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California Woman Sentenced to Four Years for Wine-Tasting DUI

Wine tasting in California's Sonoma Valley is one of the state's most popular tourist activities. Described in tourist literature as a patchwork of vineyards, quaint farms, and scenic parkland, the area is toured by thousands of motorists tour annually. Therein lies the problem. Wine tasting and driving can lead to serious consequences.

Take the case of a 28-year-old San Francisco woman, for instance. Wine tasting with three of her friends, she was at the wheel of her car when it drove through a curve and struck an SUV broadside, killing two 77-year-old passengers of that vehicle. She pleaded guilty to two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. She testified that she did not believe she was intoxicated at the time of the accident, although her blood alcohol content (BAC) was tested at .10 percent. A medic and California Highway Patrol officer at the scene also apparently did not believe the driver was intoxicated.

The prosecutor requested that the defendant be sentenced to seven years in prison, arguing that probation would only send the wrong message to wine tasters who drink and drive in Sonoma County. The prosecutor further noted that the defendant had been a designated driver in the past and was well aware of the dangers of drunk driving. Members of the victim's family asked the judge for leniency in sentencing, stating that their deceased mother would not approve of seeking vengeance and would have seen that the defendant was truly remorseful. Two-thirds of the courtroom stood up when asked by defendant's attorney if they were there to show support for the defendant. They also volunteered to serve community service on behalf of the defendant.

The final sentence? Three years and eight months of prison time. The sentence consisted of two years for gross vehicular manslaughter, one year for causing bodily injury or death and eight months for a second gross vehicular manslaughter count. Several "enhancements" of the sentence were enforced. The defendant's BAC well in excess of the .08 percent threshold and the fact that the victims were elderly all required a longer prison sentence.

If you go wine tasting in Sonoma County, make sure you have a designated driver. And if you are arrested for drunk driving, make sure to consult with a competent DUI attorney.