The following article appeared in the April 30, 2008 edition of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Ron Chapman represented and obtained a favourable outcome for the defendant Ramirez.
By Nancy L. Othon
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
April 30, 2008
Two men who were racing cars and driving drunk when their friend was killed last year after a house party in Boca Raton received what a judge called the 'deal of a lifetime' Wednesday and were sentenced to one year in the Palm Beach County Jail after pleading guilty to DUI manslaughter.
Just days away from hitting their 21st birthdays, Jhonathan Ramirez, of Miami, and Matthew Swaney, of Boynton Beach, were immediately taken into custody to begin serving their yearlong sentence. They each faced a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted of DUI manslaughter.
Circuit Judge Krista Marx warned the men that she would not hesitate to send either man to prison if they slip up during the 15 years of probation both men must serve, even if a probation violation is a technicality. She also said the defendant's attorneys got them a 'rare deal' that she hoped they were worthy of receiving.
Marx accepted the plea agreement despite an emotional argument from victim David Martin's mother, Bonne Martin of Boynton Beach, who told Marx that her only son's life was worth far more than a year in jail.
'I'm actually begging you to not go along with the plea, judge,' Martin said, shaking.
David Martin, 20, had gone to a party in Boca Raton along with Ramirez and Swaney on Feb. 17, 2007, when all three friends drank and smoked marijuana, according to police reports. Martin was a passenger in Swaney's car when Swaney lost control of his car on Clint Moore Road and hit a tree. Martin was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash.
Witnesses told police Swaney and Ramirez were racing each other. All three men had blood-alcohol levels of 0.10 percent and had marijuana in their system at the time of the crash, prosecutor Ellen Roberts said. The legal alcohol limit in Florida is 0.08 percent.
'I can't even begin to fathom your pain,' Marx told Martin. 'I cannot be more sorry for your loss.'
But Marx accepted the plea, telling Martin that Roberts is one of the toughest vehicle homicide prosecutors in the state and that she had the utmost confidence in all of the attorneys involved in the case.
The terms of the deal also call for Ramirez and Swaney to do 50 hours of community service annually for 15 years and each pay more than $12,000 in restitution to Martin - a condition that prompted Marx to issue a strict warning to the men.
'I don't care if you have to work two jobs, gentlemen,' Marx said.
After the hearing, Roberts said the deal was appropriate in this case because Martin was not an innocent victim on the street, but rather someone who chose to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana with his friends who got behind the wheel.
'It didn't make sense to do anything else,' Roberts said, adding that the terms of the 15-year probation are extremely strict and won't be easy for the men.
She also said that even if convicted of DUI manslaughter, Marx likely would not have sentenced either man to the 15-year maximum. Martin wanted the men locked up for life, Roberts said.
Martin said she left the hearing feeling 'let down' by the judicial system.
'My life has just been ripped away,' she said.
In a letter that Martin wrote to Marx last week, Martin said the terms of the plea agreement are 'an insult to my son's memory and a slap in my face.'
'I believe, that if the state wants to stop drunk driving and road racing, they need to impose sentences that are on par with the offense,' Martin wrote. 'A year in jail for killing a human being is a joke, and sends the wrong message to the community.'