in prison. Because there are no other reasonable alternatives in a fee society.

    Had Mr. Baird been locked away after his second DUI, this tragedy would not have occurred.

  5. Davis Progressive

    “How we do that in our system of justice is to lock them up in prison. Because there are no other reasonable alternatives in a fee society.”

    that’s antiquated thinking. there are many alternatives.

    “Had Mr. Baird been locked away after his second DUI, this tragedy would not have occurred. “

    there are other ways that this could have been prevented as well, unfortunately we spend $50K per year on incarceration and suddenly cry poverty with other alternatives.

  6. Don Shor

    [quote]there are other ways that this could have been prevented as well[/quote]
    Serial drunk driver? What did you have in mind as an alternative? I don’t know about the sentence, but I’m not sure I agree with your premise that there is an alternative to incarceration in this case.

  7. JustSaying

    “Still, in a more ideal situation, his punishment would be more appropriate at a lengthy prison sentence and then a restorative justice process to make amends….”

    The prison sentence was a mandatory one and there is no such “restorative justice” option in our system. So, I’m not sure for what you advocate here.

    The options you establish (“the difference between utter stupidity and malice”) are of equal mystery. This man displayed a such a level of recklessness that the case is far beyond any definition of stupidity and easily meets the meaning of implied malice.

    I suspect that most people who are charged with second degree murder didn’t intend to kill anyone. But, that doesn’t diminish their responsibility.

    The MADD movement arguably may have driven us to more severe penalties than are justified for “minor” impaired driving situations. However, this hardly is a case to use as an example of prosecutor, jury or judge going overboard.

    Why do you believe that this man is simply “young and dumb” and is not “truly dangerous”?

    The recidivism rate for drunk driving is truly astounding. That Mr. Baird got caught two times, was punished and got treatment–and still went out and “forever altered the lives” of himself and the others–should make his dangerousness obvious.

    You wish for “more ideal situation” that would deal less harshly in this case. We can expect Mr. Baird to be out in 23 years. How many years of prison time would you call ideal?

    I’m also interested in what “restorative justice” you see following prison.

    I love the term, but I need some specifics to understand how things can be restored for society, for the dead man and his family and friends, for the brain-damaged “birthday boy” and his family, for his own family and all the others whose lives were “altered” by his reckless actions.

    I agree with Phil Coleman’s observation that the “no effort to diminish the gravity” is “immediately contradicted with remarks that tried to diminish the severity of the offense.”

    And, your single claim of “mitigation”–that the other young men contributed by getting into the car (or deserved what they got?)–assumes they knew as much as the driver did about his record and his level of recklessness.

    I have little appreciation for our present prisons as the solution for
    much of anything, but one has to admit that it’ll keep Mr. Baird from killing any others on our highways for 23 years.

  8. Mr.Toad

    “First, this was Mr. Baird’s third driving under the influence conviction, and the second time it led to a collision as the result of driving under the influence.”

    The second time after an injury but before a fatality might have been a time for restorative justice. After the third time we need to make sure there is no 4th time. We also have decided to make this a more serious offense in the last few years because repeat offenders were killing too many people. The penalties were stiffened as both deterrence for others and to protect the rest of us from those who refuse to modify their dangerous behavior.

    Some people become too dangerous when under the influence of alcohol just like that young man who almost beat the guy to death in Davis. If people are dangerous others must be protected from them by the institutions of government.

  9. Frankly

    [i]I have little appreciation for our present prisons as the solution for much of anything, but one has to admit that it’ll keep Mr. Baird from killing any others on our highways for 23 years.[/i]

    Your two sentences are incongruent.

  10. Davis Progressive

    don: i phrased my answer too broadly here. while i think there are a lot of alternatives to incarceration (responding to frankly), in this case, incarceration is clearly appropriate and lengthy as well. but i question life here

  11. Davis Progressive

    “The prison sentence was a mandatory one and there is no such “restorative justice” option in our system. So, I’m not sure for what you advocate here.”

    to risk answering for david, i think he’s aware that the prison sentence was mandatory, but questioned that and the charge. i assume you understand that there are always restorative options available, the da is in fact implementing one in a specific realm (neighborhood courts). more extensive programs have been implemented elsewhere such as fresno.

  12. Davis Progressive

    “Some people become too dangerous when under the influence of alcohol just like that young man who almost beat the guy to death in Davis. If people are dangerous others must be protected from them by the institutions of government.”

    i’m not opposed to incarceration but i think there are other ways in addition to keep him from being a danger on the roadways.

  13. Frankly

    [I]i’m not opposed to incarceration but i think there are other ways in addition to keep him from being a danger on the roadways.[/I]

    What other ways?

  14. Davis Progressive

    how about gps house arrest with breathalyzer and no driving privileges for 25 years? it would be far cheaper and yet would keep him off the roads.

  15. Frankly

    [i]how about gps house arrest with breathalyzer and no driving privileges for 25 years? it would be far cheaper and yet would keep him off the roads.[/i]

    It would not keep him off the roads. It would not stop him from drinking. It would not stop him from driving drunk. Get real.

  16. Davis Progressive

    how would a gps not keep him off the roads? authorities would be alerted when he left the house unauthorized? he’d be under house arrest.

  17. JustSaying

    You’re probably correct in concept, but, of course, it’s only one sentence.

    I’m trying to say that today’s prisons solve little of the many complexities involved in criminal behavior. and Mr. Baird may come out in two decades only to be a well-trained armed robber (as SODA suggests).

    Keeping him from repeating second-degree murder as a driver will be a prison accomplishment, but it’s hardly a great solution for the bigger issues involved.

  18. Davis Progressive

    “Healing the Community: Davis begins bold new program of restorative justice”

    Linky ([url]http://www.fclca.org/images/stories/pdfs/summer2013finalversion.pdf[/url])

  19. Just me

    It was my understanding that he was supposed to have a breathalyzer in his car at the time of this car wreck… Anyone know for sure? If this was the caase, why didnt that stop him from driving drunk??? Prison is exactly where he needs to be!

  20. JustSaying

    Davis Progressive, I’m interested in your thoughts as well as David’s. my point was that a life sentence is required and that “restorative justice” is not an option available in this case.

    Given the present state of our laws, what should have happened in this case? And, conversely, how should we deal with murder with implied malice if allowed to construct an “ideal situation” to handle this case?

    I’m all for restorative justice, I think. In discussing it, we need to separate how it applies now and how it might work when implemented for specific crimes.

  21. Davis Progressive

    see nothing about him supposed to be on a breathalyzer at the time of the accident, but what i would suggest is a ten year prison sentence followed by house arrrest on a gps advice and prohibition from driving.

  22. Davis Progressive

    ” my point was that a life sentence is required and that “restorative justice” is not an option available in this case.”

    ok. but why? to me, a prison sentence here is necessary, but why a life sentence?

    i think you ask important questions. i just would like us to start thinking outside of the box. this is a case where the person is not a general danger, he’s only a danger when he’s drinking and driving, that gives us some additional leeway to work.

  23. Frankly

    [I]it’s only one sentence.[/I]

    I’m corrected there.

    [i]Keeping him from repeating second-degree murder as a driver will be a prison accomplishment, but it’s hardly a great solution for the bigger issues involved.[/i]

    Agree.

    But I don’t care so much about him since he made his fatal decision to drive dunk again after receiving two DUIs. Consider how many other times he must have driven drunk besides these three occasions, and how many other people nearly died because of it.

    I think the solution to something like this, if there is one, has to happen in a person’s young years. I suspect that Mr. Baird had some emotional and developmental deficits. He probably didn’t not get enough early direction to help him counter something in his personality that would cause him to be so reckless and dangerous.

    But at this point it is a “too bad, so sad” situation. There is nothing reasonable we can do about a person that is that much of a danger. It has been proven over and over that a person that continues to get DUIs will eventually hurt or kill someone from dinking and driving unless he/she is incarcerated.

    And consider that taking away the right to drive will prevent most people from being able to make a living. So, in this case it might be more humane to lock them up so they get three-squares and free healthcare.

  24. JustSaying

    I’d rather leave it to the judges to judge the defendants and the situation in order to sentence. Mandatory sentences make little sense to me. However. It takes only one “liberal” sentence followed by a rape or murder to generate calls for mandatory minimums.

    In this most egregious case, though, the judge would have given life even if she had the discretion. And, it’s not like “life” is really “life.”

    If you feel 23 years is too much here, what do you think is the right number of years?

    “…the person is not a general danger, he’s only a danger when he’s drinking and driving, that gives us some additional leeway to work… “

    This is why I’d rather have judges decide what’s appropriate. They’ve been known to come up with some innovative options.

    I question that he’s “not a general danger”–alcohol and cars are easy to come by and it’s difficult for addictive, reckless people to avoid getting caught up again.

    There’ll be more additional leeway as technology advances. Keeping Mr. Baird tethered to an alarm and camera connected to a computer with GPS that would keep him from traveling faster than 20 mph without permission, for example, might work. Would this be less cruel and unusual than prison?

    What would you see as the restorative justice element in this case?

  25. David M. Greenwald

    A restorative element here would be for there to be a victim-offender mediation, where Baird sat down with the remaining victims and their families (of all three), and they figure out ways for him to make amends.

  26. JustSaying

    “But I don’t care so much about him since he made his fatal decision to drive dunk again after receiving two DUIs….”

    Isn’t this really the key to why we even engage in these discussions? Should we care much about anyone who has carried out mayhem on others?

    What if the killer was only 14 or had an IQ of 65? Or was drunk or mentally ill or threatened or addicted?

    What if the victim was our daughter or a neighbor or of the same religion or race?

    What if nobody died or was physically injured, but the crook scammed millions by wiping out old folks’ investment accounts?

    Would we care much about any perpetrators? Should we care? Don’t lawbreakers pretty much deserve what they get?

  27. JustSaying

    “A restorative element here would be for there to be a victim-offender mediation, where Baird sat down with the remaining victims and their families (of all three), and they figure out ways for him to make amends.”

    Sounds good. Details please.

    How long would you have him in prison? Does this element replace any part of his incarceration.

    How would you impose this element on Mr. Baird? When would you have it start? How would you monitor its success?

    What are examples of things you think Mr. Baird could do to make amends to the relatives of dead or comatose victims?

  28. Mr.Toad

    I care more that there be a fool proof way to keep him from driving more than the terms of his incarceration. For all I care he could be on an honor farm or something i just don’t want him to be free enough to gain access to a car.

  29. SouthofDavis

    Mr Toad wrote:

    > The second time after an injury but before a fatality
    > might have been a time for restorative justice.

    I am a big fan of restorative justice, but only when you can “restore” something (say painting over graffiti or paying rehab for and working with someone you injured helping them do yard work and other tasks as they go through rehab). Unless this guy can bring someone back from the dead I don’t think we should be talking about “restorative” justice.

    Davis Progressive wrote:

    > how about gps house arrest with breathalyzer and
    > no driving privileges for 25 years?

    I wonder if Davis Progressive will offer to let this guy live in his “house” for the next 25 years? Not many people (even parents) are going to commit to taking care of a killer who is locked in their house for the next 25 years so the only real option for these people is to lock them up in the “big house”.

    P.S. Since this guy has been “convicted” of two DUIs he has probably “driven” drunk at least 100 times.

    P.P.S. In California after your second DUI you have to sign something that says:

    “I understand that being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, impairs my ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Therfore, it is extremely dangerous to human life to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both. If I continue to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, and as a result of my driving, someone is killed, I can be charged with murder.”

  30. jimt

    Forgive my ignorance of the law; but does gross negligence elevate the charge from manslaughter to murder? I disagree with the murder charge/conviction; but do agree that it was manslaughter with some gross negligence or reckless disregard component.

    I think he should get a few years of jail for manslaughter. After that, several more years of parole and community service; and perhaps a decade of no drivers license (of course difficult to prevent him from driving illegally; his own car or a friends). After that, special drivers license enabling him to drive only car outfitted with breathalyzer (pass required for ignition to work and start engine) for remainder of his life.
    The murder 2 conviction seems too harsh to me; but admit I’m not up on the law distinguishing murder 2 from manslaughter. Like other posters; I would mainly just want to ensure this guy doesn’t drive again for a decade or more–problem is how to ensure he doesn’t drive illegally (unlicensed) if he is out of jail…

  31. jimt

    Seems to me after a 2nd DUI conviction; the perp should qualify only for a special drivers license permitting him to drive only a vehicle outfitted with a breathalyzer (pass required for ignition to work and start engine).

  32. SouthofDavis

    jimt wrote:

    > Seems to me after a 2nd DUI conviction; the perp
    > should qualify only for a special drivers license
    > permitting him to drive only a vehicle outfitted
    > with a breathalyzer

    According to the NHTSA:

    “State motor vehicle officials estimate that “as high as 80 percent” of the people with suspended or revoked licenses are continuing to operate motor vehicles.”

    Most drunks will just borrow a car (or buy a used $1,000 car) so they can keep drinking and driving…

  33. jimt

    SouthofDavis–Yikes! I didn’t know that the majority of those with revoked/suspended licenses actually keep driving illegally! Bad News!
    I guess with GPS monitoring, that restricts his permission/ability to ride along as passenger; though house confinement beats prison (both for the convict and taxpayer); but also restricts his ability to get to a workplace and earn a living?

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