Is DUI Manslaughter a Felony in Florida?

Florida has different classifications for homicide crimes. The most severe homicide charges fall under the murder categories, but to uphold murder charges, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant had the requisite state of mind at the time of the homicide. In cases where the perpetrator did not act with malice, the prosecutor might charge the person with manslaughter. DUI Manslaughter charges are filed against a person when they cause the death of another individual while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Homicide Classifications in Florida

Murder charges are filed against a suspect if that person is believed to have acted with the intent to kill. When a person has premeditated the crime of killing another person, or when a person premeditates another felony, such as armed robbery and kills a person in the process of carrying out that felony, then murder charges will likely result. Murder is divided into degrees, with the most severe being first-degree murder, a crime that is punishable by death in the Sunshine State. Other degrees of murder may lead to life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Manslaughter charges involve the killing of one person by another through an "act, procurement, or culpable negligence." Manslaughter charges are divided into the categories of voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter is a homicide that is intentional or happened in the context of provocation. If a homicide occurs in the course of a bar fight or a domestic dispute, when emotions are high, and tempers are flaring, then the perpetrator will likely face voluntary manslaughter charges. These are situations where the suspect did not engage with the victim with the intent to kill, but during an altercation did kill the other individual. 

Involuntary manslaughter involves a person unintentionally killing another individual through negligent, dangerous, or careless actions. An example would include recklessly handling a firearm and shooting someone in the process.

Vehicular homicide, which is also called vessel homicide when a boat is involved, is homicide resulting from a person recklessly operating a vehicle leading to the death of another person. In Florida, the crime killing a person with a vehicle is its own legal category. 

When a person kills another individual because they are driving under the influence, the crime is categorized as DUI Manslaughter, which has its own consequences. 

Sentencing for Manslaughter Charges

Manslaughter is a second-degree felony, and those convicted of this crime will face a maximum prison sentence of fifteen years, up to fifteen years probation, and a maximum fine of $10,000. In the case of DUI Manslaughter, there is a statutorily mandated minimum sentence of four years in prison. An individual convicted of DUI Manslaughter will also lose their driver's license for the rest of their life. Permanent revocation of the perpetrator's driver's license is also mandatory under Florida law. Many individuals convicted of DUI Manslaughter will face sentences longer than the mandatory four years. Sentences of ten or more years in prison are common. It is important to remember that these cases are emotional, and victims' families will often be pushing for the defendant to face the maximum sentence allowed by law. These factors can influence the outcome.  

Aggravated Manslaughter 

Many charges can be aggravated by certain factors. When a crime has an aggravating factor, the crime may be upgraded to a higher class of felony and can come with a longer prison term and higher fines. 

One way a vehicular homicide charge may be upgraded is in the event of a hit-and-run accident. If a driver strikes and kills someone, or is involved in a fatal collision between two vehicles, then flees the scene of the accident, then the vehicular manslaughter charges become an aggravated offense. The felony becomes a first-degree felony rather than a second-degree felony, and therefore the maximum sentence increases from fifteen years in prison to thirty years in prison.

Manslaughter charges may also be upgraded to aggravated manslaughter when the defendant kills a minor, disabled individual, elderly person, a law enforcement officer, or a first responder such as an EMT or firefighter.

It is not uncommon for a person facing criminal charges for DUI manslaughter to face other related crimes or multiple counts. Taken together, the multiple charges can result in longer sentences. 

Defense Strategies

The best defense strategy will depend on the individual facts of the case. In some situations, the person charged may be the wrong person requiring a defense based on mistaken identity and proof of the defendant’s alibi. 

Other times, the defendant may be charged with murder or manslaughter in a case that actually involved self-defense.

A defendant may claim that the death was an accident and not the result of any negligent or careless behavior.

The arrest and the collection of evidence must have been proper as well, and when police officers make mistakes, then the result can be that evidence or admissions are not admissible in court. This can mean the case against the defendant is too weak to proceed. 

In the case of DUI manslaughter, as with any DUI case, the prosecutor must prove that the person was under the influence. If the police did not properly conduct the sobriety tests, or cannot show that the breathalyzer machinery was properly maintained, calibrated and that the test was properly conducted, then it may not be possible for the prosecutor to show that the defendant was drunk at the time of the accident. 

In many cases, the best defense strategy may revolve around getting charges reduced to a lesser crime. There might be opportunities to negotiate a plea bargain resulting in a reduced sentence. 

Getting Help

When facing serious charges such as manslaughter or other homicide charges, it is imperative to find an experienced attorney to serve as a legal advocate. Each case presents different facts, challenges, and opportunities for defenses. Your attorney can work on developing a strategy and ensuring the protection of your rights throughout the legal process.