Appeal Rejected In Case Of Meth-Impaired Driver That Killed Teen

June 14, 2018

The First District Court of Appeal has upheld the conviction of man sentenced to 41 years in prison for a 2014 fatal DUI crash just hours after he was released from jail.

Melvin D. Hawthorne was convicted in 2016 by a Santa Rosa County Jury of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide, driving while license cancelled suspended, or revoked with careless or negligent operation of a vehicle resulting in death, DUI with serious bodily injury, and DUI with property damage.

Hawthorne was sentenced as a habitual felony offender and as a prison releasee reoffender.

Hawthorne’s appeal focused, in part, on the admission of expert testimony by Bruce Goldberger, director of toxicology and chief of forensic medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine. Goldberger testified about the effects of methamphetamine on human physiology and that, based on his tests and studies, the details of the case were consistent with a driver impaired by methamphetamine. The challenge to Goldberger’s testimony involved whether it met a standard, known in the legal world as the “Daubert” standard, for being admitted in the case.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court upheld a ruling by a Santa Rosa County circuit judge to allow the testimony. The appeals court said the circuit judge did not act improperly in allowing Goldberger to answer hypothetical questions asked by a prosecutor. “Dr. Goldberger testified that his methodology of determining whether a set of facts was consistent with methamphetamine impairment was commonly accepted in his field and testified that this method was based on published studies by him and other professionals in his field, and at trial he applied those methods to the facts of this case,” said the six-page ruling, written by appeals-court Chief Judge Brad Thomas and joined by judges Harvey Jay and M. Kemmerly Thomas. “Therefore, we conclude that his expert testimony was admissible under Daubert, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting his testimony.”

The other basis for appeal included Hawthorne’s driving record and the time of his release from jail, but the appeals court rejected those claims.

Hawthorne was released on bond from the Santa Rosa County Department of  Corrections at approximately 9:00 a.m. on August 17, 2014.

About 12 hours later, Hawthorne was speeding in his stepfather’s black 1998 Nissan Frontier pickup truck east of Berrydale on Highway 4 when he attempted to pass a Ford F150 towing a boat that was traveling at 55 mph. Hawthorne side-swiped the Ford and continued down Highway 4. Hawthorne then ran the stop sign at the intersection of Highway 4 and Highway 87 and continued to speed. He failed to turn and crashed into a railing. Hawthorne then backed up and again sped down Highway 4. He rear-ended a Dodge Neon carrying five people at an estimated 79 miles per hou.

A passenger sitting in the rear of the Neon, 13-year old Shawn McLaughlin of Baker, was entrapped in the Neon and died at the scene of the crash. Another passenger sitting in the rear seat of the Neon, Raistlin Bunch, age 14 of Baker, was also entrapped in the vehicle and suffered a severe leg fracture.

A blood sample taken from Hawthorneblood test showed .90 milligrams of methamphetamine and .10 milligrams of amphetamine per liter of his blood.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.


5 Responses to “Appeal Rejected In Case Of Meth-Impaired Driver That Killed Teen”

  1. Betty on June 17th, 2018 3:26 pm

    WHY was he released from jail in the first place?? Oh yeah…..justice

  2. Trocarman on June 17th, 2018 6:48 am

    Melvin, by his own choosing, has no redeemable value. He killed an innocent person at a time when he should have been in prison. No mercy. He should have been executed.

  3. chris on June 16th, 2018 1:40 pm

    Eye for an eye.
    Fire up old sparky

  4. for sure on June 14th, 2018 11:08 pm

    He was even out of prison from his last time for a day before he did this shouldn’t even get to waste our tax payer money on a appeal but atleast he wont be out again for a long time if at all.

  5. anne 1of2 on June 14th, 2018 9:24 am

    Duh! The courts start letting all of these impaired drivers off for whatever they chose to put in their bodies and then drive, it will be open season on all drivers obeying the law. This guy is used to getting off, he is never at fault, or he wouldn’t have been on the road that day. This playing the system makes me ill.

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