It was reported on June 16 by major media outlets that National Football League star wide receiver, Donte Stallworth, received just 30 days in jail for killing a man as a result of his driving under the influence of alcohol. It was reported yesterday that Stallworth also reached a financial settlement with the 59 year old victim’s family and begin serving his sentence. It shocks the conscience that any person – star or other – could kill another human being as a result of being intoxicated and spend just 30 days to reflect on their misdeeds. What message does this to drunk drivers – if you have money to settle civilly and the victim’s family needs the cash, there are different laws for you?
While this blog does not usually touch upon criminal law matters except as they relate to technology and the Internet, I found this story so outrageous that I felt comment was in order. For those of you unfamiliar with this story, a 59 year old construction worker was on his way home from work and allegedly (according to Stallworth) was trying to catch a bus. Stallworth stated that he flashed his lights to warn the pedestrian but still ended up striking and killing the man. At the time of the accident, Stallworth’s blood alochol level was .126 – well above the Florida state limit of .08. Just how alert was the NFL star? Unfortunately we’ll never be able to hear the victim’s side of the story and it seems that the justice system doesn’t seem to care.
According to Christopher Lyons, Stallworth’s attorney, part of the sentence reduction had to do with his client’s owning up to his responsibility by staying at the scene of the accident, calling the police, taking a blood test voluntarily and doing what he could to help this unfortunate man. I’m not unsympathetic. I think it’s rather noble in this day and age where star athletes clearly believe they are above even the Almighty himself (see “Plaxico Burress” who is now trying to use this case to avoid jail time for his felony entirely.) Of note, Stallworth received a $35 million contract to play football – and that appears to be a factor in this case, especially by the timing of the settlement.
Miami-Dade State Attorney, Katherine Fernandez Rundle, discussed the rationale for this highly reduced sentence. Rundle cited Stallworth’s lack of previous criminal record, cooperation with police, willingness to accept a plea deal, and the requests of the Reyes family – particularly the victim’s 15-year-old daughter who wanted the case resolved to avoid any more pain. This reeks of a poor family being offered plenty of money to drown their sorrows in a financial windfall. I can see a 15 year old girl acting badly and rationalizing that nothing will bring back her father so she might as well enjoy the money – but the prosecutor? What was Rundle thinking? It’s an outrageous message to society and, without any indication that this had to do with a weak case, this sets a whole new precedent for the grossly irresponsible, willing to take serious risks of endangering the lives of others in driving after being intoxicated.
Stallworth isn’t the first NFL player to have a light punishment as a result of a fatal DUI accident. Leonard Little, defensive end with the Los Angeles Rams, was also convicted of “involuntary manslaughter” after driving with a very high .019 blood alcohol level. He received 90 days in jail after ending someone’s life as a direct result of his carelessness that could and should easily have been avoided. He’s still playing football – despite being arrested again for DUI, six years after his drinking killed an innocent woman. It’s a very sad day for sober Americans.