A Mexican national who has lived in the U.S. illegally for 28 years and has been deported five times was sentenced Monday to nine months in jail for his third drunken-driving offense in Chesterfield County and felony identity fraud.
The defendant, Mario Santos-Ochoa, now faces deportation again after serving his time. Immigration authorities have placed a detainer on him.
Santos-Ochoa, 44, has been raising a family with four children — the oldest is 21 — during his unlawful stay in the U.S. over the past three decades, his attorney said in court Monday.
He previously was removed from the country on five prior occasions from September 1997 to September 2014, and after his last removal, “he illegally re-entered the United States again at some point thereafter,” said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Carissa Cutrell.
He was convicted three times in federal court in Texas of re-entering the U.S. after being deported — in 2009, 2011 and 2012 — and sentenced to seven months, 180 days and 15 months, respectively, in federal prison, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court in southern Texas.
According to evidence in his most recent DUI case, a Chesterfield officer was driving on Hopkins Road about 2:45 a.m. on Nov. 4 when Santos-Ochoa made a sudden lane change and the officer had to jam on her brakes to avoid hitting him, Chesterfield prosecutor Ben Garrison told the court. The officer safely pulled him over near McHoward Road.
Santos-Ochoa’s blood alcohol content registered 0.11 percent, or 0.3 of a percent above the legal driving limit of 0.08 percent.
Garrison noted that Santos-Ochoa was convicted just two years ago of his second DUI, which followed his first in 2009. He also has been convicted three times of giving a false identify to police.
“He is a danger to Chesterfield and a danger to the community,” Garrison said.
Garrison urged the court to sentence Santos-Ochoa at the high end of discretionary state sentencing guidelines, which called for an active jail term of seven months on the low end and 11 month at the high end.
Catherine Lawler, the defendant’s attorney, told the court that her client is a hard-working family man with four children, ranging in age from 9 to 21. They are all U.S. citizens because they were born here.
Lawler said Santos-Ochoa has no prior convictions for drugs or violence. “His record has to do with alcohol and illegal re-entry,” the attorney said.
She noted that in the case of his last DUI in August 2015, for which he was convicted in February 2016, he registered a similar, relatively low but illegal blood alcohol level of 0.12.
After Santos-Ochoa was stopped by police, Lawler said, he initially didn’t provide the officer with a false name. He had no driver’s license, and when the officer insisted he produce something, he presented a card with another person’s name on it. Garrison said the card was a contractor ID.
“He certainly made a mistake” and has spent the last nine months paying for it in jail, Lawler said.
Lawler also told the court that Santos-Ochoa doesn’t believe he has an alcohol problem. She attributed his drinking habits to cultural differences in the use of alcohol.
However, when he was sentenced in federal court in 2012 for re-entering the U.S. after being deported, the court recommended he be placed in an institution where he could receive drug and alcohol abuse treatment, documents show.
Apparently taking into account that immigration authorities have placed a detainer on Santos-Ochoa, which makes him subject to deportation, Chesterfield Circuit Judge Frederick G. Rockwell III sentenced him to five years in prison with all but seven months suspended on the felony third offense DUI charge and fined him $1,000.
The judge sentenced him to an additional five years with all but two months suspended on the felony identify fraud count.
The judge told the defendant, who can speak and understand English, that if he returns to the U.S. after being deported and is caught again, he could face up to nine years and three months in prison — the portion of his sentence that was suspended Monday.