There didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary when we first looked at the student interviewing with us for a law clerk position. He a pale, skinny man in his late 20s at the top of his class at a local law school. The interview was pretty normal until the very end, when our candidate asked about the background check he would have to pass if he were hired on. We explained that misdemeanor criminal convictions, like DUIs would probably not disqualify him. He said that he had a DUI, but that it was a felony. Neither my coworker nor I were very sophisticated about employment law; neither of us asked any follow up questions, probably on the assumption that we didn’t want to know more. Felony DUIs in California happen under two circumstances. Either you get three misdemeanor DUIs and your fourth is a felony, or your DUI causes someone injury. But in the moment, neither of us though about it much: we figured he would either pass a background check or he wouldn’t.
Later in the interview, the candidate mentioned that he worked for a non-profit expunging convictions. This brought me back to his question about our background check, so I asked him why he didn’t expunge his own conviction. He said that he looked into it but the best he could do was a certificate of rehabilitation. He said that you cannot get a conviction expunged if you did a certain amount of time in state prison. We were shocked that this candidate would have gone to state prison on a DUI. We asked him about that, and he said that the DA made him a bad deal. We thanked him for his time and finished the interview.
But something about what happened was stuck in my mind. We talked it over with another prosecutor, a ten year veteran, after the interview. As we were relating the story, and the candidate’s strange answers, a look of recognition seemed to come over his face. He asked, “what’s this guy’s last name?” We told him. “I know that guy! I remember that guy!” Ten years ago, when this prosecutor was new, he was assigned to a preliminary hearing department and actually handled this candidate’s case. We looked it up in the computer, and he was right. And what was even more extraordinary was that our colleague remembered the facts.
The candidate had a drinking problem when he was a younger man. Ten years ago, even before he was legal drinking age, the candidate had driven drunk. He crashed his car into a house. The car entered the bedroom window of the house and landed on the bed. The bed was not empty. The car crushed a person lying in the bed, breaking their back. The candidate, instead of remaining at the scene and aiding the victim, fled. He didn’t even call 911 to let them know that an ambulance was needed. When he returned home, he saw his father, who suspected that something was up. He asked his son if anything had happened, and the candidate drunkenly mumbled that he had crashed his car. His father feared the worst, and went out to look for his son’s crashed vehicle. He found it crashed into a house. The father approached the police and told them that the vehicle belonged to his son.
Later, in court, the father changed his mind. He hired a lawyer for his son, who rejected the people’s offer of 16 months at an early hearing. The father said he regretted ever cooperating. They did the preliminary hearing, which was held to answer, and then asked for the early offer again. The DA refused. The candidate ended up pleading to high term on a DUI with injury, with the agreement that the DA would strike the punishment for the great bodily injury enhancement. He was sentenced to three years, and did about half of it.