FL Appellate Court Deems Probation Sentence for DUI Manslaughter "Illegal"

November 12, 2012

Judges often have a great deal of discretion when it comes to sentencing following a DUI conviction. balance.jpg

However, Fort Lauderdale DUI defense lawyers understand that an appellate court in Florida recently ruled that it is illegal for a judge to go below the minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines set forth under state statute.

The case, Florida v. Schumacher, involves a 38-year-old of Okaloosa County man who was convicted for DUI manslaughter in the death of his father in 2009.

It was an incredibly tragic case, and the judge perhaps realized the defendant's extreme sorrow and remorse in granting him leniency.

Here's what happened:

It was December 2009 when the defendant reportedly drove his sport utility vehicle down a residential street while intoxicated. He had just dropped his father off at his home. What he didn't realize was that he was reportedly dragging his 67-year-old father, who was an Alzheimer patient, alongside him. The older man's foot had become tangled in a seat belt, and he was dragged for about one-half of one mile.

His father died of injuries he suffered as a result.

Initially, the defendant was arrested on charges of DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident involving death. He was convicted of the former, but not the latter.

Under Florida Statute 316.193, a person who is convicted of DUI manslaughter is guilty of either a first or second-degree felony. It's only considered a first-degree felony if the person knew or should have known a crash occurred and failed to stop and give information and render aid as required under Florida Statute 316.062.

As a second-degree felony, DUI manslaughter requires a minimum sentence of four years in prison.

However, the county judge in this case determined that the defendant lacked moral culpability for the crime because he had never meant for his father to die. Further, he reasoned, there was ample testimony indicating the defendant loved his father very much and had felt deep remorse.

As a result, the judge sentenced him to two years of house arrest, followed by eight years of parole. That was in April 2011.

But prosecutors appealed that sentence, saying that Section 316.193(3) of Florida statutes is unambiguous in saying that a DUI manslaughter conviction warrants an automatic, minimum four-year prison sentence.

The appellate court sided with prosecutors. They reasoned that when a trial court imposes a sentence that is shorter than the required minimum sentence, it should be deemed an "illegal" sentence.

The case was remanded back to the lower court for resentencing. No official date has been set, and the defense team has one month from the appellate court's decision to request a rehearing. They have not yet indicated whether they will do so.

If you have been arrested for a DUI in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach or Miami, contact Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer Carlos Canet today at 1-866-727-5384.

Additional Resources:
Florida v. Schumacher, Oct. 31, District Court of Appeals, First District, State of Florida

F-W-B Man Going Back To Court In DUI Manslaughter Case,
Oct. 31, 2012, Staff Report, WJHG-TV,Channel 7 News

More Blog Entries:
Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorneys Decry Minimum Mandatory Sentences, May 19, 2012, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog