Man Gets 15 Years for Killing Cheerleader While Drunk

Finebloom, Haenel & Higgins

A Florida man who has been getting a lot of media attention for his role in the death of a Miami Heat cheerleader, was sentenced on May 6, 2104 for the DUI manslaughter charge that he was recently convicted of.  Mario Careaga was driving back from a mall in Ft. Lauderdale when he struck the victim, Nancy Lopez-Ruiz, as she was on the side of the road with her motorcycle back in 2010.  Lopez-Ruiz had just been hired as a Miami Heat cheerleader and had started practice with the team.  Careaga’s blood alcohol content was nearly three times the legal limit, despite his claiming he had only two drinks that night.

During his trial, Careaga’s attorney asked for a mistrial after it was revealed that one of the jurors had been making anti-gay comments about Careaga.  The judge denied the motion for a mistrial, finding that there was no evidence that the statements had any impact on Careaga’s later conviction.  Careaga has since appealed and will most likely be free on bond while he awaits a decision on his appeal.

Careaga’s appeal, and the likely release on bond, was completely foreseeable in this particular case.  Just because there is a verdict and a sentence in a criminal case, does not mean it ends.  If there was an error in the case at some point, such as the possible prejudice by a juror, a defendant has the right to argue that the results of that criminal case should be overturned, usually for a new trial.  Appeals are extremely common in criminal cases of all sorts, but are especially common in felony cases such as this one where there are higher penalties.

The criminal appeals process can take years in some cases and is meant to protect a defendant from serving a criminal sentence if it cannot be proven that they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt or there is some other error that prevented him or her from getting a fair trial.  Because of this, it is not uncommon for a bond to be issued while a case is being appealed in some cases.  It is completely up to the judge in a criminal case to release someone on an appeal bond.  This is what seems to be happening in Careaga’s case.  An appeal bond cannot be issued in death penalty and for most violent felonies, nor can it be offered to those with multiple felonies on their record.  However, if a defendant has ties to the community, is not violent, and usually follows the law, there is a greater chance that it can be issued.

In Careaga’s case, it was not surprising that an appeal bond was issued since there is a higher likelihood that his case will be successfully appealed as compared to other types of criminal cases.  Careaga’s appeal is a strong one since there does appear to be evidence that a juror was at least making fun of his sexuality, even if that juror did not make a decision based on prejudice.  Also, Careaga does not appear to be a flight risk or a violent person who is likely to either not show up to later court appearances or harm someone else while he is released, making him a good candidate for an appeal bond.