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January 17, 2013

Hit and Run Driver Sentenced to Jail

A driver that struck and killed a bicyclist on the Rickenbacker Causeway was sentenced yesterday by a circuit court judge. The prosecution argued for a six year prison sentence. Apparently, the Miami criminal attorney representing the defendant convinced the judge that a six year sentenced was too harsh. Instead, the Miami-Dade County Circuit Court judge presiding over the case sentenced the defendant to 364 days in the county jail, followed by two years of community control. The defendant had already been in custody for a year when he was sentenced by the court. He was required to waive all his credit for time served in exchange for receiving the sentence. Family members of the deceased, as well as others, have complained that the sentence was too lenient. The defendant also happened to be on probation for possession of cocaine on the date of the offense.

The defendant allegedly struck two bicyclists at around 6 a.m. on the causeway. Rather than stopping his vehicle and attempting to render aid, he fled to his Key Biscayne condo. He returned home and reported the accident to his father. Rather than contacting the police, they placed a tarp over th vehicle to conceal the crime. A security guard at the condo called the police. Condo security cameras captured the heavily damaged vehicle enter the property with the defendant behind the wheel. Additional video captured the defendant unsteady on his feet walking through the parking lot and later returning to the vehicle with his father. The defendant was arrested for leaving the scene of the accident involving death, leaving the scene of the accident involving great bodily injury and driving with a suspended license.

In and of itself, the sentence is not outrageously low despite the complaints from relative and fellow bicyclists. The most surprising aspect of the sentence is the fact that judge gave little weight to the fact that the defendant was on probation at the time of the offense. Cocaine possession is a third degree felony punishable up to five years in prison. Defendants that violate probation on a third degree felony can be sentenced up to five years in prison if they are found to be in violation at a probation violation hearing. In any event, the judge, despite the probation violation, issued the aforementioned sentence over the objection of many.

The defendant was facing up to 35 years in prison which is the statutory maximum under the Florida criminal statutes. His guidelines were much lower as death points under the Florida Sentencing Guidelines are not applicable for leaving the scene of accident involving death. The defendant avoided possible DUI manslaughter charges which carries a significantly higher penalty than leaving the scene of the accident. Because the defendant was not apprehended until 18 hours after the accident, the evidence of impairment had already dissipated. The fact that the defendant was unsteady on his feet was not enough evidence to prove manslaughter as he had just been involved in a serious accident. Without a blood draw, which would have been taken at the scene had he remained, the prosecution had no ability to prove that the defendant was impaired to the point that he could not safely operate a motor vehicle.

Michele Traverso, Driver in Hit-and-Runthat Killed Aaron Cohen Sentenced to 364 Days in Jail, Huffington Post.com, January 17, 2013.