DUI Manslaughter St. Petersburg, Florida
Defending Against DUI Manslaughter Charges in Florida
DUI, or driving under the influence, is an offense that many people have committed, even if they were not caught by police. It is important to understand that the State of Florida has a zero tolerance policy for those who drive while impaired and cause fatal accidents. When a person drives under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol and causes the death of another individual, this is charged as DUI manslaughter in St. Petersburg. Law enforcement in St. Petersburg, as well as the prosecuting agency who represents the State, aggressively pursue DUI manslaughter cases. Specifically, they customarily seek to impose the most severe punishment allowable by law, which may include extended jail time, a permanent loss of one’s driving privileges, harsh monetary fines, and other serious consequences.
Moreover, St. Petersburg judges often side with the government, as they take DUI manslaughter charges extremely seriously. In other words, judges often use their discretion in following the prosecution’s sentencing recommendations.
In Florida, DUI manslaughter is a second-degree felony, which carries with it a prison sentence between four and fifteen years. Keep in mind that the prosecution has the heavy burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that (i) the operator of the vehicle was impaired by drugs or alcohol at or above the legal limit of 0.08%, and (ii) caused an individual to die or a fetus mature enough to survive outside of the womb (known as a “quick child” under Florida Statutes Section 782.971. Notwithstanding the government’s significant burden, prosecutors in St. Petersburg often prevail in DUI manslaughter cases, as they enlist the assistance of law enforcement in establishing the above elements, which are not difficult to prove.
Skilled Pinellas County DUI Manslaughter Defense Attorneys
In St. Petersburg, DUI manslaughter charges are taken very seriously. This is why it is critical that you hire a seasoned St. Petersburg DUI manslaughter defense attorney at Musca Law as early as possible in your case. Musca Law’s skilled and experienced Florida DUI manslaughter defense attorneys will fight aggressively to protect your legal rights and interests during each stage of your case. During your case, our lawyers will seek to minimize the potential consequences of a DUI manslaughter charge in St. Petersburg, which could permanently affect your life. Contact Musca Law at any time, day or night, toll-free at (888) 484-5057 to discuss your legal rights and options with one of our St. Petersburg DUI manslaughter defense attorneys.
Critical Issues in St. Petersburg DUI Manslaughter Cases
A significant issue that arises at the onset of a DUI manslaughter investigation in St. Petersburg is whether the accused must surrender his or her medical records to the prosecution as well as law enforcement. In Florida, a judge can order the release of the accused’s medical records from the treating facility following an accident. These records often include incriminating evidence such as statements that the accused made during treatment, the treatment team’s observations of the accused behavior, and the accused’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
Irrespective of the above, the prosecution in St. Petersburg faces a significant procedural hurdle before they are able to get their hands on the accused’s medical records. Specifically, the prosecutor must issue a HIPAA letter to the accused or obtain his or her medical records pursuant to a subpoena deuces tecum. The HIPAA letter specifically triggers certain rights for the accused, including the right to have an attorney represent him or her during an evidentiary hearing that is scheduled for the purpose of determining whether the accused’s medical records should be surrendered to the prosecution and law enforcement. A timely and well-argued objection to the prosecutor’s motion could prevent the prosecution from receiving critical information about you and substantially hinder their case.
DUI Manslaughter Penalties in St. Petersburg
As noted above, DUI manslaughter, pursuant to Florida Statutes Section 316.193, is a felony in the second degree, the penalties of which include a prison term between four and fifteen years. When deciding a proper course of punishment, the judge in the case must consult the sentencing guidelines pursuant to Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code (the “Code”).
Under the Code, DUI manslaughter is a Level 8 offense, where Level 1 is the least severe and Level 10 is the most severe. As a Level 8 offense, DUI manslaughter carries with it the following criminal penalties:
- A prison sentence between four and fifteen years. Irrespective of same, a Level 8 offense could mean that the offender be sentenced to 124.5 months in prison, which is equivalent to approximately ten years;
- A maximum probationary period of not more than fifteen years;
- Monetary fines of up to $10,000;
- Community service obligations; and
- The permanent suspension of one’s driver’s license, subject to the hardship license exemption discussed below.
Qualifications for Obtaining a Hardship License After a DUI Manslaughter Conviction in St. Petersburg
No individual in St. Petersburg is guaranteed the ability to drive following a DUI manslaughter conviction. However, Florida law does allow a convicted offender to pursue a “hardship license,” which can be obtained only after certain obligations have been met. Keep in mind that a convicted individual can only seek to obtain a hardship license after five years following the original license revocation date. In order to apply for a hardship license, the offender must establish the following requirements:
- The offender has not been arrested for a drug-related crime five years before the hardship license application;
- The offender has installed for a two-year period an ignition interlock device;
- The offender has not been arrested for driving with a revoked license for five years prior to the hardship license application;
- The offender has not consumed alcohol or drugs for a five year period prior to the hardship license application; and
- The offender has completed a DUI course and is currently being supervised by the DUI program.
Challenging DUI Manslaughter Charges in St. Petersburg: Preservation of Evidence
A strong defense starts off with the preservation of key evidence. Law enforcement as well as the government cannot get rid of or withhold exculpatory evidence. Notwithstanding, they are not under the obligation to seek out such evidence either. As such, the development of a viable defense strategy commences with a thorough investigation of the evidence in order to poke holes in the government’s case.
The St. Petersburg DUI manslaughter defense attorneys at Musca Law cannot stress enough the value of attorneys being involved in a Florida DUI manslaughter case from its inception. Musca Law’s experienced and knowledgeable DUI manslaughter defense attorneys seek to retain experts who are adept at examining the evidence in one’s case. These experts serve a key role in highlighting the weaknesses of the government’s case as well as provide the jury with a full picture of all of the evidence. Without a level view of the evidence, the matter against the alleged offender would seem to be difficult to overcome.
The retention of experts is only one part of a multi-faceted defense approach. When representing those accused of DUI manslaughter, Musca Law’s St. Petersburg DUI manslaughter defense lawyers pursue all avenues of mitigation and defense. As such, the attorneys at Musca Law tirelessly attack all of the evidence that the prosecution brings forth in their case. Our lawyers also:
- Are present during law enforcement questioning;
- Seek to obtain the deceased’s or injured party’s medical records;
- Take photographs of the all vehicles involved in the crash as well as of the accident scene;
- Interview witnesses of the accident; and
- Search for surveillance videos that may have recorded the accident.
Pre-Trial Motion Practice in St. Petersburg
Musca Law’s St. Petersburg DUI manslaughter defense lawyers fully recognize the critical nature of strategic motion practice. Pre-trial motions focus upon the actions of law enforcement and whether said actions violated the accused’s constitutional rights. Such a focused approach can make a significant difference for the alleged offender. As such, Florida’s criminal procedure law enables the accused to examine law enforcement’s actions to ascertain whether or not they were constitutional in nature.
Such motions as a motion to dismiss or suppress, as drafted by a skilled St. Petersburg DUI manslaughter defense lawyer, could prevail in attacking the prosecution’s case if the judge issues a ruling that law enforcement violated the accused’s right (a) to be free from unlawful searches and seizures pursuant to the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, (b) to remain silent, and (c) to have an attorney. Any violation of these key rights could result in the suppression of the prosecution’s evidence. In other words, the prosecution will be unable to use damning evidence against the defendant.
The following are some of the ways in which a motion to suppress can positively affect the outcome of the accused’s trial:
- The seizure of bodily evidence such as blood without probable cause that a crime has been committed could result in the suppression of the blood results;
- The suppression of statements made by the accused in violation of his or her Miranda rights; or
- The stopping of the alleged offender without cause could lead to the suppression of evidence obtained during the unlawful stop.
Another motion known as a motion in limine is another way to challenge the admission of the prosecutor’s evidence to ensure that the accused receives a fair trial. A motion in limine does not necessarily challenge the evidence pursuant to an alleged violation of the Constitution. Conversely, these motions, which are heard before the trial begins, assist in shaping the evidence that would otherwise be submitted to the jury so that they are not unfair or prejudicial to the accused.
Trial Defenses in St. Petersburg DUI Manslaughter Cases
Defenses available to an accused depend heavily upon the unique facts and circumstances of each St. Petersburg DUI manslaughter case. Specifically, one defense strategy is to challenge every weakness in the prosecutor’s case, which is known as the “reasonable doubt defense.” Otherwise stated, this defense seeks to contradict the prosecutor’s evidence to prevent him or her from influencing the jury to decide that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There are also a multitude of other defense available to an accused, which are:
- An attack of the blood test results of the accused due as well as the methods law enforcement used to obtain his or her blood sample;
- Seeking to exclude statements, pursuant to Florida’s Accident Report Privilege, that were provided in the accident report which center upon how the accident occurred;
- Attacking the results of a field sobriety test. In addition to law enforcement, the prosecution focuses heavily on the results of a field sobriety test in order to determine an accused’s level of impairment. However, these exercises may not be appropriate for everyone, the results of which may be skewed due to shock, injury, or disability.
- The results of a breathalyzer test can also be challenged. Studies show that breathalyzer test results may be skewed (and therefore, unreliable) if conducted after airbags have deployed in a vehicle. In essence, the suspect’s BAC may be read higher and not accurately reflect his or her true BAC level.
- The defense can also challenge the accused’s BAC, even if airbags did not deploy in the accident. For instance, if the accused’s BAC was at or above the legal limit of 0.08%, a St. Petersburg DUI defense attorney may raise this as a strong defense.
- Chemical tests can also be challenged during the accused’s trial. Specifically, if law enforcement missed a step in the chain of custody or failed to follow proper procedures, this could cause the chemical test results to be inadmissible at trial due to a lack of accuracy.
- Causation can also be challenged at trial. The prosecution must prove that the defendant’s actions were the direct cause of the fatal accident. Accordingly, the accused could assert that the other driver committed a traffic violation that led to his or her death. In this situation, the accused would not be convicted of DUI manslaughter.
- The missing element defense can also be asserted. In DUI manslaughter cases, it must be proven by the prosecution that the accused had control over his or her vehicle during the fatal accident. If no one witnessed the alleged offender behind the wheel of the accident, this defense, known as the “wheel witness” defense, can be asserted by the defense team. Essentially, the defense can argue that another individual was in control of the vehicle during the deadly accident.
Frequently Asked Questions in St. Petersburg DUI Manslaughter Cases
At Musca Law, we urge our clients to pursue a proactive approach with their attorney. Specifically, our seasoned St. Petersburg DUI defense attorneys provide each client with a comprehensive approach to his or her case. Accordingly, we desire for our clients to fully understand the evidence stacked against him or her as well as the multitude of consequences associated with a DUI manslaughter conviction. We also wish for clients to be aware of the prosecution’s burden in attempting to secure a guilty verdict against them. As such, we work hand-in-hand with our clients as we develop a strong defense strategy on their behalf.
When an accused meets with one of our experienced St. Petersburg DUI manslaughter defense attorneys, they often ask questions that most people ask during their initial case consultation. While each DUI manslaughter case is unique, many individuals inquire as follows:
- Can the prosecutor offer a plea deal?
Yes, our St. Petersburg DUI manslaughter defense attorneys pursue all avenues of defense, including seeking a not guilty verdict to negotiating a reasonable punishment for our clients. Whether the prosecution offers a plea deal is contingent upon a number of different factors. Note that you do not have to accept the plea deal offered by the prosecution, as you have the right to maintain your innocence at all stages of your case.
- How much time will I have to serve if I am convicted of DUI Manslaughter?
Should a person be convicted of DUI manslaughter in St. Petersburg, he or she will face a prison sentence ranging from four to fifteen years. As noted previously, the sentencing guidelines call for a prison sentence of approximately ten years. It is also important to understand that the judge can credit you for not having a prior criminal record, being cooperative, and/or taking full responsibility for your actions. Also note that a person who chooses to pursue inpatient treatment can seek a reduction of his or her prison sentence for the time he or she spent in a substance abuse treatment program.
- When can I get a bond after a DUI Manslaughter arrest in St. Petersburg?
There is an eight hour waiting period before being released from jail on bond unless the BAC drops to below 0.05%, or the suspect is no longer exhibiting signs of being under the influence of narcotics.
The Consequences Are Too Severe to Trust Any Other Law Firm
Contact the experienced Florida DUI manslaughter lawyers with Musca Law today by calling (888) 484-5057. Our St. Petersburg defense attorneys will provide a confidential case review at no cost to you or your family. Don’t wait; contact us now to learn more about your legal rights and options. We look forward to making a difference for you!