Sentence Overturned on Appeal in DUI Manslaughter Charge
A woman’s DUI manslaughter sentence (but not conviction) was overturned on appeal. The appellate court ruled that the presiding judge in the original case inferred that the exercise of the woman’s rights showed a “lack of remorse” and used this logic when handing down the 15 year prison term for DUI manslaughter and DUI with serious bodily injury.
The sentence was appealed and the decision went before an appellate court which ruled that the judge cannot infer a lack of remorse simply because a defendant exercises their rights. Below, we’ll take a look at this decision and the incident that spawned it.
The incident occurred in 2016 and involved a single-vehicle crash. Suzana Bici was driving with three other people in her vehicle after a night of drinking. They all were out going to buy more alcohol when Bici lost control of the car and it crashed. One of the individuals traveling with Bici was pinned under the truck and pronounced dead at the scene. Another was seriously injured. Bici was charged with DUI manslaughter and DUI with serious bodily injury.
During the trial, Bici moved to suppress the blood test indicating that her BAC was over the legal limit. She failed. Then, during sentencing, Bici asked for a downward departure sentence which allows judges to impose sentences that are beneath state-mandated minimums.
Bici argued that the occupants knew that she was drunk at the time and were thus “willing participants”. She also argued that the crime took place in an unsophisticated manner and that it was a first-time offense for which she has remorse.
The state, however, provided evidence that Bici had a pending DUI case at the time the fatal accident occurred. Bici pleaded no contest in that case.
The judge denied Bici’s request for a downward departure. While stating that Bici had a right to plead not guilty and take the case to trial, that was evidence that she did not feel remorse or take responsibility for what she had done. She was sentenced to 15 years for DUI manslaughter and DUI with serious bodily injury.
Bici argued at her appeal that the judge equated the exercise of her rights with a lack of remorse, which a judge should know better than to do. The appeals court agreed with Bici’s argument and sent the decision back to the lower court for resentencing. The appellate court judges argued that the trial court judge used Bici’s exercise of her constitutionally protected rights against her for the purposes of sentencing.
With the ruling, Bici is entitled to a new sentencing hearing. However, the sentence may or may not change a great deal with a new hearing. Bici could still face 15 years in prison and the judge will be forced to find a new reason to deny a downward departure sentence.
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If you’ve been charged with DUI in Orlando, then you need to understand that the consequences of a conviction are quite dire. Call the Florida DUI defense attorneys at FL DUI Group today to fight the charges and protect your future.