Articles Posted in DUI & BUI

The Washington Times has a brief blurb on a drunk man and his 15 minutes of fame as he crashed into Rod Stewart‘s Palm Beach home’s mailbox…

A Niceville, Florida man was charged with driving under the influence with property damage after he crashed his Toyota into singer Rod Stewart’s Palm Beach home.  The only casualty was the “Do you think I’m sexy” crooner’s mailbox.

37-year-old Michael Hutson Lutz was pulled over by the Palm Beach police shortly before 8:00 p.m. when the officer noticed his vehicle weaving on the road and crossing the center lane.  As he pulled over for the police, his car struck Stewart’s mailbox along South Ocean Boulevard.  Mr. Lutz’s night only went down from there.

When asked for his driver’s license, the defendant gave the cop his credit card.  The arrest report noted that the man had bloodshot, watery eyes, a “distinct odor of alcohol on him” and spoke with a heavily slurred speech.

The officer called in the DUI squad and Michael performed and failed five separate “Field Sobriety Exercises”.  These included the “walk and turn”, “finger-to-nose” and “one leg stand”.

The impaired suspect was arrested and per the police report he made “several inappropriate statements” on the way to the police station.  He was booked in and was offered a breathalyzer.  He blew almost three times the legal limit of a .08!

As far as the innocent mailbox, the Palm Beach Police Department estimated damage in the amount of $500.  Being that Rod Stewart is worth between 25-100 million dollars (at least), it is safe to say that the mailbox will be replaced.

At the time of this writing, Michael Lutz was unavailable for comment and his criminal defense attorney declined to make a statement.  It was unclear if the defendant had any prior DUIs but his driving record showed traffic infractions for speeding, running a stop sign and others.
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A local man is arrested for a DUI after fleeing from police.  He blames his four-legged best friend, saying his dog was driving.  Police investigated and found out a problem with his story…

26-year-old Reliford Cooper was arrested in Manatee and booked for Driving under the influence with property damage and obstruction after police found him hiding in a church.

The suspect led police on a long chase through residential neighborhoods before crashing into a ditch and fleeing on foot.  He was found hiding in a bathroom at a local church where parishioners helped the cops gather up the defendant.

“My dog was driving that car. I ran because I wanted to. You ain’t gonna find no drugs or guns on me.”  These were the first words out of Cooper’s mouth, according to the police.

The report also stated that he smelled of alcohol and marijuana.  The suspect then threw up and complained that his back was injured.  At the time of this writing, the man was still in jail.

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We have previously blogged about the now infamous DUI set-up during a civil trial involving two Tampa Bay area DJ s.  We then blogged about the possible punishment and the aftermath.  Now there is word coming down that the Florida Bar has recommended permanent disbarment for several of the involved.  Is this an unfair punishment or is this justice?  The Supreme Court may have the final word…

Pinellas County senior judge W. Douglas Baird will have some tough decisions in the next few months.  The Florida Bar has asked the judge to disbar three of the lawyers involved in the high profile defamation lawsuit in 2013.

Florida Bar attorneys made a recommendation for Stephen Diaco a partner in a Tampa Bay law firm, to be permanently disbarred for his role in a rival lawyer’s DUI arrest in 2013.  Stephen Diaco’s actions were called “malicious and [done] for personal gain”.  The disciplinary committee went on to mention how his set up arrest and subsequent possible discovery violations disrupted a defamation trial and “tarnished the reputation of the legal profession and the Tampa Police Department”.

 

Stephen’s fellow collaborators were not off the hook.  Based on their lesser actions, the State Bar recommended that both Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut be disbarred for five years (meaning they would be unable to practice law for at least five years, must alert their clients and shut down their firm/make arrangements for an orderly transition).  After this five year “break”, Robert and Adam would be able to reapply to the Florida Bar.  They most likely would have to retake the Florida Bar exam, go through the admission process and have their character questioned.  Additionally, they will forever have an ethics “black mark” next to their name.

Just last month, the Honorable Douglas Baird found all three of the attorneys guilty of unethical actions based on their conduct.  To recap, this was the opposing lawyer (the former 93.3 DJ MJ’s attorney) who was seen drinking at a bar during trial by Diaco’s secretary.  She quickly called him and his colleagues.  They instructed her to keep the attorney there and to keep him drinking.  The secretary kept flirting with the attorney, buying him drinks and lying about where she worked.  Meanwhile, Diaco and the gang were contacting a Tampa police department officer (now fired) who happened to be their friend.

When the time was right, the plan was put into action.  The secretary insisted that the rival attorney move her car, despite him telling her no several times, he eventually relented and was instantly pulled over by the same police officer.  He was arrested for driving under the influence and all his legal briefs and trial preparation  was left in the secretary’s car overnight.

Judge Baird mostly blamed Stephen Diaco for being the ringleader, finding him guilty of twice the violations as either Robert or Adam.  Among the most egregious violations?  Lying to a judge under oath about not knowing who his cellphone provider was!

Diaco’s lawyers defended their client, asking the judge not to destroy his career.  They mentioned his charitable works and his remorse.

Meanwhile, the other attorneys were still begging for a 91 day suspension- a request that has previously been rejected by a judge.  Continue reading

A former NFL QB arrested for a DUI is normally not a newsworthy story.  What makes this case interesting is the sheer high number of his B.A.C.

Former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jack Trudeau was arrested last Sunday for driving under the influence, public intoxication and disorderly conduct in Zionsville, Indiana.

The Colts originally picked the now 52-year-old Jack Trudeau in the second round of the 1986 draft out of the University of Illinois. He played reasonably well for Indianapolis until 1993 and then bounced around to  the New York Jets and the Carolina Panthers before retiring in 1995.

A local police report said that Jack was pulled over for erratic driving late at night.  He was questioned and the cops determined a DUI investigation was warranted. During the police investigation he showed signs of impairment and was arrested after failing field sobriety exercises.

The police report further mentioned that Jack Trudeau threatened a police officer during the arrest. It says a portable breath test showed Trudeau had a blood-alcohol content of 0.31 percent, nearly four times the legal limit of 0.08 percent!  At that level, a person is reaching a life-threatening amount of alcohol in the system.

LEGAL ANALYSIS 

In Florida, anything at a .15 or above is known as an enhanced blow.  This may result in a larger fine, more jail time and a mandatory  DMV-ordered alcohol ignition interlock to be placed in the suspect’s vehicle before he is allowed to drive again.  You may also be looking at an extended driver’s license suspension.   In addition, extra punishment such as community service hours or talking to schools or groups about your crime is not unusual.

In Pinellas County, a blow above .15 is no exception when it comes to enhanced punishments.  Besides the mandatory penalty of the ignition interlock, an enhanced fine will almost certainly happen.  Additionally, a stint in the Pinellas County jail is not unusual, even if it is a first time offense.

The Florida DUI statute (316.193) explains the range of punishments depending on the number of DUI, injuries, and other circumstances.  While the statute codifies the law and punishment, keep in mind that the ranges vary widely from county to county. Continue reading

In a previous blog, we had written about a Florida woman who was texting as she ran a red light, causing a fatal automobile accident. She was charged with DUI manslaughter as a result of her actions.

Coming on the heels of this, the Miami Herald had a long article about that case and comparing her prison sentence to other similar defendants. The results are surprising. Throughout Florida, while DUI laws are identical, the punishments are definitely not. The severity of the punishment varies by location, judge, gender, age and race among other things…

The defendant featured in a previous blog post, 20-year-old Kayla Mendoza tweeted “2 drunk 2 care” before killing two young women in a drunk-driving crash. She tearfully admitted guilt, but, faced with furious relatives of the deceased, a Broward judge slammed her with a 24-year prison term.

A few days later, a known alcoholic by the name of Antonio Lawrence, 57, faced a Miami-Dade judge for plowing into a restaurant while driving drunk, killing two church elders. Relatives of the deceased offered forgiveness. The defendant only got 10 years.

In a different courtroom in the same courthouse, on the same day, 27-year-old Edna Jean-Pierre took responsibility for killing one person in a DUI crash, then killing another in a hit-and-run crash — while out on bail in the first case! A separate Miami-Dade judge sentenced her to a relatively light four years in prison- a ruling that infuriated relatives of the victims.

The daughter of the second victim killed by Jean-Pierre, Sonya Estiven was livid. “I would have preferred 10 years. Eight years, I would have been a little mad,””But for her to have only got four years, I’m still shocked. I’m still upset. I’m still depressed. The judge sent a message that it’s OK to drink and drive.”

The Florida DUI manslaughter laws include a four-year mandatory minimum for a conviction. After that, judicial discretion comes into play and prison terms vary widely from cases to case based on the county, the victims relatives, prosecutors and other quirks.

The four-year minimum mandatory term is a newer addition to the law, added eight years ago in 2007 over concerns about judges being too soft on drunk drivers who kill. Known as the “Adam Arnold Act,” the law was named after a Key West teen who died in a crash in 1996, and where the driver got only three years of probation.

The newspaper studied over the prison records of 400 fatality cases resolved in Florida in the last three years. They found that since 2012 the statewide average sentence for DUI manslaughter is just under 10 years behind bars. Looking throughout Florida, Miami-Dade had the most cases in that time span, 66,but had among the lightest average sentences with convicts serving an average of just over 6 years in prison. Nearby Broward County had 27 cases with the defendant’s average sentence resulting in a prison time just under 10 years.

The farther north you go in Florida, often the harsher sentence one receives. Palm Beach convicts average 11.54 years in prison for DUI manslaughter, while those in Hillsborough County (Tampa) serve about 10.18 years.

As mentioned previously, there are multiple reasons for the disparity in sentences. Outcomes are swayed by a host of factors: the strength of evidence, the skill of defense attorneys, circumstances of a crash, a defendant’s criminal history, media glare and especially on the Gulf Coast, the desires of a victim’s loved ones.

“Victims drive to a good degree what the sentence outcome will be,” said a criminal defense attorney. “Victims who are not active, not engaged with the state attorney’s office, are going to see a lower number in the sentencing.”

This was certainly true in the above case of Jean-Pierre, who in 2009 drove drunk, killing a man outside of his car on the side of an interstate. The case dragged on for years — until in early 2014, while still on bail, she hit a pedestrian as she was walking along a dark street. The defendant, a nurse, left the scene and immediately took the car to get repaired at a body shop.

Both of Jean-Pierre’s cases had problematic evidence and were not assured convictions for the state at trial. While Florida sentencing guidelines called for for 12 years in prison, the Judge departed after hearing that Jean-Pierre was a mother of two and was a victim of domestic violence. She enraged the victim’s daughter when the defendant was sentenced to just four years in prison.

While the victim’s daughter penned a letter that was read out loud to the judge, no other family members were involved in the case and for some reason her crimes were not given heavy media coverage.

Drunk drivers who kill rarely escape at least the mandatory four year’s prison time but prosecutors can waive the minimum four mandatory. For example, in a 2009 case pro football player Donte Stallworth received only 30 days in jail and a lengthy probation for killing a pedestrian in Miami Beach. The prosecutors claimed they offered the plea bargain because there was no guarantee of victory at trial. The victim was not in a crosswalk that dark morning when he was struck.

In that case, the decision to support the lighter sentence hinged on the victim’s relatives, who pushed for the deal after receiving a large settlement from Stallwort!.

In my opinion, the number one determination in the sentence you receive is victim’s families and their willingness to forgive. In Lawrence’s case above, he met with families of the two victims killed in the crash, became heavily involved helping recovering alcoholics and even surrendered to jail early before pleading guilty. The Miami-Dade Judge responded by giving him a relatively light sentence of 10 years, much less than the 34 years he faced had he been convicted at trial.

Oftentimes the emotional reaction of relatives also can clash, with some urging leniency while others called for heavy punishment.

For example, the family of a Coral Gables jogger killed by a drunk driver wanted a stiff sentence and got one — at first. The defendant who drove drunk and killed the victim back in 2008, got 12 years in prison during an emotionally charged sentencing hearing.

The defendant had pleaded guilty with no plea deal. But a judge later threw out the sentence after his lawyer admitted he botched the case. Soon after the state realized the case had problems. One vial used to collect the suspect’s blood was expired, and the deceased had stopped in the middle of the darkened road to adjust his iPod — giving the defense an avenue to shift the blame. The defendant ultimately winded up doing five years in prison-much to the anger of the deceased’s parents.

Closer to the Gulf Coast, two young women in well-known cases in the social-media age had drastically different outcomes.

A 20-year-old South Beach bartender, was drunk when she hit and killed a chef walking across the street, then fled the scene before her arrest. On facebook the defendant described herself as a “party princess” and posted multiple photos of her drinking and partying-some of which might have been taken after her arrest! Despite that, in 2013 she tearfully accepted — with the victim’s family approval — a plea deal that called for just four years in prison followed by house arrest and probation.

Two years later another young woman tweeted “2 drunk 2 care” before driving the wrong way on an expressway, plowing her car into another incoming car back in November 2013. Killed in the other car: best friends Marisa Catronio and Kaitlyn Nicole Ferrante, both 21.

The suspect had been drinking at a work party and had a blood-alcohol content level nearly twice the legal limit. She pleaded guilty with no plea deal. She thought she had helped herself by giving two depositions to help the victim’s civil lawsuit against the restaurant where the work party was held and T-Mobile store where the suspect worked. Yet at her sentencing in in a highly publicized hearing, relatives angrily asked the Broward Circuit Judge for the max of 30 years (15 years per count).

Despite her cooperation, her young age, her remorse and lack of any prior criminal history, the judge responded by giving her 24 years!

Her criminal defense lawyer was in shock .”My client was doing everything she could to handle this the right way, and she still got slammed,” he said.

Her attorney admitted the flippant tweet and heavy media coverage provided little incentive for the judge to reduce a sentence. That one text captured the imagination of the public and probably put pressure on the judge.
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A quick story in BayNews9 about a coordinated law enforcement “wolfpack” that took place the day before the holiday last Friday. The end result? 12 arrests for driving under the influence, several arrests for drug possession and a whopping 120 traffic citations!

Starting Friday, July third and ending Saturday morning, the latest “Wolfpack” was a coordinated effort between the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Highway Patrol, Saint Petersburg Police, Clearwater police and the Pinellas Park police department, among others.

With much of Pinellas county saturated with law enforcment, it was not surprising that there were numerous arrests. The final numbers were still surprising. There were 12 arrests for DUI. Thirteen people were arrested for possession of a controlled substance, five for miscellaneous violations, several violations of probation, two for driving with a suspended or revoked license and one for felony driving with a suspended or revoked license.

More than 120 citations were also issued, including 63 for speeding. The remaining citations were varied and included careless driving, no headlights and tag not assigned.
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While the weather has been hot for months, the official arrival of summer brings with it more boating. Whether deep sea fishing or pleasure cruising, boating accidents are a serious problem faced by many residents in Florida. According to Florida Fish and Wildlife , Florida leads the country in boating accidents per year. each year than any other state. Alcohol (boating under the influence) plays a large part, coming in as a top-10 cause of boating accidents in Florida.

Recently, a pair of proposed bills in the Florida House and Senate could affect how the state handles convictions for boating under the influence of alcohol (BUI). The two proposed bills, House Bill 289 and Senate Bill 598, would toughen the penalties for a person convicted of boating under the influence of alcohol. If passed, the laws would go into effect in July of this year (2015). There are three primary provisions of the proposed legislation:

1. BUI convictions would be reported to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. This would mean a possible DRIVING suspension for a BOATING infraction!

2. BUI convictions would be recorded on a person’s driving record, just like convictions for driving under the influence (DUI);

3. Prior BUI convictions would be considered prior DUI convictions for purposes of enforcing Florida’s DUI laws, and vice versa! Currently, BUI convictions are not counted as DUI convictions for purposes of enhancement. If the law(s) are passed, a previous DUI charge may be used against you to enhance a BUI charge. Also, in the state of Florida, you can be charged with a felony DUI based on previous convictions (ie. three DUI charges in 10 years or four in total). If this bill passes (see below), a person can be looking at a felony DUI charge and a permanent driving suspension based on boating under the influence convictions from decades ago!

Besides bringing up potential constitutional issues, this bill had both supporters and opponents up in arms. If passed, the bill would go into effect July 1, 2015. As of this writing (June 2015), the Senate bill died in committee and there are no plans to reintroduce it.

What were the bills purpose? Clearly they aimed to reduce the number of boating accidents on Florida waterways,but they also opened up a “boatload” of issues. Criminally, we have already discussed potential issues.

For the victims of BUI and their personal injury attorneys, whole new avenues might have opened up. A person injured in Florida by a drunk boater can seek damages through the civil court system by filing a negligence lawsuit. To win this claim, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed the victim a duty, that the duty was breached, the plaintiff sustained damages, and that the breach was an actual and proximate cause of the damages.

Punitive damages are always a possibility in a DUI or drunk boating crash. If these bills had passed, would there have been a possibility for punitive damages based on PRIOR DUI/BUI convictions as well?

All boaters in Florida owe the people around them, including their own passengers, a duty of reasonable care. A person who chooses to drink alcohol and operate a boat has breached this duty, since his or her actions unreasonably endanger others and themselves. Hopefully this summer’s boating will be safe and fun for residents of the “Sunshine State”.
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The Tampa Bay Times had a brief story about DUI arrests in Pinellas over the Memorial Day weekend.

15 people were arrested for driving under the influence and one person was arrested for DUI manslaughter by Pinellas County law enforcement.

This took place during a DUI “wolf pack” operation that took place between 8p.m. Saturday and 5a.m. Sunday. Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office combined with Saint Petersburg, Largo, Gulfport and Tarpon Springs police agencies.

A “wolf pack” is a term used when police make an effort to bring attention to DUIs. Using special patrols or often “sobriety checkpoints”, police can often make numerous arrests during known drinking holidays. Often it is a coordinated effort between numerous jurisdictions and agencies. During this operation, police also arrested other drivers on a variety of charges, from a DUI involving serious bodily injury to illegal drug charges.

This operation might have come in handy just a few days later after a driving mishap in Saint Petersburg. In a story that drew quite a bit of attention, 59-year-old David Ellis drove his minivan over the bridge and into the water Tuesday afternoon.

The accident took place near Snell Isle and Coffee Pot Blvd NE. Mr. Ellis suffered minor injuries but refused medical treatment. The reason for the accident soon became clear. David was arrested for an enhanced DUI and blew a .273 and .264, over three times the legal limit! This was not his first brush with the law as he was found to have at least two prior DUI convictions.
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While you don’t often think of TMZ as a sports news source, they brought attention to a former player and his “extreme arrest”.

Ex-Michigan star and high first round draft pick Braylon Edwards was arrested and charged with an “extreme DUI” in Arizona. The third overall draft pick in the 2005 NFL draft was always deemed a “disappointment” and never played up to his ability. He was last on a NFL team three years ago.

The ex-Browns, 49ers and Jets player was arrested for a “extreme DUI”. This means that his Blood Alcohol content was above a .20.

This was not Braylon’s first brush with the law. In 2010, he was arrested for another driving under the influence charge and the team was under pressure to suspend him for the upcoming Dolphins game. He instead sat on the bench for the first quarter, causing a large public outcry.

For his career, Braylon has 40 touchdown passes and over 5500 receving yards over an eight year career.

LEGAL ANALYSIS

If this had taken place in Florida, there would have been no “extreme DUI”. In our state, there is an enhanced blow of .15, much lower then Arizona’s “extreme 2.0”. In addition, if this had been a second DUI with in five years, he would almost certainly be looking at jail time as well as a mandatory ignition interlock for 24 months.
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The local CBS station produced a heartbreaking story about a woman that was texting seconds before her car accident that cost her friend her life…and potentially the woman’s freedom.

“I’ll be dead thanks to you”…”Driving Drunk- woo”…These were just a few of the messages that 22-year-old Mila Dago sent her boyfriend moments before she ran a red light and crashed into a moving truck. The resulting crash ended her passenger’s life and now Ms. Dago has been charged with DUI manslaughter.

Miami police released those texts from Ms. Dago along with several others messages she had sent that night to her boyfriend. Officers painted a scene of the defendant out on the town with her friend. Sometime during the bar hopping she had gotten into a text war with her boyfriend that ended in a break up. This seemed to have set Mila off. Her texts became angrier and angrier until she sent off the above two.

At almost 4:45 a.m., just three minutes after those texts were sent, prosecutors claim that she ran a red light in downtown Miami, plowing her rental car into a moving truck. The truck driver was knocked unconscious but otherwise not harmed. Her friend, who was with her bar hopping throughout the night, was not so lucky. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Arriving police noticed the smell of alcohol and signs of impairment. Blood tests were taken and she was found to have a B.A.C. of .178 over two hours after the crash. This is twice the legal limit of .08!

While this tragedy took place in August, she was not formally charged until January because her blood results took so long to come back. The defendant has pled not guilty and they are still awaiting a trial date. She has been charged with DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide and two counts of DUI with property damage.

This latest DUI or vehicular homicide incident is one of numerous similar cases that have taken place in South Florida in the past year.

Her criminal defense attorney offered sympathy for the victim’s parents but would not comment on the case as it was ongoing.

A seperate wrongful death lawsuit is also pending between the victim’s parents and Ms. Dago as well as the car rental company. The lawsuit is claiming that the rental car company was responsible as it was a forseeable risk that impaired people may rent a car. They are claiming that the cars should be equipped with a alcohol ignition device that would measure B.A.C. before the car could start. This is the same device that judges often order certain DUI offenders to install in their vehicles.
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