South Beach Bartender Charged with DUI Manslaughter

February 19, 2013

The stakes went up in the case involving the South Beach bartender who allegedly killed a chef on his way to work. Karlie Tomica was originally arrested for leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death. After the blood alcohol level purportedly revealed a result three times the legal limit, Tomica was hauled back into to court where prosecutors from the Miami-Dade-County State Attorney's Office amended the information charging her with DUI manslaughter. The defendant appeared with her Miami criminal attorney who again entered a not guilty plea to the amended charging document and requested any additional evidence that the prosecution intends to use to prove the additional charges.

Miami Beach police believe that Tomica left her bartending job at Nikki Beach under the influence of alcohol and crashed into a 49 year-old chef, Stefano Riccioletti while he walking to work on Collins Avenue. Riccioletti was married with three children at the time of his demise. According to police reports, the vehicle that Tomica was operating struck Riccioletti causing his body to be thrown 30 feet from the point of impact. A witness that observed the accident called 911 and followed the defendant's vehicle 40 blocks to her Miami Beach apartment. Police later arrested her at her apartment for leaving the scene of an accident. She was not arrested for DUI manslaughter on the night of the incident as the police and prosecutors did not have the result of her blood alcohol level.

The allegations made by the police and the state attorney's office appear to make an open and shut case. DUI manslaughter cases are not as simple to prove as the media reports would have you believe. To prove DUI manslaughter, the prosecution must prove that the defendant was in actual physical control of a motor vehicle. The only viable witness that can apparently put Tomica behind the wheel of the vehicle of the accident is the witness that called 911 and followed her to her home. The mere identification of the vehicle is not enough. The witness must be able to identify her as the person behind the wheel. The accident occurred at night which would make the identification of the defendant while driving very difficult. The witness may have observed the defendant exit her vehicle at her condo which would make for a much more plausible identification. The defendant may have admitted to driving the vehicle after she was arrested a provided Miranda warnings. Only through the discovery process will her defense attorney be able to determine how the prosecution intends to prove actual physical control.

The prosecution also has to prove that Tomica was under the influence of alcohol to the extent that her normal faculties were impaired. The state can prove this element in one of two ways. They can show that her normal faculties were impaired by the results of field sobriety exercises or even by a actions, reactions, physical appearance at the time of her arrest, even in the event field sobriety exercises were not requested or not performed. Police officers can also testify that she had the odor of alcohol on her breath or blood shot eyes to prove impairment. The state will try to rely on the results of the blood alcohol level which is a far more objective test. The defense will have to hire a toxicologist to re-test the blood and to ensure that the blood was draw legally with a proper chain of custody.

The last hurdle the prosecution will have to overcome is the element of causation. They will have to prove that Tomica was the cause of the accident and not Riccioletti. The defense will have to hire an accident reconstruction expert to determine where the collision occurred and if in fact that the victim's action played a contributing role in the accident. To successfully defend DUI manslaughter cases, experts must be hired to establish a viable defense to this very serious charge. Tomica is facing up to 30 years in prison with 4 year minimum mandatory sentence. While that sentence is a worst case scenario, defendants charged with DUI manslaughter often serve terms of imprisonment. Depending on the strengths and weakness of the case, along with the input of the victim's next of kin, the state will make a plea offer down the road.. Only time will tell what that number will be.

"Party Princess" Karli Tomica Faces DUI Manslaughter Charge, ABC News.com, February 19, 2013.