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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.
DUI Accidents Are Usually Mistakes Made By Good People
Unintentional acts can lead to devastating results. No one hops into a car after having a couple of drinks and thinks that they would ever kill someone in an accident. However, Florida treats DUI Manslaughter as though the act was an intentional killing of another, even though that is not the case. The considerable might of the state comes down upon the person charged with DUI Manslaughter in Florida, and from the victim’s family’s perspective, that is understandable. However, justice is not a one-way street.
Few charges invoke the anger, ire, and demand for retribution of the victims’ families, special interest groups, the law enforcement community, and the public at large like DUI Manslaughter charges in Florida. Consequently, law enforcement officers aggressively seek evidence that condemns the suspect and state’s attorneys vigorously pursue convictions for DUI Manslaughter as well as lengthy prison sentences.
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.
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.
The Collateral Consequences of a DUI Manslaughter Conviction in Florida
A person convicted of DUI Manslaughter faces a lengthy license suspension, hefty fines, possible loss of employment, the loss of the ability to vote because of a felony conviction, work for the government, and loss of social welfare benefits conferred by the government, to name a few.
The person facing DUI Manslaughter charges might feel like he or she is all alone and, despite how much regret he or she feels about what happened, might believe that the principles of justice this nation holds dear do not apply in their case. In some instances, people charged with an intentional homicide are less villainous and appear to be treated by the justice system with greater compassion and fairness than the person charged with DUI Manslaughter in Florida. The person charged with DUI Manslaughter in Florida might feel like the so-called justice system is stacked against him or her. However, when the person accused with DUI Manslaughter in Florida aligns himself or herself with a successful, skillful, and knowledgeable Florida DUI Manslaughter defense attorney, the accused has hope that the Florida justice system will be merciful, and the accused will be able to atone for his or her mistake and rebuild.
With the right Florida DUI Manslaughter lawyer, the accused has the chance to reduce the amount of potential incarceration he or she faces, a reduction in fines, a reduction in charges, and possibly a dismissal or an acquittal of all charges. A Florida DUI Manslaughter attorney who possesses substantial experience defending the toughest cases will understand how to develop a winning strategy that involves attacking the state’s case, exploiting the weaknesses in the evidence, and seeking to suppress all evidence illegally obtained by the police, thereby ensuring that the person charged with DUI Manslaughter is treated fairly, justly, and respectfully during the entire prosecution.
Important DUI Manslaughter Statutes Under Florida Law
Florida statute §316.193(3)(c)(3) sets forth the charge of DUI Manslaughter in Florida. To be found guilty of DUI Manslaughter in Florida, the accused must have driven under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or a mix of both, and caused the death of another, whether that person was alive or was a “quick child,” meaning that the child could have been born alive if the baby did not die in the womb. §316.193(3)(c)(3) defines conviction for DUI Manslaughter as a second-degree felony. In Florida, second-degree felonies are punishable under §§775.082, 775.083, and 775.084. However, if the person leaves the scene of the fatal crash or otherwise refuses or fails to render aid and give the required information according to §316.062, and knew or should have known under the circumstances that a crash occurred, then the person is guilty of a first-degree felony.
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
A conviction for a second-degree felony in Florida warrants an incarcerated sentence of up to 20 years in a Florida state penitentiary. A conviction for a first-degree felony might result in a 30-year committed prison sentence in a Florida state penitentiary. However, the minimum-mandatory sentence is four years.
The person convicted of DUI Manslaughter could potentially receive minimum sentences as a habitual criminal, depending on the individual’s prior record in addition to a fine of up to $15,000.00 for a first-degree felony conviction, and $10,000.00 for a second-degree felony conviction.
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.
What does it Mean to Render Aid?
Florida prosecutors can seek an enhanced penalty against the driver for failing to render aid and provide information after a fatal DUI crash. §316.062 of the Florida statutes requires more of a driver than to remain at the scene of an accident. The driver has to render whatever aid he or she reasonably can to any injured victims of the crash. In other words, the driver cannot just sit behind the wheel and wait for police and rescue to arrive. Rendering aid might simply be to contact the police, if possible, or check on the well-being of the people involved, again, if possible. Also, the driver must give the surviving victims, witnesses, and the police the vehicle’s registration, proof of insurance, and the operator’s license, if they are accessible.
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.
How Does a Judge Determine a Sentence for DUI Manslaughter in Florida?
Florida’s sentencing provisions allow the sentencing judge wide latitude to fashion a punishment that comports with the goals of sentencing, namely retribution, punishment, rehabilitation, and deterrence, provided that the four does not sentence below the minimum-mandatory four-year sentence. Each case is different and factors like the wishes of the victim’s family, the defendant’s prior criminal history, the circumstances of the fatal collision, whether the case is “high profile,” and the relative skill, judgment, and experience of the defendant’s attorney.
The sentencing guidelines issued by Florida’s Department of Corrections purports to provide the sentencing judge direction so that DUI Manslaughter sentences are consistent across the state. Under Florida’s sentencing guidelines, DUI Manslaughter, as a second-degree felony, is a category, or level, eight offense, level ten being the most serious.
The guidelines call assign DUI Manslaughter a score of 74 points. Points are added for prior criminal conduct. A total of four points could be added for aggravating factors like defaulting, failing to appear, or violating pretrial orders. The judge may apply mitigating circumstances to the formula to arrive at a presumptive number. Then, the judge must follow the calculations mandated by the guidelines to arrive at a number of months for incarceration.
What does the Government Have to Prove Against Me?
The State of Florida, represented by the prosecutor, possesses the burden of proof on all of the elements, or components, on each and every criminal charge. The burden of proof in a criminal case is a familiar one to most people. The burden of proof in all criminal prosecutions is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The standard of evidence we know as beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest, most rigorous, and most difficult burden of persuasion employed in court. Probabilities, even strong probabilities, that the charges are true do not and cannot suffice for a conviction in any court in the United States. The U.S. Constitution and the State Constitution of Florida protect the accused and presume that a person’s innocence, unless and until the government produces sufficient evidence to satisfy the fact-finder’s mind, whether the fact-finder is a judge or jury, that the accused is guilty.
Loss of Driving Privileges
A person convicted of DUI Manslaughter in Florida presumptively loses his or her driving privileges permanently. Notwithstanding, the person convicted of the crime can petition for reinstatement of driving privileges upon a showing of hardship after five years, provided that the person satisfies certain threshold requirements. Those requirements are:
- No drug or alcohol-related arrests within the previous five years,
- The driver has not operated a motor vehicle within the previous five years,
- The driver has neither consumed alcohol nor drugs within the previous five years,
- The driver agrees to install an ignition interlocking device for at least two years, and
- The driver completed DUI school and will be supervised under the auspices of the DUI program for the remainder of the suspension period. Additionally, a failure to attend and complete rehabilitation will result in an immediate loss of the hardship license.
Can I Get Hardship Driving Privileges 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. If you are a commercial driver, a CDL hardship license is also available, but will require an experienced attorney.
Elements of a DUI Manslaughter Case
At the outset, the state’s attorney must prove that the person accused was in control over the vehicle involved in the crash. While theoretically easy, there are circumstances that arise which call into question the prosecution’s theory of the case. The prosecutor wants to put the right person behind the wheel. Therefore, in circumstances when the operation is contested, then the prosecution could look to direct and circumstantial evidence as proof the accused was driving. Eye-witness accounts could place the accused behind the wheel. If eye-witness testimony is unavailable, then circumstantial evidence could replace direct evidence. Circumstantial evidence could take the form of fingerprints on the steering wheel, proof of registration, or absence of another person to drive even if no one saw the accused in control over the vehicle.
Previous versions of the DUI Manslaughter charge once compelled the prosecution to prove that the person driving influenced by alcohol or drugs caused the death. Now, §316.193 allows for alternate proof of either causing or contributing to the death of the victim.
The prosecution shall prove that the driver was under the influence. Florida allows three complementary pieces of evidence to prove the driver’s operation was influenced by alcohol. A charge of operation under the influence is typically proved by admitting evidence of the driver’s manner of operation in evidence at trial such as swerving, braking erratically, speeding and slowing intermittently, and disobeying traffic signals. Additionally, the prosecution will seek to admit the performance of the driver when taking field sobriety tests.
Method of operation and performance of field sobriety tests as proof of driving under the influence has their limitations. Accordingly, Florida — just like every other state in the Union — passed an implied consent law. Florida’s implied consent law essentially states that any person operating a motor vehicle in the state not on private property consents to giving a breath or blood test. Therefore, if the chemical testing shows results that exceed a 0.08% blood alcohol concentration in the breath or blood, then the person is guilty, even if he or she passes all of the field sobriety tests. A BAC of 0.08% in Florida is known as the per se intoxication, which is often called the “legal limit.”
The hardest element to prove in a DUI Manslaughter case is often proving the defendant deviated from the standard of care. DUI Manslaughter occurs when the driver deviates from the standard of care while the driver is under the influence and the deviation from the standard of care contributes to the fatal crash.
The offense may be best understood when expressed as a rudimentary arithmetic equation. Thus, operation plus evidence of operating under the influence or per se intoxication deviation from standard of care plus death caused by deviation from the standard of care equals DUI Manslaughter.
What Evidence can the State Use to Prove that I am Guilty of DUI Manslaughter in Florida?
The investigating law enforcement officers and the state’s attorney will use all of its resources to accumulate the most compelling evidence against a person who is charged with DUI Manslaughter. Thus, the police will reconstruct the accident to determine the speed of the vehicles before, during, and after impact, whether the vehicle’s safety features such as brakes, lights, and steering, operated correctly, and the direction of travel of the vehicles involved.
The state’s attorney will also offer the opinion of a medical examiner at trial. The medical examiner should testify about the injuries that killed the victim. Most frequently, the cause of death will be blunt trauma. The description of the victim’s injuries is compelling testimony because the medical examiner’s testimony illustrates how fragile the human body is and its susceptibility to injury when involved in a motor vehicle crash.
The prosecution will also offer evidence, if available, of the driver’s whereabouts before the accident and try to recreate the driver’s “day” leading up to the crash. The state’s attorney will also offer the performance of the driver while taking field sobriety tests as well if field sobriety tests were administered.
Additionally, the prosecution may offer first-hand observations of witnesses who saw the defendant driving, was with the defendant earlier in the day, or at the scene of the crash.
Finally, the prosecution could attempt to admit evidence of a “blood draw” or a breath test to prove the percentage of alcohol in a person’s blood or on a person’s breath that the person was at or over the “legal limit.”
Defenses to DUI Manslaughter
A DUI Manslaughter charge is not a defenseless case. Most certainly, one element of proof will not be strongly contested, that is that person or people died from injuries stemming from a car crash. The jury will no doubt feel sympathy for the victim and his or her family — and they should. But feeling “bad” does not equate to proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
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.
The most experienced and savvy DUI Manslaughter attorneys will attack the charges levied against their clients with pre-trial motions and trial strategies. Police officers, even when acting innocently, must be held accountable for their actions. Therefore, the accused can ask a judge to throw out, or “suppress” evidence against them the police illegally obtained. For example, the breathalyzer results could be suppressed if the officer did not calibrate the machine properly or watch the defendant for at least twenty minutes before administering the test. The accused could move to suppress statements made by him or her to police if the officer failed to give the accused the Miranda warnings. The defendant can also move to suppress evidence of a blood draw if there was no search warrant obtained or the accused did not give consent.
The defense should develop a strong trial strategy in addition to attacking the evidence before trial. One trial strategy is asking the jury to find the accused guilty of negligent homicide instead of DUI Manslaughter. The perception, biases, and character of the witnesses, including the police, can be attacked. The physical evidence can be attacked as well as the so-called expert testimony of the accident reconstruction analyst and any other expert that testifies.
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.
Can I be Released on Bond or Bail if I am Charged with DUI Manslaughter in Florida?
A Florida judge can order the pretrial detention of a person charged with DUI Manslaughter under §316.193 in limited circumstances. If those circumstances are non-extant, then the person charged should be released on bond, or personal recognizance depending on the attendant circumstances. However, §907.041(4)(a)(c) permits a judge to order a person held without bond if:
- The prosecutor files an appropriate motion for pre-trial detention without bond when the accused faces DUI Manslaughter charges;
- The accused evinces a threat to do harm to the community at large; and
- The accused was previously adjudicated guilty or had an adjudication of guilt withheld on charges of driving under the influence in contravention of §316.193(1)(a); or
- The accused allegedly drove while his or her license was suspended when the accident happened.
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.
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