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Nevada’s DUI sentences scrutinized ahead of Henry Ruggs plea deal

Updated May 10, 2023 - 7:36 am

Should former Raiders player Henry Ruggs move forward with a guilty plea on Wednesday, he is expected to face a minimum of three years in prison for a fatal crash that killed a 23-year-old woman and her dog.

Under Nevada law, anyone convicted of DUI resulting in death or substantial bodily harm must spend a minimum of two years behind bars. And while Ruggs initially faced two DUI counts and other charges, his attorneys negotiated a sentence where he would serve three to 10 years in prison on one count of DUI and a vehicular manslaughter misdemeanor count.

The case could still go to trial if Ruggs decides not to plead guilty in District Court, or he decides to withdraw the plea if a judge does not abide by the sentencing agreement.

But Brennan White, the victim service specialist for the Southern Nevada chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said she doesn’t believe Ruggs’ potential sentence matches the “heinousness of this crime.”

“Of course we want the highest amount possible,” she said. “But ultimately we just stand with the victim’s family and whatever they feel is right for them.”

David Chesnoff, one of Ruggs’ defense attorneys, declined to comment on the stipulated sentence before the case was resolved.

Ruggs is accused of driving up to 156 mph on a residential street seconds before slamming into the back of Tina Tintor’s car on Nov. 2, 2021. Tintor’s car burst into flames, trapping her and her dog inside. Prosecutors have said that after the crash, Ruggs’ blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit for drivers in Nevada.

‘The public is not being deterred’

Criminal sentencings in fatal drunk driving crashes can vary widely.

In November 2018, then-prosecutor Thomas Moskal was tasked with asking a judge to send Aylin Alderette, who pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and causing a crash that killed 8-year-old Levi Echenique, to prison.

Alderette was accused of driving more than 100 mph with marijuana in her system when she slammed into the Echenique family’s car.

The judge sentenced Alderette to serve up to 65 years in prison, after Moskal, who now works as a defense attorney, pushed for a sentence that would result in “retribution and public deterrence.” Alderette was initially charged with second-degree murder, but the Nevada Supreme Court has since overturned the charge, and she is scheduled to be sentenced again in June, court records show.

Nearly five years after Alderette’s first sentencing, Moskal said he doesn’t believe harsher sentences actually prevent future DUIs.

“They don’t work,” Moskal said. “The public is not being deterred from committing crimes based on what they see in the news.”

Police data show that the number of fatal DUI crashes investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department has not decreased significantly in recent years.

In 2018, the department logged 54 DUI fatalities, according to online Metro data. The number decreased slightly during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the decrease didn’t last after lockdowns lifted. Last year, the department recorded 65 DUI fatalities in Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County.

Moskal said that when he was a chief deputy district attorney, he would often make a “public deterrence” argument in court. But now, Moskal said he believes any deterrence effect on future DUIs would only happen in a “small subset” of highly publicized cases, such as Ruggs or Scott Gragson, a Las Vegas real estate broker currently serving an eight to 20-year sentence at a minimum-security prison camp for a fatal 2019 DUI crash.

Moskal said that the plea deal for Ruggs likely hinged on a dispute over a search warrant in the case. Ruggs’ defense attorneys have argued that police didn’t have probable cause to ask a judge for a warrant to obtain Ruggs’ blood at the hospital.

“If the case was rock solid all the way around, then Ruggs would not have gotten the deal that he got,” Moskal said.

Eric Bauman, the lead prosecutor on the Ruggs’ case, declined to comment on the search warrant last week.

Prevention efforts

White said lawmakers could work to change Nevada’s DUI laws to act as a deterrent to drinking and driving. She said Nevada could separate the crime of DUI resulting in death or substantial bodily harm into two offenses, so that an intoxicated driver who caused a fatal crash could face a harsher penalty than one who injured another person. Nevada also doesn’t have a law holding bartenders accountable for continuing to serve an intoxicated person who goes on to drive, she said.

“Nevada does need stronger DUI laws,” White said. “It is quite difficult to get those passed, which is why our DUI laws have been the same for quite some time.”

Meanwhile, Moskal said officials could also work to prevent DUIs by placing repeat offenders awaiting trial on an ankle monitor as a bail condition, or increasing access to public transportation so people don’t have to rely on ride-sharing services.

“I know the argument on the other side is, well, don’t go out drinking,” Moskal said. “But that’s not a solution-driven argument.”

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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