Proving Vehicular Homicide and the Associated Penalties

Under Florida Statutes Section 782.071, “vehicular homicide” is defined as “the killing of a human being, or the killing of an unborn child by any injury to the mother, caused by the operation of a motor vehicle by another in a reckless manner likely to cause the death of, or great bodily harm to, another.” This charge was created by the Florida legislature to address the gap between the criminal offense of vehicular homicide and reckless driving. Consequently, the distinction between the crime of vehicular homicide and a simple traffic violation is often difficult to ascertain. Specifically, part of the elements of the crime of vehicular homicide include proving the elements of the lesser included offense of reckless driving.

When a person dies in a car accident, it will not always amount to a conviction for vehicular homicide in Florida. Before a conviction for vehicular homicide can be secured, the prosecution must, at the least, prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged at-fault driver was operating his or her vehicle recklessly as defined in the statute for vehicular homicide under Florida law.

Moreover, if recklessness cannot be established, then the defendant will be acquitted pursuant to a motion or directed judgment of acquittal or a motion to dismiss for the charge of vehicular homicide.

One of the most severe offenses in Florida is for vehicular homicide where a driver allegedly caused another person to die while operating a vehicle in a manner that is reckless and likely to cause serious injury or death.

In Florida, a person faces a second-degree felony conviction for vehicular homicide, which carries with it a prison term of up to fifteen years and a monetary fine of $10,000. If the operator of the subject vehicle is convicted of vehicular homicide, then the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is required to revoke his or her license for three years following the end of his or her prison term. Keep in mind that the penalties of vehicular homicide are enhanced should a driver cause an accident involving death and flee the scene of the accident.

Establishing Proximate Cause in Vehicular Homicide Cases

A main question raised in a vehicular homicide case is whether the defendant’s actions caused the death of the other driver. In many vehicular homicide cases, the issue of proximate cause is the center focus of the litigation. Under the law, a proximate cause is an event sufficiently related to an injury where a court deems the event to be the cause of that injury.

At trial, the prosecution must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the subject vehicle was operated recklessly, which caused harm to another in the form of death or great bodily injury. During the prosecution of a vehicular homicide case, the jury is often instructed that the offense of reckless driving is a lesser included crime should the cause of death be subject to dispute.

Jury Instructions for Vehicular Homicide in Florida

The standard jury instruction in Florida for vehicular homicide requires that before a defendant can be convicted of this crime, the jury must determine that he or she operated the subject vehicle in a reckless manner that resulted in serious bodily injury or death to another individual. In general, the prosecution does not need to establish that the defendant had the intention of causing serious injuries or harm to another person.

Racing and Vehicular Homicide

Pursuant to a seminal court case in Florida, if multiple people engage in the unlawful activity of drag racing, all of them will have equal responsibility of the criminal act that resulted in the death of an innocent person. Jacobs v. State, 184 So.2d 711, 716 (Fla. 1st DCA 1966).

Furthermore, another dispositive court case in Florida dictates that a participant who is driving in a drag race on a public roadway cannot be found guilty of vehicular homicide where the person who died had engaged in reckless driving prior to his or her death and where the sole basis for establishing criminal responsibility for the individual’s death be associated with the defendant’s participation in the drag race. Velazquez v. State, 591 So.2d 347, 352 (Fla. 3d DCA 1990).

Vehicular Homicide and Leaving the Scene of the Accident

In Florida, vehicular homicide involving leaving the scene of an accident constitutes a first-degree felony that is associated with a prison term of up to 30 years and a monetary fine of $10,000. In essence, the criminal charges are more severe when an individual causes the death of another following a hit-and-run crash.

Specifically, if the accused flees the scene of an accident involving a death, then the prosecution must establish that the operator of the vehicle left the accident scene after he or she knew or should have known that the crash happened. In essence, the element of willfully fleeing the scene of a crash must be established at trial.

Florida Vehicular Manslaughter Defense Attorney

Being convicted of vehicular manslaughter in Florida can result in long term imprisonment and steep monetary fines. An offender can also face additional legal repercussions, including social consequences.

Contact Musca Law Today. Your Life and Your Liberty Depend Upon It!

If you are facing vehicular homicide charges in Florida, contact our seasoned Florida vehicular homicide defense attorneys at Musca Law as soon as possible in order to preserve your legal rights and interests. Our firm’s attorneys are among The National Trial Lawyers – Top 100 Trial Lawyers, included in the 2012 Florida Super Lawyers® for criminal defense, and boast 10.0 Superb Avvo ratings. We know how to protect your future. We are skilled, experienced, tenacious, and relentless when it comes to defending our clients. Our seasoned Florida criminal defense attorneys work zealously to exploit the weaknesses in the prosecution’s case and develop a strategic defense for our clients. Our record of success in and out of the courtroom speaks for itself. To learn more about how Musca Law can make a difference for you, call (888) 484-5057 today.


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