In a bid aimed partly at ensuring her driving privileges are never restored, a Ukiah woman with a history of drunken driving is being prosecuted for assault with a deadly weapon after she reportedly plowed through a fence and rammed a neighbor's house.
If intoxication is proved to be a factor in the May 26 incident, it would be Joan Ellen Rainville's second alcohol-related crash this year and her fifth impaired-driving offense since 1996, Deputy Mendocino County District Attorney Matt Hubley said.
The unique charging strategy reflects prosecutors' alarm over Rainville's driving record, which includes three alcohol-related crashes since 2005, all involving blood-alcohol levels three or four times the legal limit of 0.08 percent, Hubley said.
Charged strictly with a DUI case, Rainville, 53, would face a mere misdemeanor because only three of the incidents, including the latest, occurred within the past decade. The others were in 1996 and 2001. Absent a death or serious injury, it takes four offenses within a decade to charge a felony.
Her maximum penalty with a misdemeanor conviction would be a year in county jail.
But a felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon — the 2008 Toyota Camry she was driving — could get her four years in prison and permanent revocation of her license, Hubley said.
"Enough is enough," he said.
Assault with a deadly weapon charges involving vehicles are not uncommon but usually involve road-rage incidents, a suspect trying to escape arrest or some other deliberate effort to run a person down.
Some states also permit felony assault charges to be filed when an injury results from drunken driving.
In Rainville's case, the premise for the assault charge stems from a court warning issued to those who are convicted of alcohol-related driving offenses in California.
The warning states that driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol impairs one's ability to safely operate a vehicle and is "extremely dangerous to human life."
It also acknowledges that an impaired driver who kills someone can be charged with murder. Defendants generally must sign a form acknowledging they've been duly warned.
This Watson Advisement is based on a 1981 California Supreme Court ruling that permits prosecutors to use "implied malice," rather than a purposeful act, as a basis for mounting second-degree murder charges against defendants who takes a life through impaired driving.
Rainville received the notification in April — orally and in writing — when she pleaded guilty to a Feb. 10 incident in which she rear-ended a car stopped at a red light on South State Street in Ukiah. Minutes earlier, she had stumbled and fallen coming out of the local movie theater, police said. She apparently returned to her car moments later.
Rainville's blood-alcohol level that time was 0.29 percent, well over three times the legal limit, Hubley said.
Her blood-alcohol in the 2005 case was 0.35 percent. It is not clear if the Watson warning was issued when she pleaded in that case to what's called a "wet reckless" charge, or alcohol-related reckless driving, he said.
Rainville, contacted by phone, said she wished she could talk but had been advised by her lawyer not to comment. Her attorney, Justin Petersen, did not return a phone call to his office.
But Hubley's theory is that Rainville, who describes herself as a recovering alcoholic, was duly aware of the danger she posed to others when she drove on the eve of Memorial Day.