Florida Woman Sentenced to 8 Years After No Contest Plea for DUI Death

Finebloom, Haenel & Higgins

At around 10:00 pm in June 2013, 54-year-old Carl Edward Patrick was riding his motorcycle south on US-41 when 54-year-old Donna Lynne Brown made a U-turn and struck his bike from behind.  Brown claimed that she did not know that she struck Patrick and dragged him and his bike under her car for more than three miles.  She was eventually stopped by a police officer who noticed sparks coming from under her car.  Brown failed a field sobriety test and when given a breathalyzer, her BAC was somewhere between two and three times the legal limit.  She was arrested for DUI manslaughter in Lee County, Florida and other charges and was released on bail. 

Part of the conditions of Brown’s bail was that she was not allowed to drive.  However, she was later found driving by police and her bail was revoked.  As a result, she was sent back to jail while she was awaiting trial.

In November 2013, a judge found in Brown’s favor in her motion to exclude the breathalyzer results for being done without a warrant and also exclude the results from her field sobriety test due to improper training on giving the test by the officer who conducted it.  However, the charges were not dismissed against her, and at the time, the prosecutor maintained that they still had more than enough evidence against her.

On April 4, 2014, Brown pled no contest to the charges against her in a plea deal.  As a result, she was sentenced to 8 years in prison, lifetime revocation of her driver’s license and a $500 fine.  Her motion to be released for 30 days before serving her sentence to wrap up personal affairs was denied.  Brown will be eligible for release for good behavior after 4 years.

A no contest has many similarities to a guilty plea when it comes to the result in criminal court, but there are some procedural differences and the result of such a plea could make a difference in civil court for claims coming from the crime.  A no contest plea basically means that the defendant is not going to be fighting the charges against them.  As a result, the judge would enter a guilty plea on the defendant’s behalf and would sentence them the same as if they had pled guilty.  As far as the criminal courts are concerned in Florida, pleading no contest is the same as pleading guilty in some circumstances, such as determining prior offenses for sentencing for future crimes.

The biggest difference between a guilty plea and a no contest plea usually applies to later civil suits.  In a guilty plea, the defendant is admitting they did the crime as charged.  In the normal procedure in criminal court, they will also have to put on the record an account of the crime.  This can later be used as evidence against them in a civil suit to show that there is really no dispute that the damages to the other party happened.  In a no contest plea, the defendant is not actually pleading guilty or not guilty, the guilty plea is being entered for them.  The defendant is also not going on the record with their account of the crime.  This would mean if there were a later civil suit, the damaged parties would still have to present evidence that the defendant’s actions led to the plaintiff’s injury.

It seems very likely from the nature of Brown’s crime, that there will be a later wrongful death suit from Patrick’s family.  It is also highly likely that the damages from this wrongful death suit would be quite high because of the gruesome nature of the crime.  This is especially the case for pain and suffering damages from this incident.  Brown’s no contest plea in her criminal case was most likely done to offer some protection to her or other parties in a future civil action, rather than a move to lessen her criminal sentence.