Three years after he was charged in a wee hours car wreck in Coral Gables that killed a young paralegal, ex-cop Peter Muñoz wants a judge to dismiss his criminal case.
The former Coral Springs police officer is making the request after a Miami-Dade judge, in a little-noticed decision, tossed out evidence that showed Muñoz was drunk, with blood alcohol measuring nearly three times the legal limit.
The decision forced prosecutors to drop a DUI manslaughter charge. Now, Muñoz is asking the same judge to throw out the remaining charge of vehicular homicide in the death of Jennifer Gutierrez, a 23-year-old mother and student.
The case is scheduled for a court hearing on Friday.
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Muñoz was driving his Volkswagen south on LeJeune Road in July 2011, just after 4 a.m. He plowed into Gutierrez, driving a BMW, who had entered the intersection while trying to make a left from Aledo Avenue north onto LeJeune.
Gutierrez, a Miami-Dade college student, was rushed to Ryder Trauma Center and died less than two hours later.
Muñoz, 27, was hospitalized. A toxicology report showed he had a blood-alcohol level of .229, nearly triple the legal limit. Gutierrez, who was driving on a suspended license at the time, also had evidence of Xanax and cocaine in her system.
Coral Springs police fired Muñoz soon after the crash.
Several months after he was charged, his defense attorneys attacked the validity of the search warrant, executed by rookie Coral Gables traffic homicide investigator Jesus Rodriguez, for blood vials at the hospital.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy agreed with the defense that the detective, in a search warrant, should have included the fact that there was a six- to eight-foot hedge that might have obstructed the sight of the woman pulling into the intersection. The State Attorney’s Office, in October 2012, had to drop the DUI manslaughter charge.
Sally Matson, a victims advocate for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said the group joins Gutierrez’s family “in their sadness when a case is compromised by a technicality.”
“MADD is way too familiar with cases where a life is lost for a 100-percent preventable crime,” Matson said. “It is especially disappointing when an officer who was sworn to protect and serve made the choice to commit a crime which resulted in the loss of an innocent life.”
The case lingered for months as both sides hired accident reconstruction experts to examine the evidence.
In May, Muñoz’s lawyer asked the judge to dismiss the final charge, saying his speed was no more than 16 miles per hour over the 40 mph speed limit — not enough to convict on a vehicular manslaughter charge.
“The death of Ms. Gutierrez was not caused by the defendant’s operation of his motor vehicle in a reckless manner likely to cause [death],” attorney Alan S. Ross wrote in his motion.
In the past, Florida courts have thrown out vehicular homicide convictions based chiefly on a high rate of speed.
Earlier this month, an appeals court tossed out the conviction of Luis Luzardo, who had been speeding in daylight on Tamiami Trail when a carload of tourists tried to make a left turn into an amusement park. Luzardo tried to veer but still hit the car, killing one British woman.
The appeals court said that Luzardo might have been negligent or careless but that the case did not reach the proper “level of recklessness.”
In Muñoz’s case, prosecutors say jurors should decide whether Muñoz is guilty.
The ex-cop was reckless because he was actually speeding at 65 mph — all while “weaving in and out of lanes” in the dark that morning, according to the state’s expert and witnesses.
“All these facts, taken together, show ... the defendant operated his vehicle in a grossly reckless manner without the safety of others,” prosecutor Beatrice Gonzalez wrote.