AP NEWS

System failed to keep serial DWI defendant off road

December 30, 2018

Serial DWI defendants don’t belong behind the wheel.

There are laws to prevent that, but regrettably things often don’t work out like they are intended.

The case of 37-year-old James Preston Green, a four-time convicted DWI defendant, is a perfect example of how the checks and balances intended to make our thoroughfares safe don’t always do that.

Often, criminal defendants who are dealt minor slaps on the wrists as punishment, such as Green, come to light only after a tragic roadway incident. Bexar County motorists appear to have caught a break in the Green case. After more than a decade of sweetheart deals from the criminal justice system, Green spent the holiday season in the Bexar County lockup.

Earlier this month, State District Judge Ron Rangel issued a warrant for Green’s arrest for violation of the terms of his DWI probation, just as the findings of a monthslong investigation into Green’s criminal history by Express-News journalist Brian Chasnoff was going to press.

Green had pleaded no contest to driving while intoxicated in October and was given a six-year probated sentence — a pretty light sentence considering Green was already on DWI probation when he was arrested in this latest case, after rear-ending another vehicle at high speed on Wurzbach Parkway in January. Never mind that Green’s blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit or that he had two felony domestic-violence charges pending.

Green was facing up to 20 years in prison on the drunken-driving charges when he went to court. That he managed to come out of the mess with a probated sentence — and two domestic violence cases dismissed — is pretty remarkable.

This raised suspicions of preferential treatment: District Attorney Nico LaHood led a prayer group attended by Green’s father, a local jeweler and former Fiesta Rey Feo. The district attorney’s office said LaHood played no role in prosecutors’ recommendation in the case.

Rangel told Chasnoff he had no choice but to accept the plea bargain presented by LaHood’s prosecutors.

That’s not just wrong, it’s unacceptable. Judges are an essential part of our judicial system of checks and balances. They are not obligated to rubber-stamp or accept plea bargains, especially for defendants with troubling criminal histories.

But Rangel is not the only judge who needs to be held accountable in this case.

Judge Randy Gray of Comal County did the public no favor when he did not require Green to complete the terms of his probation on a 2011 conviction. The terms included treatment for substance abuse. Gray said that was difficult to enforce because the defendant did not live in the county.

Green was still on probation in Gray’s court when he picked up his fourth DWI in Guadalupe County in 2013. District Judge Gary Steel gave him 10 days in jail, six years probation, a fine, participation in an outpatient substance abuse program, and drug and alcohol testing. He ended up violating the terms of that probation too.

After his Guadalupe County arrest, the Comal judge extended Green’s probation for a year and subsequently released him from probation.

By the time he went before Rangel, Green had been charged with DWI five times, but one of those, a case in 2008, had been dismissed. Consider: There are defendants with fewer DWIs on their record sheets serving time in Texas penitentiaries.

Green’s rap sheet includes incidents in Comal, Guadalupe and Bexar counties. Judges in each of those jurisdictions should have taken Green off the road a long time ago. Instead they each handled the case before them as isolated incidents and failed to view the bigger, troubling picture Green presented.

The criminal justice system cannot operate that way. And asking why it did in this instance is a perfectly legitimate line of inquiry.

AP RADIO
Update hourly