In February, 2012, 26-year-old Michele Traverso was driving back from a bar at 6:00 am when he struck 36 year old Aaron Cohen, who was bicycling on the side of a South Florida road. Traverso fled the scene of the accident and drove back to his condo, where he covered the damage to his car with a tarp. Cohen, a father of two, died as a result of his injuries. Traverso turned himself in 18 hours after the accident, meaning that it was practically impossible to get a blood alcohol reading although police strongly suspected that he had been drunk at the time of the accident.
This led to outrage when Traverso got a relatively light sentence for the accident, 364 days in jail. If he had been apprehended at the scene and prosecutors could prove that he had been drinking, he faced a minimum of 4 years up to 10 years in prison for vehicular manslaughter. In the case of the death of Aaron Cohen, it appeared that fleeing the scene of the accident greatly paid off for someone who could have faced a sentence which had the potential to be much longer than he received.
This led to drunk driving activists to start pressing the Aaron Cohen Law. Under this law, if someone flees the scene of an accident where someone is injured or killed, they face much stricter minimum sentencing than in the past, meaning that there would no longer be an advantage to leaving the scene if the driver was drunk. The Aaron Cohen Law has been gaining traction in the Florida Senate and the bill recently made it through the Senate Transportation and Highway Safety Subcommittee on January 9, 2014, although in a modified form.
Under the law that left the subcommittee, the sentence for leaving the scene of an accident where someone is killed would be a minimum of four years. While the law still has to make it through the Senate Criminal Justice Subcommittee, the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee and the Economic Committee, it is likely that it will come to a vote before the entire Florida Senate, although possibly in yet another form.
If the Aaron Cohen Law is passed, there will no longer be an incentive for drunk drivers to leave the scene of an accident because they will no longer be able to escape the heavier penalties that come with a DUI conviction. As the law stands now, leaving the scene of an accident where a death occurs could face up to 30 years in prison if found guilty of a first degree penalty. In cases where there are injuries occur, there could be up to a 5 year penalty. However, sentences can often be far less than that, especially if the prosecution has an especially difficult time proving their case. At this time, the minimum sentence that someone faces for the first degree felony of leaving the scene of an accident involving a death is 2 years, meaning that the minimum sentence that can be given in such a case will double if the law is passed.
The reasons why Traverso faced a far lighter sentence in his case are somewhat complex. Traverso’s attorney successfully argued that a rare genetic disorder that Traverso had led him to be prone to infection, making it especially dangerous for him to be in prison. As a result, he got the sentence of only 364 days and 2 years house arrest. Of the jail time he was sentenced, Traverso only served approximately a third of it. The judge believed that there was a real risk that Traverso could die in prison, which led to the very light sentence.
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