DUI Manslaughter Defense Lawyers in Punta Gorda, Florida
How to Beat a Florida DUI Manslaughter Charge
DUI manslaughter charges follow from very tragic events. No one drives while intoxicated with the intent to kill another human being. Despite the lack of intent to kill on behalf of the driver charged with DUI manslaughter, emotions will run remarkably high on behalf of the victim’s family and the public generally. As a result, prosecutors and law enforcement investigators in Punta Gorda will work tirelessly to build an iron-clad case to send the alleged offender to prison for a long time.
DUI manslaughter charges in Punta Gorda are incredibly serious criminal offenses. The consequences of driving and accidentally killing another after drinking or consuming drugs are harsh. The potential prison sentence for a conviction of DUI manslaughter is fifteen years, with a minimum-mandatory sentence of four years. There are also fines, probationary terms, and revocation of driver’s license to content with as well.
The consequence of a DUI manslaughter conviction requires a person facing DUI manslaughter charges in Punta Gorda to engage an attorney who has the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience to protect the rights of the accused and fight for a just result. Musca Law’s Punta Gorda DUI manslaughter defense lawyers have represented individuals charged with DUI manslaughter and represented their clients vigorously. Musca Law’s Punta Gorda DUI manslaughter defense attorneys aggressively pursue defenses from all angles to give their clients the best opportunity to beat the case, or if not, receive the lowest possible sentence allowed by Florida law.
Musca Law has a reputation as accomplished advocates for their clients in Punta Gorda and all across Florida. Call 888-484-5057 to learn how Musca Law gained such a glowing reputation as zealous advocates and how their professionalism, knowledge, and determination to seek justice could benefit a person fighting DUI manslaughter charges in Punta Gorda, Florida.
DUI Manslaughter Law in Charlotte County
Florida’s DUI manslaughter charges are outlined in Florida Statutes §316.193. The state must prove beyond any doubt the person accused of DUI manslaughter is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The government has the enduring obligation to prove every element of the charge; otherwise, the accused must be acquitted. First, the prosecution must conclusively prove that the accused was either intoxicated when having control over a vehicle or having a blood-or breath-alcohol level (BAL) of 0.08 or above when in control over a vehicle. The state’s attorney must further prove that the accused caused an accident that leads to the death of another while intoxicated or while driving with a BAL of 0.08 or above.
Section 316.193 indicates that a person in control over a vehicle is intoxicated when the alcohol or drug consumption impaired the person’s normal faculties. Impairment of normal faculties means that the person in control over the vehicle is suffering from impairment of speech, sight, decision making, walking, clear thought, impaired judgment, ability to judge distances, or other normal cognitive abilities that a person needs to drive a vehicle safely.
Florida is a per se jurisdiction. Accordingly, any person who takes a breath or blood test and gives a result of 0.08 or above is per se guilty of DUI. Furthermore, Florida has an implied consent law, which means that a person must take a chemical test if law enforcement agents have probable cause to suspect the driver is impaired. Refusing to take the chemical test can be used in court and is accompanied by a suspension of the driver’s license. In most DUI cases, the police cannot draw blood without the consent of the accused or a warrant. This is not so for DUI manslaughter cases. Under Florida Statutes §316.1933, a law enforcement officer could force the accused to give a blood sample if the police had probable cause to believe that the accused was in control over a vehicle and caused a crash that severely injured or killed another person. The blood may only be drawn by a physician or other trained health care professional who is authorized to take blood at a hospital. However, as discussed below, the police must follow strict guidelines when taking blood without a warrant or consent.
Penalties for a DUI Manslaughter Conviction
The driver accused of DUI does not need to be the sole cause of an accident to face DUI manslaughter charges. Section 316.193(3) indicates that a person is guilty of DUI manslaughter, which is a second-degree felony, and the offender could be punished by serving up to fifteen years imprisonment in a state correctional facility if the driver caused or contributed to a crash that killed another person or an unborn child.
Although §316.193(3) indicates that the person convicted of DUI manslaughter must serve a four-year minimum-mandatory sentence, the actual prison term could be much longer. Most DUI manslaughter charges fall into category eight of the Florida Criminal Punishment Code. If the judge adopts the sentence designated by a category eight offense, then the accused will serve more than ten years in prison. The judge has the option to use his or her discretion and reduce the score on behalf of the accused if circumstances require.
There are other penalties a person convicted of DUI manslaughter in Punta Gorda faces. The offender will be placed on probation, ordered to pay a fine of $10,000.00, face permanent revocation of their driver’s license, attend DUI school, perform community service, have the primary car impounded, and drive with an interlocking ignition device. The offender could face immigration difficulties if he or she is not a citizen or permanent resident.
A person convicted of DUI could earn the privilege of driving if he or she has no previous DUI convictions. The person can apply for reinstatement of limited privileges for business or employment purposes after satisfying requirements such as no driving for five years, no drug or alcohol arrests for five years, two years of ignition interlock installation, and completion of DUI school and treatment along with counseling. A person convicted of DUI manslaughter, which has a previous conviction for any DUI charge, cannot receive an employment or business license.
Florida DUI Manslaughter Defenses
Crafting a successful defense to DUI manslaughter charges involves a close analysis of the facts and a thorough study of the relevant law. The defense must take a stand immediately to give the accused the best chance of experiencing justice. The best defense strategy begins with aggressive pre-trial motion practice and continues throughout the case with a thorough trial strategy. Potentially viable defenses include showing that someone or something intervened and broke the chain of causation in the crash that killed the victim, contesting the accuracy of the scientific tests such as the blood draw or breath test, arguing that the field sobriety test results were inaccurate or misleading, and moving to suppress statements made by the accused because they were made consistent with Florida’s crash report privilege or in violation of the Miranda warnings.
A strong defense starts with having all of the “discovery” as soon as possible. The prosecution must disclose the evidence it will use against the accused at trial. The prosecution must disclose the statements made by witnesses, the results of scientific tests, among other evidence. Besides, the prosecution team, which includes the law enforcement agency which investigated the fatal DUI crash, might have other items that would be helpful to the defense and potentially relevant at trial. The prosecution cannot engage in “trial by ambush” where they hide the evidence until the last minute. Notwithstanding, a resourceful and knowledgeable DUI manslaughter defense lawyer will ask for additional items not covered by mandatory discovery.
Once the discovery is complete, then the case can move to the pre-trial motion stage of the case. Typically, the pre-trial motion stage involves filing motions to suppress evidence that the defense argues was seized in violation of constitutional standards. The most important piece of evidence to attack is the chemical test results.
Although statutory authority allows law enforcement officers to use force that is reasonable under the circumstances to compel a DUI manslaughter suspect to provide a blood sample for analysis of alcohol or drugs in the blood, the statute conflicts with a case decided by the United States Supreme Court. In the case entitled, Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U.S. 141 (2013), the highest court in the land ruled that the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires police to have “existent circumstances” before taking a person’s blood without a warrant and consent. The procedure, known as a “forced blood draw,” requires the government to intrude on a person’s body. Therefore, the U.S. Constitution obligates law enforcement officers to obtain judicial approval of the procedure through a formal search warrant request.
Hospital protocols now in place require physicians and other medical personnel authorized to draw blood to ask the police to produce a search warrant before they draw the blood of the accused of investigatory purposes only. The medical personnel could draw blood for diagnosis and treatment. The police should get a search warrant to seize those vials of blood taken for medical use that might also be sent to a lab for alcohol or drug analysis.
The state, through the prosecution, must justify the officer’s decision to order a forced blood draw without a warrant or without consent that was freely, knowingly, and voluntarily given. A judge must decide if the police had a genuine exigency or emergency, or if the state’s attorney could not meet their burden because the police created the exigency, or the law enforcement agents were mistaken about the existence of an exigency. Therefore, filing a motion to suppress the results of a forced blood draw can be a successful strategy to defend DUI manslaughter charges. In other words, the jury cannot hear testimony about a forced blood draw if the judge suppresses the evidence.
Florida courts provide greater constitutional protections than the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Constitution guarantees the minimum amount of freedom. Therefore, courts can provide more relief from government overreaching to people accused of DUI manslaughter than required by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Filling a motion to suppress other evidence can be an effective strategy to exclude other damning evidence from trial. Any statements made at the accident scene by the accused could be subject to suppression from a trial if the judge rules Florida’s accident scene privilege applies to statements made in the aftermath of the crash by the accused.
Although it is wise to decline to speak with police, many people talk with investigators when they are suspected of a crime. Officers are not looking to exonerate the person. Instead, the officers want to keep the person talking so that he or she makes an incriminating statement or gives such wildly inconsistent statements that it would be obvious to a jury that the person speaking with the police was not being truthful.
Filing a motion to suppress statements is an appropriate defense tactic in many cases when the accused talks with the police. The person talking with the police must make a rational decision to do so. The statement cannot be coerced, nor can the individual’s will be overborne by the investigators. Additionally, the person must understand what is transpiring at the moment. If the accused sustains an injury or is in such a terrible emotional state, then any statements made might not be voluntary. In those circumstances, contesting the voluntariness of the statement is an appropriate defense strategy.
Most people believe that a police officer must recite the “Miranda” warnings whenever there is an arrest. The “Miranda” warnings are required when a person is in custody, whether that is a formal arrest or in circumstances that would indicate to the objective observer the person was not free to leave, and the police ask questions that would incriminate the person. “Miranda” warnings are not required any other time. However, any statements made after a violation of the “Miranda” doctrine must be suppressed from evidence at trial.
Moving to suppress blood tests after the police claim they obtained valid consent to draw blood. The arrestee must knowingly and voluntarily give consent; otherwise, the consent is invalid, and any evidence seized with the consent of the accused must be thrown out of court. The consent doctrine also applies to searches of automobiles, cellphones, and other areas deserving of constitutional protection.
Trial defense starts with developing a theme for the defense. Sometimes the defense creates a broad picture that convinces the jury that the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proof. This is known as the “reasonable doubt” defense. The reasonable doubt defense pokes holes in every bit of evidence in a way that leaves some doubt in the jurors’ minds.
Aggressively attacking the police investigation for its incomplete investigation or rushing to judgment as to how the crash happened, for example, is a solid defense. In most DUI manslaughter cases, the police will want to make an arrest as soon as possible. They might not wait until the accident reconstruction analysis is complete before making an arrest. Instead, the police might arrest without expert analysis. If so, then the defense could argue that the accident reconstruction expert tailored his or her report to fit the on-scene investigators’ opinion of how the crash happened instead of being led by the scientific process.
Attacking expert witnesses is crucial in a DUI manslaughter case. The prosecution will have experts testify about alcohol-serum analysis, accident reconstruction analysis, and have a medical opinion concerning the manner and means of death of the person who died.
It is critical to understand that expert witnesses are like every other witness who is called to testify. They make mistakes with their analysis, assumptions, and conclusions. Additionally, their opinions are only valid if the evidence upon which they base them is reliable. For instance, blood serum-analysis could be contested with pointed questions about the procedures used, about the chain of custody issues, and whether the analyst interpreted the results accurately.
Another huge point of contention is the performance of field sobriety tests. Field sobriety tests are designed to examine the ability of a person to understand directions and perform simple tasks while maintaining balance. The field sobriety exercises administered by the police supposedly recruit the same skills as driving. Therefore, failing a field sobriety test means one cannot safely drive.
Aggressively confronting the officer who administered the exercises is a powerful defense strategy. The officer will testify on direct examination conducted by the prosecution how the suspect missed steps, confused letters in the alphabet, or lost balance when turning around during the tests. A savvy DUI manslaughter defense lawyer will examine the details more closely in such a way that helps the jury see why field sobriety tests are unreliable.
The individual facing DUI manslaughter charges has the absolute right not to call witnesses. However, it is helpful to call witnesses if possible. Engaging a Punta Gorda DUI manslaughter defense lawyer right away will allow for a thorough investigation from the defense perspective that could turn up witnesses favorable to the defense. These witnesses could testify to their observations and counter the prosecutions’ witnesses.
Defending Your Freedom Begins with a Phone Call
Musca Law’s Punta Gorda defense attorneys will provide you with a comprehensive plan to defend your case and protect your freedom. Musca Law realizes this is a difficult time for you. However, you need to protect your rights by calling 888-484-5057 before it is too late. Understanding your rights is crucial at a time like this. Remember that you should not speak with the police and talk to a reliable and trusted Punta Gorda DUI manslaughter defense attorney.