One year ago, an Apopka man was sentenced to 12 years in prison for driving under the influence manslaughter, after he allegedly hit and killed a motorcyclist in Orange County. The 31 year old had been drinking and he apparently had a blood-alcohol content of 0.144 at the time of the accident, which is above the legal limit. What makes this conviction unique, however, is that the Fifth District Court of Appeals reversed it and sent his case back to the circuit judge for a new sentence.
What caused the appeals court to reverse the conviction is one of the most fundamental of tenants in American law and one that everyone in Florida knows: a suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The appeals court said that the prosecution never actually proved that the 31 year old's actions constituted DUI manslaughter; it never disproved the man's argument that the motorcyclist was popping a wheelie at the time of the accident, making him invisible to the driver.
During the trial, an accident-reconstruction expert reasoned that the motorcyclist was hit at approximately 85 degrees, meaning he was nearly vertical at the time of the crash. In the dark, this would mean that the driver would have no way of seeing the motorcyclist. In addition to him being invisible, the expert testified that the motorcyclist had been driving 25 to 35 mph over the speed limit and was not wearing a helmet.
The appeals court did not overturn the driver's conviction for leaving the scene of a fatal accident, but the man was originally sentenced to 15 years of probation for the charge. It remains to be seen if the circuit judge will give the man prison time for his one remaining charge when he revisits the case.
Source: Orlando Sentinel, "Court: Biker likely popping a wheelie, so drunken driver not guilty of DUI manslaughter," Rene Stutzman, Nov. 12, 2012
Our firm has worked with other Orlando residents who have been charged with DUI manslaughter; stop by our website to learn more about our criminal defense practice.