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DUI Manslaughter Lawyer in Gainesville, Florida (FL)

Florida DUI Manslaughter Laws, Penalties, and Trial Defenses

Whenever a person dies in an accident involving a driver who possibly had too much to drink, the immediate reaction by the police, prosecutors, and the public at large is to want to throw the proverbial book at the accused. There is no dispute that it is a tragic situation when someone dies in a car accident. However, sometimes an accident is all that happened and criminal charges should not be issued. Regrettably, many people are accused of DUI manslaughter after having only a couple of drinks and getting into an accident that tragically killed another person. 

The police learn through their extensive training that all they must obtain sufficient evidence giving them probable cause to make an arrest. The probable cause standard is an extremely low evidentiary threshold and stands far below the quantum of evidence the government must produce to convict you. Police often overcharge cases because they receive training informing them to bring all of the criminal charges for which they have probable cause. 

Police overcharge cases in many instances and leave the job of trying to obtain a conviction in the case to the prosecuting attorney. Although issues of probable cause and proof beyond a reasonable doubt are technical legal issues, knowing the difference between the two is important. There is a wide gap between being arrested and being convicted. A seasoned DUI manslaughter defense attorney knows how to prevent the prosecution from bridging that gap.

Free Case Review With an Experienced Gainesville DUI Manslaughter Attorney From Musca Law

The driver who stands accused of committing manslaughter by DUI in Gainesville faces a very difficult challenge. Law enforcement officers who investigate fatal motor vehicle crashes are well trained and well versed in collecting evidence to make the charge of DUI manslaughter stick. As a result, a person who finds himself or herself in the unenviable position of being charged with DUI manslaughter must align himself or herself with a savvy, experienced, and knowledgeable Gainesville defense attorney. The stakes are too high to exclusively rely on the overworked and underpaid public defender or another attorney who lacks the experience that the DUI manslaughter defense attorneys have from Musca Law.

A DUI manslaughter case is a highly complex legal matter. The government typically relies upon highly technical analysis to prove its case. Mounting a successful defense against DUI manslaughter charges requires an attorney who is equal to the task. The penalties are too harsh, and the collateral consequences of a DUI manslaughter conviction are too severe to leave your future in the hands of another attorney. The DUI manslaughter attorneys from Musca Law are available for complementary case evaluations, which are strictly confidential. Our lawyers will discuss every detail of your defense and be plotting a strategy designed to minimize your exposure to prison time, hefty fines, and a lifetime license loss. 

Rights of a Person Accused of DUI Manslaughter in Gainesville

The person accused of DUI manslaughter could feel like he or she has no rights at all. The public outrage over the incident, coupled with the urgency with which the prosecution team and law enforcement officers investigate the case might seem like that the constitutional guarantees found in the United States Constitution and the constitution of Florida do not apply. A highly-experienced DUI manslaughter defense attorney will fight to ensure that the accused receives all of the constitutional protections afforded to every person facing criminal charges. 

In Florida, a person accused of DUI manslaughter has the right to have an attorney of his or her choosing. The accused also has the right to challenge the lawfulness of police procedures before trial. Additionally, the person facing DUI manslaughter charges in Gainesville has the right to a jury comprised of his or her peers who will fairly and impartially listen to the case and render a verdict, to cross-examine witnesses, and to call witnesses on his or her behalf, as well as waive the right to remain silent and testify personally. 

Harsh Penalties for DUI Manslaughter

A person charged with DUI manslaughter must understand the potential penalties he or she faces along with the possible collateral consequences of a conviction. Florida statutes §316.193(3)(c)(3) mandates that a person who is convicted of DUI manslaughter must serve at least four years in a Florida prison. The sentence is mandatory, and a sentencing judge cannot order a shorter prison sentence to be served. 

The maximum penalty for a second-degree DUI manslaughter conviction is fifteen years in state prison. Additionally, the maximum fine a judge may levy is $10,000.00. Furthermore, the person convicted of DUI manslaughter in Gainesville could additionally receive probation for up to fifteen years, sent to DUI school, and have his or her driver’s license revoked for life. Additional collateral consequences for a DUI manslaughter conviction include mandatory community service, inpatient substance abuse treatment, impoundment of vehicles owned by the person convicted, and compulsory attendance at DUI school if the person applies for license reinstatement on a hardship basis after five years. 

In reality, the sentencing judge is likely to follow the sentencing guidelines established by the Criminal Punishment Code of Florida. Florida’s sentencing guidelines define DUI manslaughter as a Level 8 offense. Level 8 offenses are punished by confinement in the state prison for 124.5 months, or 10.37 years. 

Not all persons convicted of DUI manslaughter will suffer that fate. A sentencing judge has the discretion to adjust the sentence up or down depending on the individual before the court. A person who is contrite, remorseful, with no or minimal criminal record, and has a stable social background could receive a committed sentence shorter than 10.37 years. Conversely, a person with a horrible criminal history, who stands before the court remorseless could receive a committed sentence that is harsher than the guidelines recommended for a Level 8 offense.

Sentencing guidelines are merely a starting point for a judge. The principle behind sentencing guidelines is to have uniformity in sentencing across Florida. In essence, a judge sitting in Gainesville will sentence a person convicted of DUI manslaughter in a similar manner to a judge presiding over a DUI manslaughter case in Miami or Orlando.

However, the goal of sentencing is to address the individual standing before the court and not a nameless, faceless person on a sheet of paper. Our attorneys are well-versed in every detail of the Florida Criminal Punishment Code and will employ their knowledge and expertise to persuade the judge to pass a sentence that falls below the sentencing guidelines if you choose to plead guilty or nolo contendere or are found guilty of a DUI manslaughter charge in Gainesville.

Elements of DUI Manslaughter Case in Gainesville, Florida (FL)

A fundamental principle of the criminal justice system in the United States dictates that the government bears the burden of proof in each and every case. The person charged, often referred to as the defendant or the accused, enjoys the presumption of innocence and has no obligation to do anything. Instead, the government, represented by the state’s attorney, must prove each and every element of the case against the defendant by a standard called beyond a reasonable doubt. At that point, the defendant loses the presumption of innocence. 

A discussion of the burden of proof and the burden of persuasion bourn by the state is not a mere academic exercise. The presumption of evidence is real, and separates our country from many, many others in the world. 

Under Florida statutes §316.193(3)(c)(3), the state’s attorney must adduce evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  • The person was operating or had control over a car with either
    • The ability to drive safely impaired by alcohol, or
    • Operating with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% as measured by a quantity of breath or blood, and
  • The person operating the vehicle caused the death or contributed to the death of another or a fetus who could have been born alive if it did not perish in the accident, also known as a “quick child.”

Florida law relieves the government of the burden of proving a “guilty mind,” also known as mens rea. Instead, to win a conviction, the state’s attorney must prove that the operation of the person charged somehow contributed to the accident that led to the death of another. The failure of the government to prove causation beyond a reasonable doubt could merely result in a conviction for DUI, a misdemeanor, instead of the second-degree felony.

Since the Florida statutes do not specifically define what the legislature intended to mean by the phrase “caused or contributed to.” Consequently, the Supreme Court of Florida had to look elsewhere for help to define the rather vague language the legislature chose. The Supreme Court of Florida found that help from the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court of Florida chose to examine the precedent from Rhode Island because the statutes in issue are similarly worded. In the case of State of Rhode Island v. Benoit, found at 650 A.2d 1230 (R.I. 1994), the Rhode Island Supreme Court held that causation in a DUI manslaughter case refers to the operation of the person charged with DUI as contributing to the accident. In Benoit, the defendant was admittedly drunk while driving. However, he lawfully turned and was hit by the other driver who perished in the crash. The Rhode Island Supreme Court, in that instance, said that because there was no evidence of maloperation on behalf of the defendant, that the defendant cannot be guilty of DUI manslaughter.

Florida adopted the Rhode Island rule in State v. Hubbard, 751 So.2d 552 (Fla. 1999). In Hubbard, the Supreme Court of Florida held that when a crash kills or seriously injures another and the drunken driver was not the person whose driving caused the vehicles to crash, then the defendant must be declared not guilty. At best, in that scenario, the defendant may be guilty of simple DUI and nothing more.

The prosecuting attorney has options according to the Supreme Court of Florida when attempting to elicit evidence that the operation of the person charged contributed to the crash that killed the victim. The prosecuting attorney can introduce evidence derived from the accident reconstruction officer as to how the crash occurred. The accident reconstruction expert will attempt to determine how the crash occurred, at what speed the vehicles traveled before the crash, while colliding, and then after they separate. The accident reconstruction expert will examine the data records onboard the vehicles as well all in search of trying to determine what happened.

The prosecution will also rely on traditional evidence such as eyewitness testimony and any admissions made by the person charged, provided that the admission was not made pursuant to Florida’s accident report exception. Investigators can also look for cellphone evidence and evidence derived from surveillance cameras, stoplight cameras, and dashboard cameras to try and recreate what happened.

The Importance of Preserving Evidence in a Gainesville DUI Manslaughter Case

An accident reconstructionist from a local police department, sheriff’s office, or state police receive substantial training on the science of reconstruction, but they are first and foremost police officers who view evidence with a jaundiced eye toward obtaining evidence to charge someone with DUI manslaughter. The experienced DUI manslaughter defense attorneys at Musca Law know how important it is to level the playing field for their clients. Accordingly, Musca Law DUI manslaughter defense attorneys have access to the leading experts in the field of accident reconstruction which will help prepare a defense and testify on behalf of the defense.

Merely relying upon a defense expert to defend a DUI manslaughter case in Gainesville is insufficient. A successful defense incorporates attacking the prosecution’s case by exploiting mistakes made by the investigating officers by moving to dismiss the charges or moving to suppress evidence from use at trial. 

A motion to dismiss asks the judge to throw the case out of court because legally the case cannot proceed to trial. A motion to suppress asks a judge to suppress, or prevent the state’s attorney from using evidence at trial, against the accused obtained unlawfully by the police. In some instances, the evidence suppressed by a judge is so powerful that without it the government cannot prosecute the case. In most DUI manslaughter cases, however, suppressed evidence will not prevent the prosecution from proceeding but it will severely hamper the prosecution’s efforts and diminish their case.

Additionally, filing pre-trial motions called motions in limine can prevent the state’s attorney from admitting evidence at trial that is unduly prejudicial, unfair, or misleading. Successful motion practice helps level the playing field for the accused.

Other DUI Manslaughter Defenses in Gainesville, Florida (FL)

Any person under suspicion by the police of committing a crime has an absolute right not to speak with investigators. Even though Florida law recognizes a privilege when a witness at an accident scene reports what he or she knows to the investigating officers, the officers may be able to use observations such as unsteadiness, slurring speech, scent of alcoholic beverage, and bloodshot or glassy eyes, made during that roadside conversation to the detriment of the accused.

The police might express an intent to interview the driver under suspicion for DUI at the hospital or at the police station. The police do not have an obligation to administer the rights mandated by the Miranda decision unless the person is under arrest and the police ask questions that are designed to elicit incriminating responses from the arrestee. The person can assert his or her right to remain silent and also ask for an attorney to be present during questioning. 

Florida Statutes §316.1933 requires the police to obtain a sample of blood for analysis when the police suspect that a motor vehicle operator involved in a fatal collision is under the influence. The statute authorizes law enforcement officers to use reasonable force to obtain the blood sample if the person under suspicion refuses to cooperate. 

The better course of action for the investigating officers to use when trying to obtain a blood sample is to ask a judge for authorization by applying for a search warrant. The failure of the police to obtain a search warrant could jeopardize the use of the blood sample taken from the person under arrest. 

Even if the police take a blood sample from the accused, the blood sample must take the sample to a lab for analysis. The lab must conduct the correct testing and provide a chain of custody. The prosecution must prove that the sample tested came from the accused. 

Breath tests are subject to attack as well as blood samples. Some experts argue that exploding airbags can affect breath tests and generate an inaccurate result. 

One of the most effective defenses to DUI manslaughter cases in Florida is known as the “wheel defense.” The wheel defense essentially claims that the prosecution cannot prove who the driver of the car was because there was no one at the wheel when the first responders arrived at the scene of the accident.

DUI Manslaughter Defense Law Firm in Gainesville, Florida (FL)

Musca Law’s DUI manslaughter defense attorneys have the experience, knowledge, and resources you need to defend against DUI manslaughter charges in Gainesville, Florida. Call Musca Law today at 888-484-5057 to learn more about protecting your legal rights and mounting your defense.

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