By Danielle Silva
A defendant, Carlos Alberto Muñoz, who faces a charge of driving with a suspended license, shared his history with mental illness and the lack of support from the court, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the district attorney’s office.
On July 1, 2018, two vehicles ended up in a minor collision in West Sacramento. Officer Travis Huddleston responded to the crash and asked Mr. Muñoz, who was one of the drivers, for his license. The defendant produced his ID and said he didn’t have his license. Officer Huddleston discovered through dispatch that the defendant’s license had been suspended. Muñoz shared that he had been wrongfully convicted, or accused, of a DUI and had his license suspended. He was in court today for continuing to drive with his license suspended.
In 2004, Mr. Muñoz had been involved in a DUI case where he said he had been wrongfully charged and taken into custody. He stated that the blood sample used to examine blood alcohol content had been from the other driver and not himself. In addition to the charges, the defendant had hit his head on the windshield, which was not treated. That injury now causes him to have blackouts.
The defense said the DUI charges were actually dismissed on the grounds that Mr. Muñoz was considered incompetent – a term used for individuals who cannot understand the nature of the trial or the charges. Mr. Muñoz’s family has had a history of mental illness, including a mother who suffered from mental illness and a brother who committed suicide. The defendant claims he hears voices and has never received a formal diagnosis, despite orders from the court for treatment. While in custody, Muñoz was forcibly medicated with tranquilizers. He would be released from jail in 2005, with his driver’s license.
In 2009, Mr. Muñoz discovered his license was suspended while attempting to renew his car’s registration. The DMV stated he still needed to take DUI classes in order to get his license back, despite his belief that the case had been dismissed. He found himself going to the DMV, the court, and the DA’s office to attempt to resolve the issue, but failed to receive support. Muñoz stated he would have to choose between his job and the classes. He would be dismissed from the DUI program after missing several classes. While he admits to driving with a suspended license, he wanted to make his story heard.
The defense argued that, although Mr. Muñoz knew his license was suspended, he did not have the capacity to understand what that suspension meant. While he attempted to meet the requirements of the DMV to remove the suspension, Muñoz believed all the charges had been dismissed due to the wrongfully charged crime. In addition, there was no receipt showing whether the defendant received this information in a way he could understand, be it through a mailed document or having the suspension explained to him in his native language. Without understanding what a suspended license meant, Mr. Muñoz couldn’t have truly known what a suspended driving privilege meant.
In the prosecution’s argument, it was asserted that Mr. Muñoz knew he had a suspended license. In body camera footage from Officer Huddleston, the defendant states he does not have his license with him. Because Mr. Muñoz understood that his license was not valid, the prosecution believes he should be considered guilty of driving with a suspended license.