By Susana Jurado
RIVERSIDE COUNTY – A woman in Riverside County Superior Court, charged with two counts of driving under the influence and a violation of probation, desperately put herself on the court calendar before her next court date to be before Judge Emily A. Benjamini to remove a bench warrant issued for her arrest.
According to the court, the defendant, Vanessa Ramirez, violated her probation from a previous charge of driving under the influence and failed to attend the required alcohol program classes. A bench warrant was issued for her arrest in Riverside County, and her arraignment for both charges was originally set to be on Oct. 7.
However, due to financial strain, Ramirez felt forced to come to court earlier and has requested the court to hear her out on starting the alcohol program as soon as possible. She claimed the DMV would not give her a restricted license to drive because of her lack of enrollment in the alcohol program.
Yet, by doing so, Ramirez risked receiving a double sentence because she would be receiving punishment twice for not doing both cases in her scheduled court date.
Ramirez could not reiterate enough just how much she needed to drive back and forth for work, and in turn pay for those same alcohol program classes.
“So, for my first offense, I had lost my job. I was supposed to be enrolled into the program, but I lost my job, and so I couldn’t pay for it. So, then that’s when I got the warrant,” Ramirez began explaining to the court.
Judge Benjamini tried to clarify the situation and said, “All right what I’m getting from your…”
Ramirez interrupted saying, “So, I was trying to get rid of the warrant and so I added myself on the [court] calendar so we can talk about my starting the [alcohol] program.”
Based on the information Ramirez provided, Judge Benjamini responded, “I understand, I think at this point it would be best to recall and quash the outstanding warrant. However, I do think it would be best to have both cases handled together on October 7.”
Ramirez agreed and further went on to explain her situation, “Yea, I’m just trying to figure this mess out. I’m trying to find a way to get a restricted license to get to work and back. The [DMV] told me that I can’t do that, until they see that I’m enrolled in a program.
“So that’s the reason why I added myself on calendar, to get in the program. The DMV said not until we see that you’re registered into a program, we’ll give you a restricted license to get to work and to get to the program,” Ramirez continued.
Deputy District Attorney Brandon Smith, appointed to the case, spoke up, “You can reinstate her, your Honor.”
Judge Benjamini reassured Ramirez that the warrant for her arrest would be recalled and quashed. The judge also reinstated here a AB 541 program, a 3-month first-offender DUI program aimed to educate those who are subjected to court discipline for alcohol related violations.
However, the court appointment on that date only encompassed one charge, and would create a double sentence for Ramirez if she went through with this new reinstatement.
“The issue is with case number 2 pending; she may end up having to do a different program,” stated Judge Benjamini.
He then clarified to Ramirez what would happen if they began reinstating her into the program that day, stating, “You should know that if you enroll and complete the class, you may very well have to do it all over again.”
Ramirez said, “I understand. I just—I need to get to work. I’ve only been taking the bus, that’s how I got here.”
The district attorney turned to the judge and said as long as Ramirez was aware of what her sentence would look like, they could go through with it. Yet, he did take the time to ask, “I’m fine if she wants to…I mean as long as she’s aware she might have to do it again after. I’d also defer to the court if the court has a better solution? Or thinks we should wait?”
After hearing all the discussion, the judge proposed to give Ramirez an early referral for the alcohol program, AB 541, and would thereby rule that no further action would take place on the violation of probation until her completion of the alcohol program.
Judge Benjamini ruled an early referral for Ramirez for AB 541 and continued both cases to Oct. 7 at 8:30 a.m.
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