SAN DIEGO — On Wednesday, a judge reduced the sentence for a man serving time for driving under the influence in a deadly 2018 crash.
Rene Ruiz will now avoid that sentence on part of a re-sentencing law now that went into effect last year. Under Penal Code 654, it gives the court discretion when sentencing two charges that essentially cover the same conduct.
Click here to view the Penal Code 654.
“I’m going to be perfectly clear: at the time of sentencing, this was not an easy case for the court,” said the San Diego County judge.
In 2018, Ruiz was found to be driving under the influence of methamphetamine and Xanax when he crashed his vehicle, in turn, killing one of his passengers — a woman named Melani Feliciano.
Under Penal Code 654, it states while a person may be charged and convicted of more than one crime covering the same conduct, the court can chose to punish on the lesser charge.
A jury found Ruiz guilty of murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and driving under the influence causing injury.
In December 2021, the court originally sentenced Ruiz to 15 years to life for murder. However sentencing did not finalize in 2021, which allowed the defense to appeal when Penal Code 654 (enacted in January 2022).
Ruiz’s attorney, John O’Connell, argued his client faced childhood trauma, drug abuse, has undergone drug treatments previously and says his remorse should be taken into consideration.
However, deputy district attorney Laura Evans argues that does not excuse the murder. Instead, Evans argues Ruiz’s extensive criminal history dating back to when he was just a juvenile shows he knew the consequences.
With Penal Code 654, the judge resentenced Ruiz to the lesser charge of gross vehicular manslaughter.
Evans explained, “Nothing was necessarily dismissed, nothing was taken away. It’s simple — a different sentence for a different charge.”
Ruiz does get credit for time served of more than four years.
“My argument was for 15 to life. I think that would have been the appropriate sentence given the behavior, although I understand the judge felt differently,” Evans said.