DUI Manslaughter Lawyer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Fort Lauderdale DUI Manslaughter Laws, Penalties & Defenses
Law enforcement officers who investigate fatal automobile accidents in Fort Lauderdale, Florida receive extensive training on how to identify the driver who they believe is at fault for the crash. Consistent with their training, accident investigators will seek the most serious charge stemming from the crash for which the officer claims to have probable cause. As a result, many drivers who are unfortunately involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident after having a couple of drinks faces DUI manslaughter charges instead of less-serious charges that more accurately reflect the criminal responsibility of the motorist, if any charges need to issue at all.
DUI manslaughter charges must be taken seriously. As a second-degree felony, DUI manslaughter carries a maximum prison sentence of up to fifteen years, with a minimum mandatory prison sentence of four years as mandated by Florida statutes §316.193(3)(c)(3). Additionally, the sentencing judge could impose a fine not to exceed $10,000.00. The sentencing guidelines in Florida define DUI manslaughter as a Level 8 offense. Therefore, the sentencing judge, if the court follows the guidelines, must sentence a person convicted of DUI manslaughter to ten years and four and one-half months incarceration.
Judges have the authority to impose a shorter prison term if the facts warrant a downward departure based on the lack of prior criminal history, whether the offender took responsibility for the criminal actions, along with other mitigating factors. Conversely, the sentencing judge may increase the prison sentence if the facts warrant an upward departure.
The state’s attorney prosecuting the offense of DUI manslaughter carries the burden of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of persuasion at trial, as it is known, requires much stronger and more compelling evidence to convict than mere probable cause to arrest or charge someone.
Proving a case at trial for the prosecution means that the state’s attorney has admitted evidence to remove the presumption of innocence of the defendant. The prosecution has an obligation to prove each and element of the charge of DUI manslaughter beyond a reasonable doubt.
The elements of DUI manslaughter in Florida, pursuant to §316.193(3)(c)(3) are:
- The person charged was in control over a motor vehicle,
- The person charged drove while alcohol, drugs, or both impaired the individual’s ability to drive safely, or
- The person charged had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more as indicated by a blood test or breath test, and
- The person charged caused an accident that led to the death of another living person or an “unborn quick child,” which means that the child could have been born alive when it died according to Florida statutes §782.071.
The government does not have a high burden on the issue of causation. The state’s attorney must prove that the defendant’s actions in some way contributed to the death of the victim. The government does not have to prove the offender held specific criminal intent (an intentional killing would be murder), but only that the person driving the car failed to meet the minimum standard of care. In that sense, the case is more like a civil lawsuit for personal injuries than a criminal trial.
Fort Lauderdale DUI Manslaughter Attorney
The experienced DUI manslaughter attorneys with Musca Law understand the severity of the charges and the stress facing those charges causes an individual facing DUI manslaughter charges in Fort Lauderdale. The state’s attorney for Fort Lauderdale takes DUI manslaughter charges seriously and will use the resources afforded to the office of the state’s attorney to win a conviction. The investigating officers might have taken a sample of your blood and sent it off to the state lab for analysis, and the state’s attorney might have issued a subpoena deuces tecum for your medical records if you received treatment after a crash. If you find yourself in this situation, you need to act quickly. Call Musca Law today toll-free at 1-888-484-5057. We are always available 24/7 to answer your call.
Leaving your defense to the overworked public defender or less experienced attorney could ruin your future. DUI manslaughter cases are highly complex legal matters that require an experienced Fort Lauderdale defense attorney’s undivided attention. We offer free, no-obligation, confidential consultations so we can discuss your case openly and devise the best defense for you and your family so that you can get back on track and move on with your life. We know that you feel remorse for the death of another person who was involved in an accident with you, even if it was not your fault.
Severe Penalties for a DUI Manslaughter Conviction in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (FL)
The Florida legislature determined that no prison sentence for a conviction of a DUI manslaughter charge should be less than four years. Therefore, any person convicted of DUI manslaughter will serve at least 48 months in prison. The term the sentencing judge imposes could be more than double when factoring in Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code sentencing guidelines.
The sentencing guidelines purport to provide a level playing field for all people charged with a like offense. Theoretically, every person charged in the state of Florida with DUI manslaughter should receive classification as a Level 8 offense and receive a punishment consistent with a Level 8 offense. Not every person convicted of DUI manslaughter receives a sentence of 10.37 years, however.
As they must, the Criminal Punishment Code’s sentencing guidelines allow sentencing judges to depart, either up or down, from the established level based on factors specific to the person who stands convicted. A sentencing judge has the inherent authority to issue a sentence less than or greater than the guidelines set because sentencing must be based on an analysis of the individual charged and not some blanket policy decision.
In addition to the minimum term of four years and a maximum term of fifteen years incarceration, the person convicted of DUI manslaughter in Fort Lauderdale also faces a fine not to exceed $10,000.00, lifetime revocation of the right to operate a motor vehicle, probation, compulsory community service, impoundment of vehicles which the convicted person owned, and inpatient alcohol treatment, and DUI school if there is a chance that the convicted person could re-apply for reinstatement of his or her driving privileges.
The Government has the Burden of Proof
The government has no shortage of resources at its disposal to investigate a suspected DUI manslaughter crash and prosecute a DUI manslaughter charge. One of the methods that law enforcement investigators and the prosecuting attorney will use to accumulate evidence against you involves obtaining your medical records if you needed medical treatment after the accident. The state’s attorney can issue a subpoena deuces tecum, which essentially means that the person who receives the subpoena must appear at the specified time with documents and other tangible items responsive to the demand included within the subpoena. A failure to comply with the subpoena is the same as violating a court order.
The prosecuting attorney cannot issue a subpoena deuces tecum without satisfying the due process requirements established by Florida law. In this instance, due process requires the prosecution to give formal notice to the person under suspicion for DUI manslaughter by giving the person notice of the state’s intent to obtain private and confidential medical records by first issuing a Fifteen-Day HIPAA letter for blood alcohol content, or a notice that the state’s attorney issued an investigative subpoena for medical records.
You have a right to be heard in opposition to the government’s actions. Contacting Musca Law immediately upon receiving notice of the government’s attempts to obtain your private medical information will help preserve your rights. Any objection to the government’s efforts must be timely and comply with strict guidelines. Failing to object properly or within the timeframe prescribed by law will result in a waiver of your objection and the state will have the chance to see your private medical information, including your blood alcohol content after the unfortunate accident.
Blood Evidence without Medical Treatment
In as much as a person has a right to be free from governmental intrusion into their body, their home, and their possession, the state has an obligation to pursue all of the evidence it can to investigate whether charges of DUI manslaughter should issue against another. Consequently, the state’s attorney and investigating police officers can compel a person to give a sample of blood after the crash to determine the driver’s blood alcohol concentration.
The authority for the police to obtain a blood sample from a person under suspicion for DUI manslaughter, among other charges, may be found in Florida statutes §316.1933(1)(a). That section says that when a law enforcement officer possesses probable cause to believe that an individual who had control over a motor vehicle or was driving a car under the influence of alcohol and believes that the person under suspicion caused the death of another, then the officer must compel the person under suspicion to submit to a blood test designed to determine the level of alcohol present in the person’s system. The statute allows the police to take all reasonable steps to compel the administration of the blood test. In other words, the police can physically restrain the individual who does not consent to the blood draw.
The standard of probable cause is not a heavy burden to satisfy. In other words, the police do not need a substantial amount of evidence to compel the person to give a sample of his or her blood. Notwithstanding, the police actions may be attacked, and if successfully attacked, could prevent the prosecution from admitting evidence of the blood draw at trial.
One of the methods of attacking the investigators’ actions is to argue that the person under suspicion by police for DUI manslaughter did not cause the accident that killed another person. “Causation” under Florida law is a complicated legal concept. A 1999 case from the Supreme Court of Florida defined causation with assistance from its sister court in Rhode Island.
In the precedent-setting case of State v. Benoit, 650 A.2d 1230 (R.I. 1994), the Rhode Island Supreme Court held that causation in the context of a DUI manslaughter case means that the operation of the motor vehicle by the person charged must cause the crash. In State v. Benoit, the Rhode Island Supreme Court found that when a person who was admittedly drunk, but through no evidence of maloperation, was hit by the person who died in the crash, the drunk driver cannot be convicted of DUI manslaughter because the drunk driver’s operation had nothing to do with the crash which caused the victim’s death.
Similarly in State v. Hubbard, 751 So. 2d 552 (Fla. 1999), the Supreme Court of Florida ruled that if an accident that causes the death or serious bodily injury of another in which the inebriated driver was solely involved, then the inebriated driver must not face a felony charge. Instead, §316.193(3)(c) specifically requires the state to prove that the manner of operation by the inebriated driver somehow contributed to the crash that killed or seriously injured another person.
The government can use a variety of evidence to prove that the operation of the allegedly inebriated driver caused the crash. Evidence of causation may take the form of eyewitness testimony, scientific reconstruction of the collision, or both, and may also include admissions made by the driver but not in response to a question at the accident scene. Without evidence of maloperation of the motor vehicle, the driver may be charged with misdemeanor DUI and nothing more.
One can easily see how important it is to your defense to thoroughly investigate all aspects of your motor vehicle accident. The state might claim that your driving caused the crash that killed another. However, establishing concrete evidence interpreted fairly and honestly could lead to a different conclusion. Evidence must be preserved and analyzed before too much time passes and critical details are lost.
Preserving Evidence in a DUI Manslaughter Case
The highly experienced DUI manslaughter defense attorneys with Musca Law understand what is at stake for you and your family if you are facing a DUI manslaughter charge in Fort Lauderdale. Our experience has taught us that hiring the foremost accident reconstruction experts as soon as possible will help us obtain an understanding of the facts of your case and build a winning defense strategy. Although the police will have an accident reconstruction investigator perform a scientific examination of the cars and determine who might have been at fault, the accident investigator works for the government and they want justice for the victim and not you. Even though scientific principles dictate that an investigator looks at the evidence with ab unbiased eye and allows the data to control where the investigation leads, the data is subject to interpretation.
Defending a DUI manslaughter case in Fort Lauderdale requires a multi-tiered approach. The defense must analyze all of the facts of the case to determine whether the weaknesses are in the evidence and exploit them. Sometimes, weaknesses in the government’s evidence do not appear until the defense goes on the offense and presses the issues. The defense can press the issues by pursuing a motion to suppress evidence, which is a motion designed to test the validity of the actions of the police in the context of constitutional and statutory protections of the accused. A violation of the rights of the accused may cause the judge to throw highly prejudicial evidence out of court, which is a win for the defense. Evidence unlawfully seized as the fruit of an illegal seizure and statements unlawfully obtained by the police might be ruled to be inadmissible by the judge if the police violated the accused’s constitutional rights.
Similarly, the defense might have an opportunity to ask the judge to dismiss the charge of DUI manslaughter. Additionally, the defense can — and should — file pre-trial motions that the trial judge will decide, that, while not reaching constitutional dimensions, would prevent the prosecution from offering evidence that is so unfairly prejudicial that the evidence has little or no evidence. The systematic approach to tackling the state’s case can weaken the case significantly which could win an acquittal for the defendant or a conviction of a lesser charge, such as misdemeanor DUI.
A person under suspicion for DUI manslaughter does not have to wait until the police formally charge him or her to assert constitutional rights. The accused, consistent with the Miranda warnings, has a right to have an attorney present during questioning by police, and has a right not to answer questions posed by the police. Additionally, the accused has the opportunity to mount a defense by inspecting all of the evidence including taking photographs of the vehicles and the scene where the crash happened, preserving witness statements, and obtaining access to the medical records of treatment from the crash of those who were hurt or killed in the accident.
Additional DUI Manslaughter Defenses in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (FL)
Even though Florida statutes permit the arresting police officers to obtain a blood sample from the accused by force, the better course of action for the police to take is to obtain permission from a judge by means of a search warrant. The failure of the police to obtain a search warrant could convince a judge to exclude the blood evidence from trial. Additionally, the accident report privilege in Fort Lauderdale, Florida grants immunity from prosecution to those people who give statements to police during an accident investigation.
Other defenses could be raised depending on the evidence as well. Breath tests could be misleading and inaccurate. Some experts have examined the effects of a breath test when an airbag opens and has concluded that the airbags could cause the breathalyzer test to be artificially high. Also, investigators must place the accused behind the wheel at the time of the crash. A person who is outside of the car and does not make admissions to driving will make this more difficult for police.
Fort Lauderdale DUI Manslaughter Defense
Musca Law’s DUI Manslaughter attorneys in Fort Lauderdale, Florida will work hard for you to provide you with the most effective defense possible to win an acquittal or minimize the effects of a conviction. Call Musca Law today at 888-484-5057 to start your DUI manslaughter defense today.