An immigrant in the country illegally who was tried twice on charges of driving while drunk and causing a crash in San Ysidro that seriously injured a 6-year-old boy will not be tried a third time, a judge ruled Friday.
The case against 39-year-old Constantino Banda Acosta, a Mexican citizen who has been deported from the United States more than a dozen times, was dismissed.
Chula Vista Superior Court Judge Stephanie Sontag had declared a mistrial on Monday after jurors informed her they were unable to reach verdicts on the felony charges, including hit-and-run causing serious injury and driving under the influence of alcohol.
In September, a different jury that had heard the case announced that it was deadlocked on the felony charges, but convicted him on misdemeanor counts of vandalism, battery and driving without a license.
Sontag on Friday sentenced Banda on the three misdemeanor convictions, giving him credit for the more than two years of time he has already served while going through the two trials.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Chandler said immigration authorities had placed a hold on Banda so that he is not released from custody before federal prosecutors decide whether to pursue charges.
Banda was arrested after the May 6 crash that left then-6-year-old Lennox Lake with serious injuries, including a fractured skull. The family had been returning home to San Ysidro from a trip to Disneyland.
The case drew national interest after federal authorities said Banda had repeatedly crossed the border illegally. He had been deported to Mexico or allowed to return there voluntarily 17 times since 2002, according to records from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Chandler argued in both trials that Banda was behind the wheel of a Chevrolet Silverado when he ran a stop sign and broadsided the Lake family’s Honda Accord.
Banda was in the driver’s seat of the pickup when Border Patrol agents pulled him from the vehicle less than two miles from the crash site.
Deputy Public Defender Juliana Humphrey contended that another man, Jorge Adame Ariza, was driving at the time of the crash.
Surveillance video shows Adame behind the wheel of the pickup earlier that evening when the pair left a Chula Vista restaurant.
Humphrey argued that police assumed too quickly that Banda was the driver, and they didn’t question Adame until three days after the crash.
Chandler has said that Banda and Adame switched seats before the crash because Adame did not have a driver’s license. Adame, who was in the country illegally, also testified that it was Banda who ran a stop sign and struck the Lake family’s car.
Littlefield writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune