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State Appeals Court Upholds Polo Mogul’s DUI Manslaughter Conviction

In a case of interest to Illinois DUI lawyers, the founder of the International Polo Club raised 13 issues before Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal regarding his DUI manslaughter conviction. The appeals court affirmed, addressing only three of the issues raised by Goodman:  (1) whether the State prematurely released his vehicle after his first trial in violation of his due process rights and requiring dismissal under California v. Trombetta; (2) that the jury instructions on the failure to render aid enhancements violated due process by failing to require that he knew that the accident resulted in injuries or death; and (3) that his blood was drawn without a warrant, violating the Fourth Amendment Search and Seizure Clause. Following a late-night car accident, in which the other driver died after his vehicle was submerged in a canal, the defendant was charged with DUI manslaughter with failure to render aid and vehicular homicide with failure to render aid. He was convicted and sentenced following his first trial. After juror misconduct came to light, the first conviction was vacated, and he was granted a new trial. In the second trial, he was again found guilty.

Regarding the defendant’s first challenge on appeal, the court agreed with the state and held that the court did not err in denying the motion to dismiss due to the loss of the car. Pursuant to Trombetta, the constitutional duty of the state to preserve evidence must be limited to evidence that might be expected to play a significant role in the suspect’s defense. To meet this standard of constitutional materiality, evidence must both possess an exculpatory value that was apparent before the evidence was destroyed and be of such a nature that the defendant would be unable to obtain comparable evidence by other reasonably available means.

The appeals court agreed with the trial court that the state did not act in bad faith in releasing the car. Therefore, it had to determine whether the car constituted materially exculpatory or only potentially useful evidence. The trial court held a full hearing on the issue of the exculpatory nature of the car and concluded that it was merely potentially exculpatory. It reasoned that the defendant’s expert, by his own testimony, had already formed an opinion of the malfunction and that his opinion on the state of the car at the time of the crash was complete. The “mere possibility of helping the defense” by conducting more testing on the car, which was already subjected to extensive testing by three experts, did not rise to the level of constitutional materiality.

The defendant argued that had his expert been able to further examine the car, he would have been able to complete additional testing that might have lent additional support to the expert’s testimony that the brakes malfunctioned before the accident. However, the mere possibility that the testimony would have bolstered the expert’s opinion did not rise to the level of “constitutional materiality.” Furthermore, as in Trombetta, the defendant had alternative sources available to elicit testimony to suggest that the throttle malfunctioned. Finally, the State did not use its expert who performed the additional testing on the vehicle. Thus, the defendant’s expert was on the same footing as the State’s expert concerning the vehicle. For these reasons, the appeals court agreed with the trial court that the additional testing that was precluded by the release of the car was merely potentially exculpatory.

The defendant next argued that the court erred in instructing the jury that an element of the failure to render aid enhancement was that the defendant “knew or should have known that the accident resulted in injury or death.” The appeals court explained that to enhance the penalty for failing to render aid or give information, Florida’s applicable statutes require knowledge only of the crash, rather than knowledge of any injury or death. Since section 316.062(1) requires a person to stop and give information even for property damage, the occurrence of the crash itself, which would at least result in damage to property, would, by itself, require a person to stop and give information (and, if there is an injured person, give aid). There is no requirement that a person know of an injury or death, nor is there even a “should have known” element.

Thus, the court held that under the DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide statutes, the enhancements for failure to render aid and provide information required that the person knew or should have known of the crash or accident, but they did not require that the state prove that the defendant knew or should have known of the death or injury of the victim.

To the extent that the jury instruction as given deviated from the standard instruction in stating that the driver had to “know” that the accident occurred, the appeals court explained, the instruction was erroneous. But since the state was held to a higher level of proof, there was no error.

Finally, the defendant argued that his warrantless blood draw violated the Fourth Amendment. The appeals court agreed with the state that exigent circumstances permitted the blood draw. The driver absented himself from the scene for over an hour and then returned but went to the hospital for treatment of his own injuries before the investigators found the vehicle and body. By the time the homicide investigator arrived and then went to the hospital, nearly four hours had passed since the time of the crash, but less than two hours from the time the body was discovered. The investigator testified that it would have taken an additional two hours to obtain a search warrant. Although a local police officer testified on behalf of the defendant that it would not have taken much time to get a warrant, it was for the trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses.

The appeals court reasoned that this was not a “routine DUI” once the victim’s body was discovered. Although the Supreme Court noted that “the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case,” the Court clearly signaled that in some cases, the destruction of evidence by the natural dissipation of alcohol could constitute an exigent circumstance. Here, the appeals court held, the circumstances presented a  compelling reason to obtain a blood draw as soon as possible in order to prevent the dissipation of alcohol in the driver’s system. The court therefore found no Fourth Amendment violation.

If you have been charged with a DUI offense in Illinois, it is crucial to speak to an experienced Illinois DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Harvatin Law Offices, PC provides knowledgeable representation to people in Springfield and throughout Illinois. We have considerable experience defending individuals charged with DUI offenses and representing drivers with revoked licenses before the Illinois Secretary of State. To learn more, and to set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 217.525.0520.

More Blog Posts:

Ten-Year Court Battle Culminates in Probation for Riverdale Homicide Defendant, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blog, September 1, 2017.

New Law Enables Texans to Seal DUI Records, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blog, August 1, 2017.

Hawaii Supreme Court Holds a DUI Suspect May Not Be Preemptively Refused the Opportunity to Communicate with Counsel, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blog, July 3, 2017.

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