Recently, I defended a DUI Manslaughter where my client was charged with causing the death of a motorcycle passenger in an accident he was involved in after consuming alcohol during the day. After two years of protracted litigation and expert witness analysis on the part of the State of Florida and the defense, the case proceeded to a week-long jury trial.

From the beginning, the odds were stacked heavily against my client. His blood alcohol level just after the accident was 0.22 which is nearly three (3) times the legal limit in Florida. On top of it, he had admitted to heavy drinking that day and the Florida Highway Patrol had concluded through accident reconstruction that through his negligence he had caused the accident which resulted in the death of a 20-year-old young lady. There were also witnesses in other vehicles which testified that my client was driving aggressively prior to the accident. On top of all this, the DUI Manslaughter statute in Florida does not require that the Defendant be completely at fault for causing the death, only that he/she contributed to it in some way.

I was told by colleagues and mutual friends who knew the details of the case that it was an “open and shut” case and that I had little or no chance to win but to just do my best. My client was fully prepared to serve a long prison sentence. The State’s best offer was fifteen (15) years in prison which never changed over the two (2) year course of the case.

After initially finding some small problems that the State may have had in proving that my client was at fault, or partially at fault, we did our own expert accident reconstruction analysis. Based on the findings it was concluded that the Florida Highway Patrol had made some serious mistakes and miscalculations in concluding that my client had caused the accident. When the State was still not convinced that they had any major problems with their case and failed to offer my client a reasonable plea deal, we decided to go to trial.

The strategy was not to fight the fact that my client had been drinking and driving, but to argue to the jury that he did nothing to cause the accident. This would instantly give our defense more credibility with the jury and allow them to focus on the issue of causation rather than becoming emotionally wrapped up in the horrific testimony of how the young lady had died.

In the end, we were victorious against all odds with a not guilty verdict, which was returned in less than two (2) hours. My client and his family had been saved and their nightmare was over. The lessons learned are that nobody, especially an attorney, should ever conclude from the facts on the surface that there is not a chance to win a case. It takes a thorough investigation of all of the evidence from every conceivable angle to sometimes uncover the truth from what only appears on the surface.

My client wrote this attorney review about his experiences.

“From the beginning, Ray was willing to take on this case knowing how much work would be in store for him. I faced up to 17 years in prison for DUI manslaughter. I believed in my heart that I was not completely at fault for the accident and own the part I played in the crash. Ray’s experience came through and although it took two years, I ended up only found guilty of the lowest charge of misdemeanor DUI, which was the desired outcome. I received the minimum sentence of 1-year probation, community service, and fines……….Ray truly gave me a new life and I thank God everyday he represented me in my time of need.”

State v. T.V.
Manatee County Case No. 16CF001595
Charge: DUI Manslaughter (.22 BAC)
Result: Not Guilty Verdict

Written by

Ray Lopez has practiced since 1990, with prior experience as a Hillsborough County assistant State attorney and lawyer for the Tampa Police Department. He handles all criminal charges, from traffic violations and misdemeanors to serious felonies and federal drug charges. He practices in all state and federal courts of the Tampa Bay area and throughout Florida, as well as criminal appeals, juvenile court, administrative hearings, and civil forfeiture proceedings.

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