There is a four-year mandatory minimum for a DUI manslaughter conviction in Florida, but prison terms vary widely from cases to case and, a Miami Herald data analysis shows, from county to county. In over 400 fatality cases resolved in Florida since 2012, the statewide average sentence for DUI manslaughter is just under 10 years behind bars. Miami-Dade by far had the most cases in that time span, 66, and among the lightest average sentences with convicts serving an average of just over 6 years in prison. In Broward County's 27 cases, defendants are serving just under 10 years.
Upstate, the average sentences in major metropolitan areas are even higher. Palm Beach convicts average 11.54 years in prison for DUI manslaughter, while those in Hillsborough County serve about 10.18 years. Experts say the the reasons for the disparity in sentences are complex. Outcomes are swayed by a host of factors: the strength of evidence, the skill of defense attorneys, circumstances of a crash, a defendant's criminal history, media glare and the desires of a victim's loved ones. “Victims drive to a good degree what the sentence outcome will be,” said Miami attorney Rick Freedman. “Victims who are not active, not engaged with the state attorney's office, are going to see a lower number in the sentencing.” Judges cannot speak publicly about their cases. A former Miami-Dade judge, Ellen Leesfield, acknowledged that for judges, who are elected, “these are the hardest cases to sentence people on, without a doubt.”