Accidents and mistakes are normal parts of life, but some are certainly a bigger deal than others. If you found yourself driving intoxicated, that is already enough cause for serious concern.
If you caused a fatal accident while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you may be faced with the charge of DUI manslaughter in Florida. This is a serious charge that you should not try to face without the assistance of a skilled attorney.
What Is DUI Manslaughter in Florida?
The crime of DUI manslaughter in Florida is defined under Florida Statute 316.193(1) and (3)(c)(3) and includes three critical elements:
- A person is guilty of the offense of driving under the influence and is subject to punishment as provided in subsection (2) if the person is driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle within this state and:
- The person is under the influence of alcoholic beverages, any chemical substance set forth in s. 877.111, or any substance controlled under chapter 893, when affected to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired;
- The person has a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood; or
- The person has a breath-alcohol level of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.
- Who, by reason of such operation, causes or contributes to causing the death of any human being or unborn child commits DUI manslaughter.
All these elements must be present for the plaintiff to bring a legal cause of action for DUI manslaughter in Florida. It is important to note that actual physical control means that the driver is physically in or on the vehicle and has the capability of operating the vehicle even if they are not operating it at the time. For example, if the vehicle is stopped at an inappropriate place due to the driver’s inability to make the correct decision, they are still responsible for injuries caused.
Penalties for DUI Manslaughter in Florida
It should be clear that DUI manslaughter is a crime and comes with a second-degree felony charge. It is a Level 8 offense under the Florida Criminal Punishment Code. This defines the severity of the crime in the state. A DUI manslaughter sentence in Florida could include:
- Up to fifteen years in prison,
- Up to fifteen years of probation,
- Permanent driver’s license revocation,
- Up to $10,000 in fines,
- Impoundment of the driver’s vehicle,
- Completion of a DUI Substance Abuse Course,
- Community service, and
- Completion of a psychosocial evaluation and substance abuse treatment.
The mandatory minimum sentence for DUI manslaughter in Florida is 124 months and 15 days in prison in addition to the above penalties. Florida Statute 316.193(3)(c)(3) caps downward departure (a judge implementing a lesser sentence at their discretion) for DUI manslaughter to a minimum term of four years in prison.
If you left the scene of the DUI accident for whatever reason without giving your information to people involved such as the survivors, witnesses, or law enforcement, or completely failed to stop and address the situation, you may face a first-degree felony. The severity of sentencing increases to up to 30 years in prison and $10,000 in fines.
Florida DUI Manslaughter Sentencing Guidelines
The Florida Department of Corrections has created a scoresheet preparation manual. The points determine the penalties and take into account previous history. Florida DUI manslaughter sentencing guidelines state that a Level 8 offense amounts to 74 points using this system. Victim injury points are 120 per victim. Prior criminal activity, legal status violations, and other mitigating circumstances can add points. These could include fleeing law enforcement, failure to appear at court, diversion, pretrial intervention, and more.
The minimum length of the prison sentence is calculated by subtracting 28 from the total number of points, then multiplying that number by .75. This is the number of months that must be served in prison unless the judge imposes a downward departure sentence. In a standard case with one death, according to Florida DUI manslaughter sentencing guidelines, the math would look like this: 74 + 120 – 28 = 166 x .75 = 124.5 months. In this case, the minimum sentencing for DUI manslaughter would apply.
Defenses for Florida DUI Manslaughter
If you find yourself facing a charge for DUI manslaughter in Florida, all is not lost. You may have any number of defenses. Some of these may help completely remove the charge. Others may lessen the severity of your sentence. Each case is unique depending on the circumstances of the collision. It is important to seek counsel from an experienced Florida defense attorney who understands the details of DUI manslaughter in Florida and the gravity of felony charges. Here are a few examples of defenses that may or may not apply.
This is a big one. There is a lot that could go wrong in establishing and maintaining evidence of intoxication.
The breathalyzer machines used by law enforcement have flaws from time to time. Failure to properly use or maintain the machine could result in inaccurate readings. Any variance outside of specific operating procedures could cause the results to be thrown out.
In certain circumstances, Florida law enforcement officers have the option to issue field sobriety tests to determine whether someone is impaired. These tests are subjective given that the officer is generally not aware of the driver’s normal level of coordination and balance. An injury or disability would make these tests unreliable. There may also be an argument that the officer was not qualified to perform the tests. Unreliable tests are not admissible in court.
Improper Police Protocol
There is a very specific protocol that must be followed whenever the police arrest an individual. Any deviation from this protocol is a violation of rights. This starts with ensuring you are read and understand your Miranda rights. Police have a duty to file reports correctly, handle all evidence and documentation in a way that completes a proper chain of custody, and provide you with your options at the time sobriety tests are requested.
Probable cause is another element of police protocol up for question. The arresting officer can only issue a DUI test if they have probable cause to believe the driver is intoxicated. Failure of the officer to document or communicate why they had reason to believe sobriety was in question puts the entire arrest at risk of being thrown out.
If your actions did not cause the death of the other person, you cannot be found guilty of DUI manslaughter in Florida. Their vehicle could have malfunctioned, or they could have passed away in the hospital due to existing health conditions. Existing health conditions such as epilepsy or a heart condition could have also been a contributing factor, if not the cause, for the accident. These are challenging things to prove, which is why you will need a skilled attorney who can conduct a proper independent investigation.
Control of the Vehicle
Actual physical control of the vehicle may be called into question when the circumstances of the accident are not clear and there are no witnesses. Anytime there are no witnesses, the prosecutor will have to prove this element. The location of the driver and keys to the vehicle at the time the police arrive is important.
Difference Between DUI Manslaughter and Vehicular Homicide in Florida
DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide in Florida are both second-degree felonies, so they have the same penalties. The difference is that vehicular homicide in Florida does not require intoxication but does add the element that a driver must be operating a vehicle recklessly. DUI manslaughter does not require the driver to be reckless. Both DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide in Florida elevate to first-degree felonies for failure to stop and assist at the accident scene.
Reasons to Carefully Choose Your Florida DUI Manslaughter Attorney
There are a lot of components of the legal system that are difficult to understand under the best circumstances. With potentially years to decades of your life on the line, there is no room for guessing or assumptions. It is imperative to work with an attorney who is experienced with Florida’s criminal justice system and the intricacies of Florida DUI manslaughter cases.
The team at Moses and Rooth has the knowledge and experience to determine whether the charges brought against you will hold up in front of a jury or if the prosecutor is just hoping for the best.
We understand the long-term implications of a DUI manslaughter charge and will fight to mitigate sentencing or have the charges dropped altogether while taking into consideration how the final resolution will impact your ability to expunge or seal your criminal record. Each case is unique and deserving of individualized attention and strategy. Contact Moses and Rooth Criminal Defense Lawyers for your free initial case consultation.