FanDuel - WFBC

June 16, 2009

Donte Stallworth Gets 30 Days Jail for DUI Manslaughter: Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte Stallworth was sentenced to 30 days jail and two years house arrest for the March 14 death of Mario Reyes, a pedestrian struck by Stallworth's car while he was driving drunk. Before sentencing, Stallworth reached an undisclosed financial settlement with the family of Reyes, a Miami Beach construction worker. Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Stallworth's lack of previous criminal record, cooperation and willingness to accept responsibility were factors in the plea deal.

posted by rcade to football at 08:28 PM - 42 comments

Celebrity justice. But then again, drunk driving murders never seem to result in substantial enough sentences.

posted by billsaysthis at 12:02 AM on June 17

But then again, drunk driving murders never seem to result in substantial enough sentences.

I agree, but I guess I'm not sure what that would be. I know that if there were more substantial penalties i.e. more jail time, lifetime license suspension (upheld), there would be a whole lot less traffic.

I guess what I mean is that it seems that drunk driving is so much of a problem and effects such a wide range of people, a more substantial penalty would seem to have such a drastic effect in daily lives, we would all witness a change.

posted by BoKnows at 01:17 AM on June 17

The penalties for DUI manslaughter in Florida are all over the map. Some people get 20 years. Some people get probation only. The prosecutor had a pretty tough burden because Stallworth was going only 10 mph over the speed limit, and Reyes wasn't in the crosswalk. Proving that Stallworth's delayed reactions were at fault couldn't have been easy. I like the penalty that he can't drive ever again.

posted by bperk at 07:38 AM on June 17

The prosecutor had a pretty tough burden because Stallworth was going only 10 mph over the speed limit, and Reyes wasn't in the crosswalk.

From the outside looking in, it's hard to understand the "tough burden" of convicting someone of ending a life while driving drunk. All other circumstances shouldn't matter; whether they were impaired enough to matter, etc. He was legally drunk, driving, and hit and orphaned a 15 year old kid. I just don't get it. Meanwhile, Vick gets 2 years for killing dogs ...

posted by smithnyiu at 11:26 AM on June 17

He was legally drunk, driving, and hit and orphaned a 15 year old kid. I just don't get it.

FROM THE ARTICLE:

Stallworth, 28, also reached a confidential financial settlement with the family of 59-year-old Mario Reyes, a construction worker struck and killed early on March 14 by Stallworth, driving drunk in his black 2005 Bentley.

AND:

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle echoed Lyons in citing Stallworth's lack of previous criminal record, cooperation and willingness to accept responsibility as factors in the plea deal. Rundle also said the Reyes family particularly the victim's 15-year-old daughter wanted the case resolved to avoid any more pain.

Stallworth bought off the family. And yes it is, once again, celebrity justice because if this were you or I (unless you're much richer than I am), we'd be in jail for a substantial period of time.

I'm gonna root for someone to cripple this dumb fuck this season and hope that the Reyes family got their money up front.

posted by cjets at 11:43 AM on June 17

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league is reviewing the matter for possible disciplinary action. Stallworth could face suspension without pay for some games this year.

Hah. Nice one, NFL.

It seems like he behaved quite properly for a drunk driver. I mean, he waited at the scene, and all that.

posted by graventy at 11:59 AM on June 17

True, but on Jacksonville sports radio yesterday, several callers knew of other drunk drivers who committed the same crime here in Florida got 10 years' jail time. This is a clear case of justice being sold.

posted by rcade at 01:41 PM on June 17

This is a clear case of justice being sold.

But of course. He's got millions, why not use them? Him getting literally a slap on the hand is pretty much just like O.J. getting acquitted years back because he couldn't properly put on a leather glove.

I would hope that the team would drop him like a hot potato after this stuff, but that's not at all going to be the case.

posted by CountSpatula at 02:12 PM on June 17

This is a clear case of justice being sold.

Because people on the radio know someone who got more time? Prosecutors bring the cases they think they can win. That's it. If a person with money gets off lighter, it is because the prosecutor recognizes that it is more difficult to win a case against non-legal aid attorneys. The fix is not to give harsher penalties to people with money. The fix is to give more money to legal aid attorneys.

posted by bperk at 03:26 PM on June 17

several callers knew of other drunk drivers who committed the same crime here in Florida got 10 years' jail time.

It probably wasn't the SAME crime, but a similar one. The people who got 10 years may have been going significantly faster than Stallworth, they might have fled the scene, and they might have been farther beyond the legal blood alcohol limit. The pedestrians they hit might have been on crosswalks, or otherwise walking legally. I'm just not sure that the only factor in mitigating his sentence was the fact that he has money. Sure, money got him a better attorney who made the prosecution less of a slam dunk. But I don't feel you can rightly characterize this as a case of justice being bought on the suspect accounts of callers on a radio show.

posted by tahoemoj at 03:44 PM on June 17

Felony murder is, generally and IANAL, a death that occurs during the commision of, and due to, a felony. Drunk driving is a felony. Felony murder, generally and IANAL, results in life or life without parole or, in some states, the death penalty. Why is drunk driving murder not treated as felony murder?

Answer: What crime are politicians, lawyers and extremely wealthy people likely commit that would fit the definition of felony murder?

posted by billsaysthis at 04:47 PM on June 17

Because people on the radio know someone who got more time?

No. Because he paid off the family in a confidential financial settlement and then, surprise, surprise, the famly wanted the case "resolved."

The fix is to give more money to legal aid attorneys.

Interesting idea but I don't think it would work. How about giving everyone (rich or poor) legal aid attorneys?

posted by cjets at 05:22 PM on June 17

Drunk driving is a felony.

No, it is not. Therefore, it is not felony murder. The rest of your point about lawyers being likely to commit the crime is therefore moot. That's a fine explanation for a conspiracy theorist though, if you want to hang onto it. It was vehicular manslaughter, being "the killing of a human being by another human being without malice, accomplished using a motor vehicle." - Theodore Dressler, Criminal Law.

And whether or not the family wanted the case resolved isn't really determinative of the outcome. Maybe it was a factor in the prosecutor's decision not to further pursue the case, as he said. Of course, maybe that's his cop-out for deciding not to aggressively pursue a case in which he was overmatched and didn't feel particularly confident. There's been a whole bunch of cases where prosecutors aggressively pursue a defendant, even against the express wishes of the victim's family. So, again, there's still nothing that proves to me that Stallworth "bought" his justice. You can believe whatever you want. I happen to think the outcome was fair for a first-time offender; you likely don't. And that's understandable, too.

posted by tahoemoj at 05:54 PM on June 17

There's been a whole bunch of cases where prosecutors aggressively pursue a defendant, even against the express wishes of the victim's family.

Exactly. Which is another reason why this sentence stinks to high heaven.

Stallworth got paid his $4.5 million dollar bonus the night before this happened. Then he got his buzz on. At 7 AM he gets in a car, hungover and still drunk from the night before (I know that feeling. I don't even like walking when I feel like that).

And then, while speeding, which shows further reckless behavior, he runs someone down. A series of reckless acts which leads to another man's death. He should be looking at years in prison, not days.

posted by cjets at 06:08 PM on June 17

Well, again, I'm guessing the prosecutor did what he could with the material he was given. You suspect otherwise, which I respect, given the climate of celebrity justice in America.

posted by tahoemoj at 06:12 PM on June 17

Well, at first this seems a bit too lenient - however when one considers that Stallworth wasn't driving recklessly, was speeding but only by the strictest of definitions (10 MPH over), has no priors, didn't flee from the scene and cooperated with the investigation and the gentleman who died was jaywalking across a multi-lane road and it certainly makes sense that he wouldn't get a ridiculous 10 year sentence.

I guess part of me thinks that the guy shouldn't have been running across the street ethier. I don't think he's blameless here.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 06:17 PM on June 17

I happen to think the outcome was fair for a first-time offender; you likely don't. And that's understandable, too.

Let's hope a drunk driver never kills one of your family members... Killing someone is killing someone. Unless the guy jumped in front of the car to commit suicide, it's a murder. Rich people get away with murder, literally. It has a lot to do with, as stated multiple times above, that rich people can afford better, and more highly trained attorneys. While poor people get stuck with the guy who barely passed the bar and couldn't get hired by a real law firm. 30-days in jail is a slap in the face to this guys family and his memory, no matter how much Stallworth paid his family.

posted by docshredder at 08:40 PM on June 17

Unless the guy jumped in front of the car to commit suicide, it's a murder.

No, it's a homicide. Homicide is not a word that is interchangeable with murder. Homicide encompasses murder, manslaughter, self defense (justifiable homicide) and every other taking of human life by another, intentional or otherwise.

I'm not trying to justify what Stallworth did; I really think it's a terrible tragedy. There are, however, varying degrees of culpability, both legally and morally. And yes, thank you, I hope a drunk driver never kills one of my family members, as well. I hope the same thing for everyone, and sadly, there are members here who have suffered through that tragedy. I don't mean to be cavalier in any way with their feelings or experiences.

posted by tahoemoj at 09:12 PM on June 17

I appreciate the tone and tenor of your argument, Tahoe, even if we have to agree to disagree.

posted by cjets at 10:53 PM on June 17

No one has mentioned the fact that Stallworth told police that he flashed his lights and honked his horn to warn the guy... How did he have all that time and still end up running the dude over? That part of the story just doesn't pass the smell test.

posted by docshredder at 12:21 AM on June 18

You kill somebody after inentionally drinking more than the legal limit and that's not a felony? The law is more f'ed than I thought!

And I still think that this is the serious, non-financial crime most lawyers, politicians and rich folk are likely to commit and since these are the people who write the laws I don't see myself as a tinfoil hat wearer for suggesting they would minimize the penalty. Otherwise why is this not a felony?

posted by billsaysthis at 02:05 AM on June 18

It's is definitely a felony, billsaythis. tahoemoj was pointing out that DUI is not a felony, so killing someone with a DUI is not felony murder. It is DUI manslaughter.

Interesting idea but I don't think it would work. How about giving everyone (rich or poor) legal aid attorneys?

So that prosecutors can throw anyone in jail they want, innocent or guilty? I think we have more than enough of that already.

posted by bperk at 09:31 AM on June 18

To play devil's advocate abit, why is no one upset that the family let themself be bought off? If everyone is so sure that Stallworth would have had the book thrown at him, then why not the moral outrage at the people who were willingly bought off? It seems to me that celebrity justice is only possible where we live in a culture where it is better to be bought off than to seek retribution. So when we complain about "Celebrity Justice," let's make sure we look in the cultural mirror.

All that said, if these people really did want it over and not go through the trauma, that is their right. Maybe at the end of the day Stallworth just got lucky (so to speak) regarding which families' life he drastically altered.

posted by brainofdtrain at 10:49 AM on June 18

I think there's some confusion in that post between the criminal and civil court systems. Really, the amount of money Stallworth paid the family of the victim had nothing to do with his criminal punishment. That's kind of the argument cjets and I were having. The family may have played a role in the prosecutor's decision not to pursue the case any farther, but ultimately it's not up to them.

On the one hand, Stallworth cannot bring the dead back to life. He cannot end the sadness and pain, and he can't undo driving drunk. What he can do is try to make the family as close to whole as is within his power, and what is in his power is to provide financial support. That's the basis of the American tort system, like it or not. We try to compensate for pain and death with money. That is why there is little outrage at the victim's family. They were probably offered a deal that they thought was fair, and rather than go through the pain of a protracted civil trial, they settled.

The family has no choice whether or not to "seek retribution" through the criminal justice system. They might ask a prosecutor to be kept out of the criminal proceedings to the greatest extent possible, and he might choose to honor that request, but he has a job to do. His decision of how to pursue the case is influenced by many factors. Has the perpetrator shown genuine remorse? Is he a threat to do it again? How morally culpable were his actions leading up to the catastrophic event? What was the victim's contribution? In light of these factors, the prosecutor acted in the way he saw appropriate to secure a conviction. Don't forget, if he pushed for more, Stallworth could have plead not guilty, brining more pain to the family through a protracted trial, and ultimately gotten off.

posted by tahoemoj at 11:35 AM on June 18

Really, the amount of money Stallworth paid the family of the victim had nothing to do with his criminal punishment.

Not to belabor the point, but wasn't his sentence plea-bargained down? Was it not the result of the two attorneys making a deal? And wouldn't the family's wishes carry weight in that discussion?

posted by smithnyiu at 12:10 PM on June 18

That's kind of the argument cjets and I were having.

I'm from NY, Tahoe. I don't argue. I discuss.

Really, the amount of money Stallworth paid the family of the victim had nothing to do with his criminal punishment.

In theory, I agree that is how it's supposed to work. However, a smart attorney might have framed it differently for the Reyes family and created a confidential agreement as one in which Stallworth would be only be able to pay them if he can play football this season (thus necessitating the short sentence). I'm not saying this is what happened. It's just an example of how a smart defense attorney can use the wealth of his client to persuade a family to strongly recommend this light sentence.

That is why there is little outrage at the victim's family.

And, as discussed above, maybe there should be more blame placed on the family's shoulders. Stiffer sentences are needed to deter drunk drivers and if the family did push hard for this lenient sentence, then they would be partially to blame for the message it sends to other celebrity drunk drivers.

Don't forget, if he pushed for more, Stallworth could have plead not guilty, brining more pain to the family through a protracted trial, and ultimately gotten off.

That's been the reasoning for all plea bargains. And sometimes it is a good idea. But in this case, I find the sentence to be egregriously soft and I would have preferred that the prosecutor tried and failed rather than accepted this sentence.

Otherwise, Miami might end up as a celebrity Death Race 2000 where rich drunks come to run over poor immigrants and then pay off their families (OK, that's a little over the top but I can't help thinking of that movie).

posted by cjets at 12:21 PM on June 18

Like I said, yes, the family's wishes may have played a role. The prosecutor cited the family's desire to put the whole thing behind them as one of the reasons he ended the case. However, the civil and criminal systems are (hypothetically) mutually exclusive. The settlement with the family was the result of attorneys reaching a deal. The plea agreement was the result of different attorneys reaching a deal. I'd be shocked if Stallworth's defense attorney in the criminal case was the same one who handled the civil settlement.

The willingness to settle and the terms of that settlement might have gone a long way toward determining the factors I mentioned above. Perhaps Stallworth, in a show of genuine contrition, had offered a generous settlement. That would show him to be a low risk of repeating the mistake. And I know that revenge and punishment are powerful motivators, but the prosecutor might just have determined that destroying one more life in the whole situation would not help anyone. And maybe that was the family's wish, as well.

posted by tahoemoj at 12:24 PM on June 18

The settlement with the family was the result of attorneys reaching a deal. The plea agreement was the result of different attorneys reaching a deal. I'd be shocked if Stallworth's defense attorney in the criminal case was the same one who handled the civil settlement.

Agreed about the different attorneys. But I have no doubt that they were working very closely together with the same goal in mind.

And I know that revenge and punishment are powerful motivators

As is, more importantly, deterrence. How does one deter drunk drivers if killing someone while driving drunk only gets them one month in jail?

but the prosecutor might just have determined that destroying one more life in the whole situation would not help anyone.

Sorry, but that argument only seems to work in the criminal justice system if you're rich.

posted by cjets at 12:53 PM on June 18

Really, the amount of money Stallworth paid the family of the victim had nothing to do with his criminal punishment.

Not exactly, according to the article: "Stallworth's attorney, Christopher Lyons, said the financial settlement was only one factor in the plea agreement."

posted by bender at 01:49 PM on June 18

How does one deter drunk drivers if killing someone while driving drunk only gets them one month in jail?

Stallworth can never drive again, so that is a pretty effective deterrent. If our justice system wanted to deter DUI, it would put stiffer sentences on people before they hurt someone. Currently, people get little to no punishment for DUI unless they kill someone. If they permanently revoked licenses for any DUI, that would be much more effective as a deterrent than throwing the book at someone after someone is dead. For most people, I would expect that killing someone would be more than punishment enough to prevent a repeat offense.

The victim's family lost their breadwinner. I doubt they have the luxury of using this crime to make a statement. They probably have to worry about putting food on the table. And, if they pushed and this went to trial, the civil case is delayed until the criminal case is complete. We could be talking years. Who knows what Stallworth's financial situation would be by then? Meanwhile, the family would be suffering daily from not having money. Instead, they did what they could and pushed for a quick resolution that prevents Stallworth from ever getting behind the wheel again.

posted by bperk at 02:21 PM on June 18

Well, at first this seems a bit too lenient - however when one considers that Stallworth wasn't driving recklessly, was speeding but only by the strictest of definitions (10 MPH over), has no priors, didn't flee from the scene and cooperated with the investigation and the gentleman who died was jaywalking across a multi-lane road and it certainly makes sense that he wouldn't get a ridiculous 10 year sentence.

I guess part of me thinks that the guy shouldn't have been running across the street ethier. I don't think he's blameless here.

These are my thoughts exactly.

posted by Ying Yang Mafia at 04:05 PM on June 18

Never drive again seems a bit overstated. Never hold a driver's license in Florida seems more precise. I know other states generally honor such bans but somehow I think in five years (or maybe less, when his probation ends) he will apply for this to be lifted, or else he will find another state willing to give him a license.

Even without this there are literally millions of unlicensed drivers right now in the USA and after all how expensive would a quality fake ID cost him?

posted by billsaysthis at 05:44 PM on June 18

Stallworth can never drive again

Add to that he might never play football again.

Then again, that's what they told Pacman Jones.

posted by smithnyiu at 06:07 PM on June 18

The victim's family lost their breadwinner. I doubt they have the luxury of using this crime to make a statement. They probably have to worry about putting food on the table. And, if they pushed and this went to trial, the civil case is delayed until the criminal case is complete. We could be talking years.

I get it. It's a reasonable argument. Even if neither of us knows the financial status of the family.

But I wonder how they'll feel if Stallworth does this again in five or ten years? Maybe like a rape victim who refuses to testify against her attacker and the attacker rapes someone else?

And I guarantee you that some scumbag in the U.S. is going to choose whether or not to drive home drunk tonight and the Stallworth case will be his rationalization for deciding to get behind the wheel.

posted by cjets at 08:24 PM on June 18

in canada your're guaranteed at least 4 years in jail ..no matter how much your remorse is,no matter how much money you got.. you still gotta suffer,you need to be punished for your behavior.. he chose to drink, he chose to drive home ,that was his choice ...goodel should suspend him for life..he took a life now lose your privileges as a professional football player for life..these players are rolemodels let them be held to a higher standard and suffer harsher penalties as a reminder of that crime doesn't pay...but dante is showing that it does... shame on dante,shame on the D.A ,shame on the Reyes family for accepting a buyout..

posted by hemi528 at 09:49 AM on June 19

This is a clear case of justice being sold.

It's weird to me when deadspin is providing better insight than SportsFilter. From the little I've read (and I've made an effort to avoid the story), apparently Florida has some crazy law(s) that look at negligence/ wrong-doing on the part of the victim. Given the possibility the victim was inebriated at the time, not in the crosswalk, etc. apparently this was going to be a difficult conviction in a Florida courtroom. Plus they would clearly be up against good attorneys. So they settled. Happens every day.

Maybe it's not a clear case of justice being sold so much as one drunk driving case we happen to be paying attention to because the person in question is a pro athlete.

posted by yerfatma at 01:04 PM on June 19

When a defendant in a criminal case pays an undisclosed financial settlement to the family of the victim, and the family does not participate in the effort to prosecute, how can anyone not view it as justice being sold?

I think it should be illegal to hide the terms of a financial settlement when the parties only have a relationship with each other due to a criminal proceeding.

posted by rcade at 01:36 PM on June 19

Why?

posted by yerfatma at 02:22 PM on June 19

I agree with yerfatma. Why does that need to be anyone's business but the parties involved?

posted by bender at 09:02 AM on June 20

The exchange of money between a criminal defendant and a crime victim or the victim's survivors has a direct outcome on trials, particularly in sentencing where victims often have the right to speak. Our trust in the justice system requires the perception of impartiality.

If you believe that it's acceptable for Stallworth to pay the victim's family, there should be no harm in disclosing the terms of the payment.

If you believe as I do that these deals are inappropriate, that's all the more reason to disclose the terms.

posted by rcade at 12:16 PM on June 20

I agree with yerfatma. Why does that need to be anyone's business but the parties involved?

Criminal justice is intended to protect society as a whole, as well as individuals. If civil actions affect criminal justice then the result of those actions should be visible to society to ensure the appropriate outcome has been reached. Similar to how sunshine laws impose restrictions on privacy in government decisions.

posted by billsaysthis at 01:03 PM on June 20

If you believe that it's acceptable for Stallworth to pay the victim's family, there should be no harm in disclosing the terms of the payment.

Perfect information/ disclosure of all payments means you're creating a marketplace. You would most likely be giving a great deal of leverage to the defendants, especially if they can afford better legal representation. I think most people would find public haggling and valuations of one life versus another equally distasteful.

posted by yerfatma at 03:54 PM on June 22

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