DUI Manslaughter Penalties
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Statistics show that more than 5,000 accidents involving alcohol occur every year in Florida. Out of the total accidents, over 350 result in fatal injuries for at least one person involved. Although these numbers continue to decrease, they still account for a substantial amount of traffic-related injuries and fatalities across our state. On average, over 29% of annual traffic-related deaths are the result of a driver who was under the influence. As a result, law enforcement agencies are working hard to increase the punishment for individuals who engage in this type of reckless behavior.
Driving Under the Influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol is punished harshly in Florida. This is especially true in cases where another person is harmed by the acts of another. If a person loses their life due to an impaired driver, the impaired driver will most likely face charges related to DUI manslaughter.
Unfortunately, there are many instances in which individuals are wrongfully accused of driving while impaired at the time of their accidents. These individuals face severe consequences from such convictions, which can have a life-long impact on them. When individuals are wrongfully accused of DUI manslaughter, they should contact a reputable Florida criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
A Conviction In Florida For Driving Under The Influence
In Florida, a person can be charged with driving under the influence if they are under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substance that impacts their ability to drive. Typically, this means individuals who have a blood alcohol content level of 0.08% or higher and those who show a breath-alcohol level over 0.08%.
Individuals convicted of this crime can face an array of penalties, including jail, fines, required alcohol abuse courses, and various other penalties. When individuals are injured, the penalties for the crime are increased.
DUI Manslaughter is a Serious Criminal Offense Under Florida Law
DUI, and DUI Manslaughter, are unlike almost all other crimes in Florida. Virtually every other criminal charge in the state requires a contemporaneous guilty mind to commit the crime. A good example to contrast with DUI Manslaughter is murder. Killing is murder because the assailant actually intended, or through his or her actions, indicated an intent to end another person's life. DUI Manslaughter is not murder unless the accused intentionally killed another. However, the government can prove DUI Manslaughter without the necessity of proving the element of the guilty mind.
The components or elements of the crime of DUI Manslaughter in Florida are:
- Operating or having control over a vehicle;
- Through such operation or control kills another human being or unborn child capable of living outside of the womb, known as a “quick child” in Florida law;
- While the driver's ability to operate a motor vehicle safely was impaired by alcohol or narcotics or had a blood alcohol concentration at or above the 0.08% legal limit; and
- The operation caused the death of the victim.
In the American system of justice, the party that brings the case forward has the burden of persuasion. In a DUI Manslaughter case in Florida, the government, represented by the local prosecutorial office in which the accident occurred, has the responsibility to persuade a jury, or a judge if the judge hears the trial without a jury, beyond a reasonable doubt that the charges are true.
The threshold is high. Knowing how high the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt is, the prosecutors push law enforcement officers to conduct thorough and complete accident investigations. Investigators leave no stone unturned during their investigation with the expectation that the defense will not be able to demonstrate that the investigation was deficient in any way.
Prosecutors handling DUI Manslaughter cases have a difficult task, and it is the job of the defense attorney to make their job as difficult as possible. A savvy Florida DUI Manslaughter defense attorney understands that his or her client faces up to fifteen years of incarceration, with four years of the sentence to be served as a minimum-mandatory penalty. The sentencing judge has no discretion to reduce the sentence to any amount of time less than four years unless the prosecution plea bargains the case to a lesser charge.
Florida Statutes Section 316.193(3)(c)(3)(a) defines DUI Manslaughter as a second-degree felony. A second-degree felony in Florida may be punished up to fifteen years in prison and along with a $10,000.00 fine.
Experienced DUI Manslaughter defense attorneys know that they must consider the application of the Florida Criminal Punishment Code when explaining the possible sentencing consequences of a DUI Manslaughter conviction in Florida. The Florida Criminal Punishment Code, found in Florida Statutes Section 921.0022, defines DUI Manslaughter as a Level 8 offense. The level assigned to the crime by the Criminal Punishment Code indicates the severity of the crime on a scale from 1, which is the least serious, to 10, which is the most significant crime. When applying the rules of the Florida Criminal Punishment Code to a DUI Manslaughter case, the lowest sentence allowed by the court, absent authorized downward departures, is 124 ½ months in prison, or just under ten and one-half years.
Collateral Consequences of a DUI Manslaughter Conviction in Florida
People convicted of DUI Manslaughter in Florida serve hard time. When they earn their freedom, either through the expiration of the sentence or through early release, the offender will be subject to probation. The sentencing judge will impose probationary terms designed to help the individual reintegrate into a free society while ensuring sobriety. Violating probation is grounds for resentencing, and the probationer could return to prison despite serving a long sentence for the underlying charge.
The terms of probation could be challenging to satisfy. The sentencing judge could impose a community service requirement and order the individual to enter and successfully complete a long-term residential or outpatient substance abuse treatment program.
The person convicted of DUI Manslaughter in Florida could face other collateral consequences as well. One of the primary concerns for many people residing in Florida is their immigration status. A conviction for DUI Manslaughter could force the U.S. government to reassess that person's privilege of staying in the country lawfully.
Another consequence of suffering a DUI Manslaughter conviction in Florida is the loss of a driver's license. Florida law allows a person convicted of DUI Manslaughter to apply for a hardship license. The DMV will issue a hardship license upon successful completion of requirements such as:
- Impound of the suspect’s vehicle;
- DUI educational obligations;
- Inpatient alcohol treatment; and
- Installing an ignition interlock device.
A DUI Accident Involving Injury
Individuals who are impaired while operating their vehicles face a plethora of negative consequences for their actions. When these individuals are involved in accidents that result in injuries, the penalties they face increase drastically. Depending on the severity of the injuries sustained by victims, impaired drivers can face up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines. As you can imagine, when victims die as a result of injuries sustained, the consequences a driver faces are even more severe. When a person dies in a motor vehicle accident caused by an impaired driver, the impaired driver can be charged with DUI manslaughter.
What Is DUI Manslaughter In Florida?
Under Florida law, individuals can be charged with DUI manslaughter if:
- The person drives a vehicle, or is found in physical control of a vehicle, while in the state of Florida; and
- The person is either under the influence of alcohol or another chemical or controlled substance that impacted their normal abilities to operate their vehicle;
- The person has a breath-alcohol level higher than or equal to 0.08%; or
- The person has a blood-alcohol level equal to or higher than 0.08%.
- Additionally, the person must have caused the death of another person either directly or indirectly while under the previously listed circumstances.
A person is said to be in actual physical control of their vehicle if they are physically in it or if they are on the vehicle and have the capability to operate it regardless of whether or not they are actually operating it at the time.
Individuals who are charged with DUI manslaughter lose their freedom and are forced to go to jail for an extended period. Unfortunately, there are many cases where drivers are falsely convicted of this crime. If you are facing a charge of DUI manslaughter, it is imperative for you to contact a criminal defense attorney in Florida as soon as possible.
Penalties For DUI Manslaughter In Florida
In Florida, impaired drivers who are charged with DUI manslaughter face an array of penalties. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the incident, those accused can face various punishments, including:
DUI Manslaughter: Those convicted of this crime as a felony in the second degree can face up to $10,000 in fines and up to 15 years in prison.
Individuals who are convicted of this crime can face up to fifteen years of probation, community service, have their vehicle impounded, be required to attend DUI substance abuse courses, and they may be forced to undergo a psychosocial evaluation and substance abuse treatment.
DUI Manslaughter/ Leaving the Scene: If an individual leaves the scene of a DUI accident without releasing information or lending a hand in the situation, they can be charged with a First Degree Felony. In these cases, those accused can face up to $10,000 in fines and up to 30-years in prison.
Additionally, individuals convicted of DUI manslaughter may lose their driving privileges and acquire criminal convictions that cannot be removed from their permanent records.
Prosecutions For DUI Manslaughter Under Florida Law
Under Florida Law, DUI manslaughter is a criminal charge brought up against a person who is accused of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and, as a result of driving under the influence of such, they caused or directly contributed to the death of another person.
A person can be convicted of DUI manslaughter if the actions they are accused of result in the death of another human or an unborn child. Individuals who are convicted of DUI manslaughter face a minimum sentencing of four years in prison. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the case, those accused can face several years in prison followed by probation and community service.
Can I Get A Hardship After a DUI Manslaughter Court Ordered Permanent Revocation?
In some cases, offenders who are convicted of DUI manslaughter are ordered to surrender their driving privileges. In some cases, individuals are able to apply for hardship driving privileges. In order to do so, you must be able to do the following:
- Show to the court that you completed an approved substance abuse course;
- Serve at least 5 years of the revocation period;
- Not have any prior convictions for any DUI related offenses;
- Not have driven or consumed any alcohol or drugs within five years of making your request;
- Not have been arrested for any drug or alcohol offenses within five years before the date of the hearing;
- Be accepted into an SSSP for the remainder of your life;
- Gain reinstatement for the purposes of employment only for at least one year; or
- Install an ignition interlock device for at least two years.
Working with a skilled criminal defense attorney will ensure your best chances of having your driving privileges reinstated after your conviction and release.
Defenses to DUI Manslaughter
Individuals who are charged with DUI manslaughter can argue various legal arguments in their defense. Being able to effectively argue against a DUI manslaughter conviction will help you reduce the charges so that you do not face as harsh consequences for a conviction. In addition to pretrial and trial defenses, common evidentiary defenses in DUI manslaughter cases include:
Illegal Traffic Stops: Law enforcement officers are only able to stop vehicles for one of two reasons – if the officer has reasonable suspicion that the driver is committing a traffic infraction or if the officer has probable cause that the driver committed a crime. There are many instances in which it can be shown that officers are mistaken in their reason for conducting a traffic stop. Successfully proving this in court can help a defendant by having all of the evidence obtained as a result of the traffic stop dismissed or suppressed.
Improper Field Sobriety Tests: In Florida, law enforcement officers are required to issue Field Sobriety Tests under various circumstances. These tests help officers to determine whether a person is impaired. Some challenges to these tests include whether the officer is familiar with the driver’s coordination and balance skills, whether the driver has a physical disability or any injuries that would make the results unreliable, or whether the officer was qualified to perform that tests. Additionally, it can be argued whether the tests were deemed unreliable by the court as some are not admissible.
Insufficient Probable Cause: An arresting officer can only issue a DUI test if they have probable cause to believe that the driver is under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. If the officer can prove probable cause was based on unreasonable conclusions or insufficient evidence, then the arrest was illegally made and the evidence obtained can be suppressed.
Inadmissible Breath Results: It is no secret that the breathalyzer machines utilized by law enforcement agencies are seriously flawed. These tests are required to be done by very specific standards. The failure to properly maintain the machine or the failure to administer the test according to the requirements can result in the results being thrown out.
As you can see, one of the most effective techniques in having DUI manslaughter charges reduced or dismissed is by being able to prove that the field sobriety tests issued were done improperly. Regardless of whether you have a physical condition that made it difficult to perform the task or the officer was not qualified, there are various arguments that are applicable in these cases.
Even if a prosecutor can successfully prove that a person was impaired at the time of the accident, they must further prove that the accident occurred due to the impairment. Working with a skilled and reputable criminal defense attorney in Florida is your best bet to proving your innocence and having your charges reduced or dismissed. There are far too many instances where victims who are injured in DUI related accidents then end up passing away as the result of an unrelated health problem. For instance, a person involved in a DUI accident dies at the hospital due to a heart attack. Accused drivers should not be convicted for a DUI manslaughter charge for this incident when they did not directly cause the death of the victim.
The complexities surrounding DUI manslaughter convictions leave numerous opportunities for those falsely accused to prove their innocence. Although it may seem like a simple thing to do, it is imperative for those accused to work with someone who has extensive experience handling these fact-specific cases.
Working with a reputable DUI attorney in Florida will help you get your DUI manslaughter conviction reduced or dismissed. It is imperative that you contact an attorney who is well-versed and experienced in handling these cases.
In-Court Defense Strategies for DUI Manslaughter Cases in Florida
The old saying that the “wheels of justice turn slowly” is as true now as it has ever been. Cases are more complicated now than ever before with the explosive use of technology in our everyday lives. Locating, persevering, and analyzing data obtained by police and defense investigators takes time. Musca Law’s DUI Manslaughter defense attorneys understand that frustrations and anxiety could mount as time passes without a resolution. But, rushing the case through the system is not beneficial in most circumstances. Even though it might seem like the process drones on, our DUI Manslaughter defense lawyers will be at your side, fighting for you, at all stages of the legal proceedings.
Every stage in the process is yet another opportunity to advocate for our clients' best interests. One of the essential stages of the case is the pre-trial motion stage. Consistent with our philosophy of aggressive advocacy, Musca Law’s DUI Manslaughter lawyers file discovery motions, motions to dismiss and suppress, as well as motions in limine. Each of these motions is significant and designed to benefit our clients.
Discovery motions are important in Florida DUI Manslaughter cases. Discovery motions ask the court to order the prosecuting attorneys and law enforcement officers to turn over information to the defense that the prosecution intends to admit at trial and all other evidence that could tend to show the innocence of the accused if it exists and is in the custody of the government. The prosecutors must turn over all evidence that is possibly exculpatory by constitutional mandate. However, obtaining a court order compelling the government to turn over information protects our client's interests. It could lead to an avenue of defense at a later stage of the defense.
Musca Law’s DUI Manslaughter attorneys additionally press motions that force the government to prove that its agents did not violate the defendant’s constitutionally-protected rights. For example:
- Moving to suppress blood samples taken from the accused because the officer did not have the authority to invade the sanctity of the accused’s body to obtain the sample;
- Moving to suppress any interactions between the police and the accused because the police did not have enough evidence to detain the accused; or
- Filing a motion to suppress statements made by the accused to law enforcement officers when an attorney was not present and made in violation of the Miranda warnings.
Musca Law’s DUI Manslaughter defense lawyers also fine motions in limine. Motions in limine are motions that the trial judge hears before the evidence starts that helps frame the case for the jury by excluding extraneous, overly prejudicial, irrelevant, or inflammatory evidence that, if heard by the jury, would poison their minds and nullify the presumption of innocence.
Trial Defenses for Florida DUI Manslaughter Accusations
The evidence mostly dictates trial strategies, and there are no standard defense strategies applicable to each case save for one: the reasonable doubt defense. The so-called "reasonable doubt" defense can poke holes in every facet of the government’s case rather than focusing solely on one element of the crime so that when the jury retires to deliberate, they cannot find the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Put another way, the defense argues that the government failed to meet its burden of proof, and the jury must acquit the defendant.
Other defenses in DUI Manslaughter cases are more case-specific. Some arguments, like the "wheel defense," might focus on the government’s inability to place the defendant behind the wheel. The government has to prove the accused exercised control over the vehicle involved in the crash. Failing that, the government cannot sustain its burden.
Attacking the validity of scientific testing is a viable defense in many Florida DUI Manslaughter prosecutions. Capable and experienced DUI Manslaughter defense lawyers in Florida devise a strategy to confront evidence of breathalyzer results, blood tests results, or field sobriety tests, and demonstrate that the testing is unreliable and should not be believed.
Another potential defense strategy lies in attacking the government’s theory of causation. The state must prove that the manner in which the accused drove caused or contributed to the crash that killed the victim. The government will argue that the accused caused the fatal collision. However, a fair reading of the evidence might show that the victim caused the crash accidentally. In that case, the jury must acquit the accused.
A DUI Manslaughter Attorney In Florida Can Help You
Given the extremely harsh sentencing structure in Florida surrounding DUI manslaughter convictions, it is imperative for anyone accused of this crime to work with an attorney who can successfully mitigate the charges or have the case dismissed entirely. If you are facing DUI manslaughter charges in Florida, it is imperative that you contact a reputable criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Attorneys at Musca Law have over 150-years of combined experience helping those accused protect their legal rights. Our skilled criminal defense attorneys in Florida work diligently to help those accused of crimes to have the best chance of winning their case.
We understand that individuals can be accused of crimes at any time of the day, which is why we are always here for you. Our attorneys are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in order to assist those charged with criminal offenses. Our knowledgeable team will listen to the circumstances surrounding your case, provide the best legal advice regarding your options, and aggressively advocate for the justice you deserve. Attorneys at Musca Law understand the damage that a DUI manslaughter charge can create for you across many areas of your life. For this reason, we are dedicated to working tirelessly to ensure that you receive the best possible results under the law.
If you were accused of DUI manslaughter in Florida, it is crucial that you understand the lasting and devastating impact that this type of conviction can have on you and your life if you don’t take proactive action. Contact our law firm today at (888) 484-5057 to explore the legal options available to you.