South Florida DUI Criminal Defense Attorney on Donté Stallworth's Fatal Car Accident

March 16, 2009 by David S. Seltzer

One big piece of news for football fans today is Saturday’s fatal car accident involving Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donté Stallworth. According to the Miami Herald, Stallworth hit and killed a pedestrian on MacArthur Causeway between Miami and Miami Beach at around 7 a.m. March 14. The Herald said Stallworth is cooperating with authorities. As is routine after a fatal traffic accident, law enforcement drew Stallworth’s blood to test for drug or alcohol intoxication; results are expected at the end of the week.

This video, posted online by the Herald, shows officers performing field sobriety tests on Stallworth and trying to resuscitate the victim, 59-year-old Mario Reyes. As the newspaper warned its readers, the video is "graphic" and not appropriate for everyone because it shows Reyes at the scene.

Of course, this case is attracting a lot of attention because the driver is a celebrity -- but as a Miami vehicular homicide criminal defense lawyer, I don’t see much that’s out of the ordinary right now. Around the Internet, rumor has it that prosecutors are poised to charge Stallworth with DUI manslaughter once the test results come back. This has generated a lot of anger about irresponsible football players and indulgent authorities who go easy on celebrities who drive drunk.

However, as far as I can see, no established news organization has reported that Stallworth was actually intoxicated, or appeared intoxicated at the scene. In the Miami Herald’s video, viewers can clearly see officers administering a horizontal gaze nystagmus test, in which Stallworth would have been asked to follow the officer’s penlight with his eyes. Stallworth appears calm and cooperative. None of these things are proof that he was sober, of course, but they don’t show that he was driving while intoxicated either -- and even football players are innocent until proven guilty in the United States. As a Fort Lauderdale DUI criminal defense attorney, I prefer to reserve my judgment until law enforcement releases the toxicology reports.

I know how passionate fans can be when they see players accused of -- or seeming to get away with -- serious crimes. And if there’s a crime here, it is serious. Both DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide (which doesn’t require any alcohol involvement) are second-degree felonies in Florida carrying up to 15 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.

If Stallworth doesn’t already have a South Florida vehicular manslaughter criminal defense lawyer, he should get one as soon as possible. Manslaughter charges are serious under any circumstances, but the situation can be seriously complicated by early conviction in the “court of public opinion.” Stallworth, like everyone accused of a crime, deserves a fair trial in a court of law.