The other day, I posted about the sentencing for the defendant in the Rickenbacker Causeway hit and run.
The defendant had pleaded guilty to one count of leaving the scene of an accident causing death, in addition to other charges.
In an open plea to the court (not a negotiated plea between the state and the defense), a sentencing date was set whereby the defense put on evidence to show the court why the accused should receive some measure of leniency.
The defense put on expert testimony showing the court that the accused suffered from an immune system disease that would place the accused in grave danger should he be sentenced to prison. The defense also put on the testimony of a former Florida prison warden who testified as to the living conditions in prison, which would obviously bring about illness for somebody with a weakened immune system.
The state asked the court to sentence the accused to six years in state prison followed by five years of probation. The accused's guidelines per the Florida Criminal Punishment Code were about 21 months up to 30 years.
While the judge did not necessarily depart downward from the bottom of the guidelines, the judge sentenced the defendant to 21 months followed by 2 years of community control (house arrest). However, the judge structured the sentence so that the accused did not get credit for the one year he had served in custody prior to sentencing. To avoid being sent to state prison (which was the goal of the defense), the judge sentenced the accused to another 364 days in county jail with no credit for time served. In all, the total in-custody portion of the sentence will be roughly 2 years.
After his release from jail, the accused will serve 2 years of house arrest.
The sentence was not well taken by the family of the alleged victim, who wanted the judge to sentence him to 6 years in prison.
In my experience, the family of an alleged victim holds great influence over the prosecutor in a case involving death or serious injury. Had the defense and the state agreed to a plea, it likely would have been 6 years in prison followed by 5 years probation.
However, so long as the judge makes the appropriate findings, Florida law allows the court to impose sentence despite the wishes of the state and the family of the alleged victim.
People are free to form their opinions as to whether the sentence was just or unfair. However, it is important to remember that a judiciary free of political pressure and undue influence is critical to the administration of justice.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving Miami-Dade and Broward.