Facing a charge of DUI manslaughter in Florida is a highly stressful situation that is full of uncertainty. A person finding himself or herself in this situation might feel like he or she has no options. The person accused could despair about the weight of the state’s evidence and worry about the practical certainty that he or she will be convicted of a crime he or she never intended to commit and lack of intent notwithstanding, will be incarcerated for a long time. However, that is never the case if a person charged with DUI manslaughter has the right attorney.
Florida statutes §316.193(3) defines DUI manslaughter. Under §316.193(3), a person is guilty of DUI manslaughter if the person drives under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs or has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or above and causes an accident that kills a living person or an unborn child. To be guilty, the person must have control over the vehicle at the time of the crash. Proof of operation is not required under §316.193.
A person who is found guilty of DUI manslaughter in Florida must serve at least a four-year minimum prison sentence. Additionally, the person could spend up to fifteen years in prison because DUI manslaughter is a second-degree felony. Furthermore, the person convicted of DUI manslaughter in Florida could be placed on probation for up to fifteen years and lose the privilege to drive a motor vehicle for a lengthy period of time.
The offender could serve up to thirty years in prison if the driver failed to stop and make himself or herself known and render aid as required by Florida law. A person found guilty of DUI manslaughter faces a first-degree felony if the facts are aggravated by a hit-and-run collision. The hit-and-run enhances the penalty for DUI manslaughter.
On its face, a charge of DUI manslaughter in Florida appears to be indefensible. Fortunately for those facing DUI manslaughter, the charges are not insurmountable. The government bears the burden of proof of each and every element of the case and if they miss one, then the person charged must be acquitted. Some people call it a technicality, others believe it is the living embodiment of what the constitutions of Florida and the United States demand to live in a free society.
Each case must be dissected into its component parts, and viable defenses lie in the details of every incident. Some details, like being in control over a motor vehicle cannot be rationally contested in many cases. Notwithstanding, there are some cases in which control over the vehicle is in issue for example.
Assume you have too much to drink and you pass the keys to your car so your buddy can drive because he has drunk less than you. Sadly, there is a severe car crash on the way home. You and your buddy are ejected from the car and a person in another car died. The police cannot put either of you behind the wheel at the time of the crash. It would be unfair for them to charge you merely because you own the car. In that case, control over the vehicle involved in the crash is a contested point, even if the remaining elements of the charge are not contested.
A person charged with DUI manslaughter has other defenses as well. The government has to prove that the results of any breath or blood tests are accurate and reliable. There have been many instances when scientific results were unreliable because of a malfunctioning breathalyzer, the police did not follow the breathalyzer protocols to the precise letter of the law, or that person taking the blood failed to preserve the specimen correctly.
The actions of the police are always subject to judicial scrutiny. If the police violated the constitutionally protected rights of a person charged with DUI manslaughter in Florida, then the appropriate remedy is for the judge to toss that evidence out of court. A successful motion to suppress evidence could eviscerate the government’s case or severely weaken it. A person could have their case dismissed for lack of evidence or the government might offer a very generous plea deal because they lost valuable evidence that they needed to make a case against the person charged.
Again, these are not technicalities. Constitutional protections are what separates the United States from other countries ruled by dictators who do not believe in the rights of the individual. Thus, if the police took a cell phone, for example, without a warrant or without probable cause, the judge could suppress the seizure of the cell phone and every bit of evidence that came from the cell phone such as the contents of the phone, such as photos and text messages. The police might find significant and damaging evidence on the phone, but if they failed to follow the constitutionally required procedure, then all of the evidence is lost.
Law enforcement officers are free to talk to anyone they want. But, the individual to whom they speak, with the exception of very limited circumstances, has the right to refuse to speak to the police and can walk away without recourse. The police must have evidence defined as reasonable suspicion to prevent the person from walking away. For example, police have reasonable suspicion to stop a person if the officer sees the person run a stop sign. The officer can pull the car over and issue a ticket. The officer cannot keep the person there for longer than necessary or further restrict movement like placing handcuffs on the driver. The further restriction of the individual requires more evidence that allows the officer to place the person under arrest.
The officer must have probable cause if the officer restricts a person’s movement to such a degree that the individual is not free to leave. Not every encounter is an arrest. The degree of intrusion must match the degree of inquiry. A short car stop for a traffic violation is not an arrest. However, the officer might cause an arrest if the officer pulls the driver out of the car, puts the person in cuffs, and places the driver in the rear of a locked police car.
Once under arrest, the police must give the Miranda warnings, if and only if the police ask questions. The person under arrest can refuse to answer any questions and should because no one ever talked his or her way out of criminal charges. On the other hand, many people have helped the police by speaking with them and cementing a conviction against them. However, the judge could suppress a defendant’s statement to the police if the police did not advise the arrestee of the Miranda warnings or coerced the arrestee into making a statement.