A 32 year-old man who had previously been sentenced to 12 years in prison upon pleading guilty to DUI manslaughter was re-sentenced in Miami-Dade Circuit Court to a 5-year prison term.
The procedural history of this case is complicated.
The crime occurred back in 2008. The defendant was driving in Coral Gables, reportedly with a blood-alcohol level of .14, when he struck and killed a jogger. The jogger had stopped in the middle of an unlit street to change the song on his iPod when the defendant struck him, killing him.
DUI manslaughter is not merely a DUI charge. The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol AND that the impairment was the cause of the death of another. It is possible for a jury to convict a DUI manslaughter defendant of misdemeanor DUI as a lesser-included offense while acquitting the defendant of the manslaughter charge.
This is a common problem that prosecutors face. If the state cannot prove causation between the impairment and the crash, then they cannot proceed on a DUI manslaughter charge.
Knowing that there were weaknesses in the case, the state allegedly offered the defense attorney a plea that would require his client to serve 180 days in county jail. The defendant claimed - and his former attorney admitted - that the plea was never conveyed.
Upon the advice of his attorney, the defendant entered an open plea to the court and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The defendant was sent to state prison where he began filing a series of post-conviction motions. On the basis that the 180-day plea was never conveyed by the defendant’s attorney, the judge set aside the conviction and the case was reopened. The defendant, who had been serving his prison sentence, was released and his DUI manslaughter case was, again, set for trial.
Finally, after nearly 8 years, the case was resolved with a plea of 5 years in state prison. The defendant will get credit for all of the time he spent in county jail and in state prison.
The statutory maximum for DUI manslaughter is 15 years in prison with a mandatory 4-year sentence.
Eric Matheny is a Miami DUI manslaughter lawyer and Broward DUI manslaughter lawyer.