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Do Professional Athletes Have a Get Out of Jail Free Card?

On March 14, 2009, NFL player Dante Stallworth killed a hard working Cuban immigrant along the MacArthur Causeway in Miami, Florida. Mr. Stallworth was a wide receiver for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns at the time of this horrible incident. The victim, Mario Reyes, a husband and father, was running across the Causeway to catch a bus, on his way home from work.

During the investigation of the incident, Mr. Stallworth cooperated with law enforcement and admitted to drinking prior to driving. He also admitted to being under the influence of marijuana at the time that he struck Reyes. It was later determined that Mr. Stallworth’s blood alcohol content was 0.12, well above Florida’s legal limit of 0.08. Through accident reconstruction, policed determined that Stallworth was traveling 50 mph in a 40 mph zone. He was charged under Florida law with DUI Manslaughter on April 9, 2009.

According to Yoel Molina, a Miami, Florida criminal defense attorney, DUI Manslaughter carries a potential of up to 20 years in prison. Mr. Molina states that the average sentence for this offense is 10 years.

How then did Dante Stallworth end up with only a 30 day jail sentence after pleading guilty to the charge? It is reported that prosecutors elected to agree to the greatly reduced sentence because Mr. Stallworth had no prior criminal history, had cooperated with law enforcement, and because the Reyes family wanted the matter closed without a trial to avoid further pain and trauma. Mr. Stallworth also received a one year sentence of in home detention and did receive a lifetime suspension of his Florida driver’s license.

It is interesting to note that Mr. Stallworth’s was sentenced on June 17, 2009, only one day after he reached a financial agreement with the Reyes family.

Did Stallworth buy his way out of a much longer prison sentence? Did his his status as a professional athlete help him gain the favor of prosecutors? You be the judge.

If this incident had happened in Denver, Colorado rather than Miami, Florida, it is our opinion that the consequences suffered by Mr. Stallworth would have much more severe. He would have been charged with a class 3 felony, vehicular homicide, which carries 4-12 years in prison.

The law firm of M. Trent Trani & Associates, P.C., PC has successfully represented a number of clients facing vehicular homicide charges. While the average sentence for a conviction for such a crime, probably around 12 years in prison, is similar to the average of 10 years in Florida, Colorado prosecutors and judges are not apt to offer favorable plea deals in such cases. It is our opinion that the Dante Stallworth case would have been any different and that his case would have proceeded to trial had it been in Colorado.

Such cases are probably the worst type for criminal defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges. A person is dead, but there is no malicious intent by anyone. But the behavior must be punished when proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Sentencing hearings for such cases are some of the most gut wrenching that those familiar with the criminal justice system can imagine.

For what it’s worth, Dante Stallworth did take responsibility for his actions. That in and of itself is rare to see in cases involving professional athletes. Nevertheless, whether or not the reduced sentence is attributable to his status as a pro athlete, he can consider himself very lucky that he received the sentence that he did.