By Carson Eschen and Michele Chadwick
FRESNO, CA – Before a Driving Under the Influence driver accepted a plea deal here in Fresno County Superior Court Wednesday, the judge paused court proceedings to ensure she truly understood the legal ramifications of her no-contest plea.
Rhonda Howard was initially charged with driving with a blood alcohol concentration above 0.08 percent and hit and run property damage on Jan. 5, 2020.
Howard approached an intersection in a parking lot at a high speed. She did not slow. and hit another vehicle before fleeing the scene, charged the prosecution.
Later, a witness found her, pulled over on the side of the road. The witness stopped to check on her and noticed she was smoking in the front seat of her running car.
The witness told police they reached in the window for the keys to turn off the car. As they did so, Howard allegedly bit them through their jacket sleeve, but did not break the skin while biting.
In the Wednesday hearing, the prosecution and public defender announced that they had reached agreement for Howard to plead no-contest to the first count, driving with a BAC above 0.08 percent, while the other charges would be dismissed.
Judge William Terrence asked Howard if she had had enough time to discuss the case with her attorney, to understand the full ramifications. Howard hesitated, but replied yes.
Rather than continuing with the standard proceedings, however, Judge Terrence asked again if Howard had had enough time to discuss all legal issues with her attorney, stating that he was happy to grant her more time to do that.
She said that she was satisfied with the agreement, but was concerned with the issue of community service. The judge clarified that they were only discussing the ramifications of a no-contest plea and the rights she was giving up by agreeing to the plea, rather than the potential sentence following the plea.
Ultimately, she agreed to the plea deal. She was sentenced to 72 hours of community service, a fine of $1,941 (to be halved upon completion of the Decisions for Life class), and the Level 1 DUI class.