Recently in DUI Manslaughter Category

May 6, 2013

Judge Overturns DUI Manslaughter Conviction

A Palm Beach County Circuit Court judge overturned a DUI manslaughter conviction as a result of juror misconduct. In 2012, Jon Goodman, a well-known multi-millionaire, was convicted after a jury trial of DUI manslaughter. The victim in the case, Scott Wilson, was a University of Central Florida graduate that was residing in Palm, Beach County at the time of his death. Roy Black, a well-known Miami criminal defense lawyer, took the lead in the case. Despite a creative defense, his client was convicted of DUI manslaughter.

It is alleged that Goodman left the International Polo Club after consuming numerous alcoholic beverages. After leaving the club, Goodman's Bentley crashed into Wilson's Hyundai, causing the vehicle to enter a drainage canal. Smith ultimately died as a result of drowning. Criminal investigators determined that Goodman's blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit of .08 in the State of Florida. Traffic crash re-constructionists determined that Goodman's vehicle ran a stop sign and then crashed into Smith vehicle. Goodman was charged with DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide and assorted other offenses.

At some point after the conviction, the criminal attorneys representing Goodman became aware of juror misconduct. One of the jurors, Dennis DeMartin was involved in at least two instances of misconduct. First, he deliberately failed to disclose during jury selection that his wife had been previously arrested for driving under the influence (DUI). Secondly, he conducted a unauthorized alcohol consumption experiment in his own home during the pendency of the jury trial. That was enough for the circuit court judge who presided over the trial to grant Goodman a new trial. Judge Jeffrey Colbath stated, "The cumulative affects of DeMartin's antics transformed an imperfect but fair trial into a constitutionally impermissible proceeding. Every person charged with a crime deserves a fair trial with out the likes of Dennis DeMartin. To allow this conviction to stand...would erode the integrity of the legal system."

The victim's parents are disappointed with the overturning of the conviction, but have vowed to continue the pursuit of justice and prosecute the person allegedly responsible for their son's death. Despite the judge's ruling, prosecutors have a good shot at a second trial if a plea deal is not reached. As a high-profile media case with victim's that are dedicated to the cause, it is highly unlikely that a reasonable plea offer will extended to Goodman. Unless, there is a evidentiary problem with case, a second trial is certainly in the cards.

DUI manslaughter is obviously the most serious criminal traffic offense in the State of Florida. To prove the offense, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) a defendant was in actual physical control of the motor vehicle, (2) while in control of the vehicle, the defendant was under the influence of alcohol to the extent that his or her normal faculties were impaired or that the blood or breath alcohol level was .08 or more, and (3) the defendant's operation of the vehicle caused or contributed to death of the victim. DUI manslaughter is a second degree felony punishable up to 15 years in prison.

Palm Beach Polo Mogul's Conviction Overturned, Huffington Post.com, May 4, 2013.

February 19, 2013

South Beach Bartender Charged with DUI Manslaughter

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.

March 5, 2012

DUI Manslaughter Trial to Begin in Palm Beach

One of South Florida's rich and famous personalties is set to begin a trial where he is charged with DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide. According to the charging documents, John Goodman, is accused of causing the death of another motorist by operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. On February 12, 2010, the defendant allegedly drank too much and collided with a vehicle operated by a recent graduate of Central Florida. If convicted on all charges, Goodman is facing up to 30 years in the state prison. The criminal defense attorney representing Goodman has had two years to prepare the case for trial. While DUI manslaughter cases occur around the state, this case has garnered a lot of media attention, largely because of the status of the defendant.

Court documents and police reports allege that the defendant was speeding along a road in Palm Beach County in his convertible Bentley when he struck a Hyundai being operated by recent college graduate, Scott Wilson. The collision purportedly caused Wilson's vehicle to crash into a canal. Wilson could not escape, as he was wearing his seatbelt and could not remove himself from the upside down vehicle and drowned as a result. Accusations include the fact that the defendant was speeding and ran a stop sign causing the crash. It is also alleged that the defendant fled the scene after the accident, failing to render aid to the victim. As a result, the defendant is also charged with leaving the scene of an accident (LSA) that resulted in death.

If the allegations are true that the defendant fled the scene, the biggest hurdle for the prosecution is to prove that the defendant was impaired and in actual physical control of the vehicle. To prove the offense of DUI manslaughter, the prosecution must prove three elements. First, the state must prove that a defendant was in actual physical control of a vehicle. This is typically proven by a wheel witness, or in other words, a witness who can place a defendant behind the wheel at the time of the accident. The state can also prove actual physical control using forensic evidence left behind, such as DNA, taken from blood samples the driver may have left as a result of the accident. Secondly, the state must prove that a defendant was under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, chemical substance, or controlled substance to the extent his or her normal faculties were impaired or that a defendant had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or more. In cases involving accidents with serious bodily injury, blood samples can being taken as long as probable cause exists that DUI was the cause of the accident. Third, the fact that a defendant was DUI was the proximate cause of the death of the victim.

According to reports, Goodman made contact with a civilian witness. The testimony of this witness will be crucial to the state in proving whether the defendant was under the influence of alcohol. Testimony regarding alcohol on the breath, blood shot eyes, slurred speech and a flushed face are all indicia of being under the influence of alcohol. However, many of these indicia can be explained away by other external factors. The BAC is the best evidence that the prosecution can present to the jury. If a DUI charge is weak, the prosecution will also charge vehicular manslaughter which is established by different elements. The state will be required to prove that a defendant operated a vehicle in a reckless manner which was likely to cause death or great bodily harm. The allegations of speeding and running a stop sign at night could be enough to obtain a conviction for vehicular manslaughter. Both DUI and vehicular manslaughter are second degree felonies punishable up to 15 years in prison. If a jury convicts on both counts, the penalties can be enforced concurrently leaving a defendant looking at 30 years in state prison.

Houston Millionaire's Trial in Fatal DUI Crash Starts Tuesday in Florida, Chron.com, March 4, 2012.