A University of Florida student was found not guilty for a reckless driving charge Thursday afternoon.
Joseph D’Andre Melhado Jr., 21, of Pembroke Pines, said he was running late to the first day of fall classes in August. He was ticketed for reckless driving and driving 116 mph on I-75, which has a speed limit of 70.
A jury of six deliberated for about 15 minutes and returned a not guilty verdict.
Melhado’s lawyers, Joel Osborne and Jonathon Alford, requested the ticketing officer’s vehicle footage be suppressed prior to the trial, but the request was denied by Alachua County Court Judge Susan Miller-Jones. The video shows Melhado pull his car onto the left shoulder and walk toward the police car per the trooper’s instructions. Off camera, Melhado is heard apologizing to Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Darran M. Morgan.
“I was going 116?” Melhado is heard asking the officer.
“Yeah,” the trooper replies.
“Damn. I’m so sorry,” Melhado says.
Morgan testified that he was driving southbound on I-75 and spotted Melhado driving a black BMW at “a high rate of speed” in the opposite direction. Using an emergency turnaround, he followed Melhado for just under four miles before turning on his traffic stop lights and his dash camera.
The 30 seconds of audioless dashcam recording, previously obtained by WUFT News, was the only video of Melhado’s driving available to the jury. It shows him moving between three lanes of traffic and following closely behind other vehicles.
The class Melhado was late for was to start at 11:55 a.m., more than an hour after he was pulled over at 10:20 a.m.
Alford argued that the state trooper had simply made a mistake; Melhado may have been driving carelessly, a civil traffic offense with punishments of license points and fines, but he was not acting recklessly.
Reckless driving is a more serious criminal traffic offense in which a person drives “in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property” and includes punishment of up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
State attorney Andrew McCain argued that by apologizing to police, Melhado was admitting to knowingly driving recklessly. To counter, Alford apologized to the jury in his closing statement. “I’ve apologized to the judge 10 times today. Doesn’t mean I’ve done anything wrong,” he said.
Melhado’s 116-mph speeding ticket was consolidated into his criminal traffic case. Osborne said he will motion to dismiss the speeding ticket, but it may require further litigation if it is not dismissed.
After the trial, Melhado said the ruling was a weight off his shoulders and renewed his trust in the justice system, with which he said he had never interacted before. It was frustrating to see his apologies twisted as admissions of guilt, he said, but the verdict refuted that interpretation.
He said it was important for young people to remain stalwart if you face charges but know you are not guilty.
“I just truly felt as though I was not recklessly driving,” he said.