TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (NSF) - An appeals court Friday ordered a new trial for a man convicted of drunken-driving charges in the April 2016 death of a Volusia County moped rider, finding that police failed to properly inform the man about consequences of refusing to submit to a breath test.
A panel of the 5th District Court of Appeal overturned the conviction of Craig Howitt, now 42, on charges of DUI causing death/failing to render aid and DUI causing death to property or injury.
Before his trial, Howitt sought to suppress evidence that he refused to submit to breath and field-sobriety tests. A circuit judge denied Howitt’s request, which was based on police officers not complying with what is known as the state’s “informed consent” law.
But in overturning the conviction Friday, a three-judge panel of the appeals court said that “inexplicably, the officers failed to comply” with the law. “(By) the investigator’s own admission, the officers did not read Howitt any portion of the implied consent law or otherwise inform him of any consequences of refusing to take a breath test,” said the ruling, written by Judge Jay Cohen and joined by Judge Eric Eisnaugle and Senior Judge Bruce Jacobus. “Therefore, his refusal was insufficient to establish consciousness of guilt, and the trial court should have granted his motion to suppress his refusal to submit to a breath test.”
The appeals court upheld another conviction on a charge of leaving the scene of an accident with death. The ruling did not detail all of the circumstances of the case, but a 2016 Daytona Beach News-Journal story said Howitt was accused in the death of 18-year-old Nicholas Eason, who was struck from behind while riding a moped east of DeLand.
The appeals court said Howitt was accused of driving away from the scene and eventually stopping after striking a sign in the median of the road. He again started driving before being pulled over by officers. Howitt was sentenced to 15 years in prison and is an inmate at Madison Correctional Institution, according to the state Department of Corrections website.