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Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte Stallworth surrendered this morning in a Miami courtroom on charges of DUI manslaughter. His case illustrates the potential implications, beyond getting a DUI, of driving under the influence. In particular, it highlights the criminal culpability attached when someone dies as a result of a DUI.
Florida prosecutors charged Stallworth yesterday afternoon. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, early in the morning of March 14th, after honking his horn and flashing his lights, Stallworth allegedly hit and killed 59 year old Mario Reyes with his Bentley while Reyes crossed a Miami Beach street to catch a bus home after his night shift as a crane operator. A blood sample allegedly showed Stallworth to have a blood alcohol level of 0.126, far beyond Florida's 0.08 limit.
Today, the Plain Dealer reports that Stallworth was booked at the jail before being released on $200,000 bail.
Florida is one of the many states that has a "per se" drunk driving law, meaning that you are presumed to be driving under the influence if you drive with a blood alcohol level over 0.08. Florida is also one of the many states with statutes that specifically punish DUI offenders who cause someone's death.
Under Florida law, anyone whose operation of a vehicle while under the influence causes or contributes to the "death of any human being or unborn quick child commits DUI manslaughter." This is a second degree felony, with a minimum of 4 years imprisonment. It can bring imprisonment of up to 15 years, or more if the driver fails to give information or render aid.
In general, states criminally punish those who unintentionally cause someone's death through recklessness or criminal negligence. Proving negligence or recklessness is often very fact intensive.
That's where laws such as Florida's DUI manslaughter law come in. Because of the per se DUI law, if it can be proved that a defendant had a blood alcohol level over 0.08 when involved in the accident, then the defendant automatically committed a felony manslaughter if someone died as a result of the accident.