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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.

Her neighbors, Blair and Clay Carlson, were hosting guests in the backyard of their Standley Street home when, just before 9 p.m., the Camry burst through their back fence from the parking lot for the apartment building where Rainville lives.

The car crossed the grass and slammed into the exterior wall of the master bedroom, police Capt. Justin Wyatt said.

Someone in the backyard "damn near got hit," Hubley said. The car did not enter the house, stopping several feet from a sleeping boy. No one was hurt.

The Camry driver, later identified as Rainville, reportedly was so impaired that bystanders had to turn off the engine and pull her from the car to prevent her from attempting to drive again, Wyatt said.

Prosecutors say her blood-alcohol level was at least 0.25 percent.

Rainville later told police her mother had been driving, though the older woman was nowhere around, Wyatt said.

Rainville was arrested for suspected drunken driving, but because of the crash just two months earlier also was booked on suspicion of violating probation, driving with a suspended license and driving without a required ignition interlock device.

Hubley added the assault charge after reviewing her record, noting the number of crashes and the tendency for high blood-alcohol concentrations.

California and the rest of the nation have taken an increasingly firm stance against impaired driving, raising penalties and expanding charging options. But attorneys interviewed for this story said they had never heard of prosecutors filing assault charges in a similar case, where no injuries occurred.

Sonoma County defense attorney Chris Andrian called the strategy "creative," "innovative," and "outside the box." His partner, Steve Gallenson, said it was unlikely to succeed.

"They're pushing the envelope there," Los Angeles-area DUI attorney Nigel Witham said.

Silas Miers, program manager for the California office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, referenced a 2005 Placer County case in which a drunken driver fatally struck a police officer. The driver was convicted of second-degree murder because of alcohol awareness training he received while an airman at Beale Air Force Base.

But Miers said he had not heard of a case like Rainville's.

Hubley said driving drunk is not so different from randomly firing a gun into the air and hoping no one gets hit.

But he says the Rainville case is a bit of a stretch. He will have to convince a judge the charge "is actually on point" when the case comes to court for a preliminary hearing July 9.

"I don't know of this being tried before," he said.

He hopes a judge will view the assault charge as a logical extension of the Watson warning.

"This is just a wonderful family that was sitting in their backyard doing everything right," he said. "And that's our job to protect them and everybody else like them. And this particular defendant has not got the picture through years and years and years."

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.