DUI Manslaughter in Stuart, Florida
Defending Against DUI Manslaughter Charges in Florida
Driving under the influence, most often referred to as “DUI,” is one crime that many people have committed, even if they have not been arrested for it. We know not to drive after having a couple of drinks, but we do anyway. We are highly skilled at rationalizing how we can drive even though we should not. We figure that bad things will not happen to us and that only having a couple of beers or glasses of wine will not impair our ability to drive. We also rationalize that DUI crashes only happen when the driver is legless. Sadly, history proves our rationalization is misguided, at best.
Florida Law is Tough on DUI Manslaughter
Florida law has no tolerance for drunk drivers who cause deadly accidents. Law enforcement officers in Stuart, Florida, and the prosecutorial agencies who represent the state relentlessly prosecute DUI manslaughter charges. The investigating officers and the prosecuting attorneys seek severe periods of incarceration, significant fines, permanent loss of driving privileges, and other collateral consequences. The judges who hear DUI manslaughter cases in the Stuart, Florida area also take these charges seriously. They are likely to listen to the prosecutor’s sentencing recommendation and agree with it.
Florida statutes define DUI manslaughter is a felony in the second degree. A conviction for a second-degree felony in Florida carries a maximum incarcerated sentence of up to fifteen years. Still, Florida's DUI statute requires the offender to serve a four-year minimum-mandatory prison sentence.
The is always on the prosecution to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Despite their heavy burden, prosecutors in Stuart, Florida, win convictions for DUI manslaughter often, with the assistance of dedicated law enforcement officials, because the elements, or components, of DUI manslaughter in Florida, are not onerous. The government merely has to prove — and by a standard of beyond a reasonable doubt — that the driver was impaired by alcohol or drove at or above the legal limit and caused the death of a living person or a fetus that was mature enough to survive. A fetus who could have lived if naturally born but for the fatal incident is known as a “quick child” under Florida Statutes Section 782.971.
Seasoned Martin County DUI Manslaughter Defense Attorneys
DUI manslaughter charges in Stuart are very serious. Consequently, you must enlist the help of a seasoned and knowledgeable DUI manslaughter defense attorney from Musca Law. Musca Law’s experienced Florida DUI defense lawyers will fight vigorously to protect your rights and work solely in your best interest at every stage of the case. Musca Law’s seasoned DUI manslaughter defense attorneys work quickly and efficiently to devise a comprehensive strategy to defend your case and minimize the potential impact a DUI manslaughter charge in Stuart, Florida could have on your life and your family’s lives. Call Musca Law anytime day or night toll-free at (888) 484-5057 to discuss your rights and options with our Florida DUI manslaughter defense attorneys.
Critical Issues in Stuart DUI Manslaughter Cases
One of the most critical issues that arise during the infancy of a DUI manslaughter investigation in Stuart is whether the person suspected of the crime of DUI manslaughter must surrender medical records to law enforcement and the prosecution. Florida law permits the prosecution team to ask a judge for an order directed to the medical facility at which the suspect received treatment after the crash for a certified copy of the suspect’s medical records. The records could include highly incriminating evidence like the driver’s blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, along with statements made to medical professionals and their observations of the behavior of the suspect.
Florida prosecutors must satisfy a significant procedural hurdle before obtaining the medical records of the accused. Initially, the prosecutors must deliver to the suspect a HIPAA letter or a subpoena deuces tecum for the medical records. The delivery of that letter triggers certain rights for the suspect. The suspect has the right to have a lawyer and defend at an evidentiary hearing on the issue of whether the judge should order the production of the records.
A timely and well-argued objection to the prosecutor’s motion could prevent the government from collecting critical information about you and substantially hinder their case.
DUI Manslaughter Penalties in Stuart
DUI manslaughter, as a second-degree felony under 2019 Florida Statutes Section 316.193, requires the sentencing judge to impose a four-year sentence, with a maximum of fifteen years. Consequently, a person convicted of DUI manslaughter in Stuart must serve at least four years in prison. The judge must consider the sentencing guidelines under Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code.
Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code ranks DUI manslaughter as a Level 8 offense. Florida’s Legislature ranked crimes according to the severity with a Level 1 as the least-serious offense and Level 10 as the most severe offense.
As a Level 8 offense, a DUI manslaughter conviction in Stuart affords the sentencing judge discretion to impose the following criminal sanctions:
- Incarceration of up to fifteen years. However, a Level 8 offense carries the potential for 124 ½ months in prison;
- $10,000.00 fine or less;
- Up to fifteen years of probation;
- Community service obligations;
- Lifetime loss of driving privileges, subject to satisfying specific statutory requirements that would allow the defendant to resume driving, such as:
- Vehicle impoundment;
- DUI educational requirements;
- Outpatient or residential substance misuse treatment;
- Installation of an ignition interlock system maintained at the driver’s expense.
Qualifications for Obtaining a Hardship License After a DUI Manslaughter Conviction in Stuart
No person convicted of Florida DUI manslaughter is guaranteed to receive permission to drive again. The individual can obtain a hardship license in Florida only after satisfying diverse requirements that prove the individual's commitment to and success with maintaining sobriety.
An individual convicted of DUI manslaughter could receive a hardship license after five years of license revocation. The individual must prove he or she qualifies for reinstatement by showing:
- No drug arrests for the five-year time frame preceding application;
- No arrests for driving on a suspended license during the preceding five years;
- An ignition interlock device will be installed for a minimum of two years;
- The applicant has neither consumed alcohol nor drugs within the preceding five years; and
- The applicant completed the requisite DUI classes and remained under the supervision of the DUI program. A successful applicant will remain under the control of the DUI program for the duration of the revocation period, which could be for life. Also, the individual shall appear for substance abuse testing as required by the DUI program. Failing to comply with those requirements, including failing substance abuse tests, could result in revocation of driving privileges.
Defending Against DUI Manslaughter Charges in Stuart: Preservation of Evidence
A vigorous defense begins with preserving valuable evidence. The prosecution and law enforcement teams have an obligation not to destroy or withhold possibly exculpatory evidence. Notwithstanding, they have no duty to locate exculpatory evidence either. Consequently, developing a strong defense begins with a thorough investigation to expose weaknesses in the government’s case.
The seasoned Stuart DUI manslaughter defense attorneys with Musca Law know the advantages of becoming involved in a case from its inception. Musca Law’s DUI manslaughter defense lawyers retain experts to review the evidence and become an integral component of the defense team to poke holes in the state’s case and give the jury a complete view of the evidence. Absent a balanced view of the evidence, the case against the accused would seem insurmountable, and a so-called “slam dunk” for the prosecution.
Retaining expert witnesses is only one step of a multi-faceted defense strategy. Musca Law’s Stuart criminal defense attorneys diligently explore all possible avenues of defense and mitigation. Musca DUI manslaughter defense lawyers contest every piece of evidence and proactively participate in all stages of the prosecution, including:
- Attending any interrogation of our client by law enforcement;
- Obtaining the medical records of every person killed or injured in a DUI crash;
- Photographing all vehicles involved;
- Photographing the scene, including preserving yawl marks, skid marks, and debris fields, if possible;
- Interviewing witnesses; and
- Searching for surveillance video not otherwise preserved by law enforcement.
Pre-Trial Motion Practice
Musca Law’s Stuart DUI manslaughter attorneys understand the importance of strategic motion practice. Focused pre-trial motions that center on the actions of the police and whether those actions violated the rights of the accused could make a tremendous difference for someone facing DUI manslaughter charges in Stuart.
Law enforcement officers are prone to making mistakes in high-pressure situations, as in a DUI manslaughter case. Rarely, if ever, would a law enforcement officer intentionally violate the suspect’s rights, but it does happen, regrettably. Consequently, Florida’s criminal procedure law allows people charged with crimes an opportunity to scrutinize the actions of the police and whether their actions pass constitutional muster. Well-drafted and well-presented motions to dismiss and suppress could eviscerate the government’s case if the judge finds that a government agent violated the suspect’s rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, free to remain silent, and the right to have an attorney. A violation of those rights could convince the judge to suppress from use at trial damning evidence seized by unconstitutional means.
Here are some examples of how a successful motion to suppress could positively shape the trial for the accused:
- Seizing blood or other bodily evidence without probable cause will enable the judge to rule that the blood analysis is not admissible at trial;
- Stopping the suspect without cause would give the trial judge a reason to prevent admission from evidence at the trial all evidence obtained from and after the illegal stop; or
- Suppressing from trial statements made by the accused in violation of the Miranda doctrine.
Filing motions in limine are another method of attacking evidence to ensure the accused gets a fair trial. Motions in limine do not ask a judge to suppress evidence based on a constitutional violation necessarily. Instead, these motions, which are heard by the trial judge shortly before the trial starts, help shape the evidence that the jury will consider ensuring the evidence heard by the jury is not so overly prejudicial and unfair that the trial is tainted.
Motions in limine should alert judges to potential issues before the evidence commences because if tainted or extremely prejudicial evidence goes before the jury, it is impossible to “un-ring the bell,” as the old saying goes. The jury will be exposed to evidence they should not have heard.
Trial Defenses in DUI Manslaughter Cases
Trial strategies largely depend on the facts of the case at bar. A strong defense will not rely on one avenue of defense exclusively in most cases. Typically, an argument that attacks every weakness of the government's case is a broad sense is called the "reasonable doubt defense." In other words, the defense tries to contradict the evidence to ultimately prevent the prosecution from convincing the jury that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Some cases lend themselves to advancing specific defenses such as:
- Contesting the validity of blood test results and the methods by which the investigators collected the suspect’s blood;
- Moving to prevent evidence of statements made by the suspect at the crash scene because the suspect made those statements in response to questions about how the wreck happened. In Florida, these statements are inadmissible by application of the Accident Report Privilege.
- Aggressively contesting the conclusions drawn by law enforcement based on the accused’s performance on field sobriety exercises. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors place substantial evidence on how well the suspect performed on field sobriety tests. The tests themselves are divided attention tests and bear little correlation to the ability to drive. Notwithstanding, the suspect’s performance on field sobriety tests could be explained by the circumstances such as the chaos of the scene, an injury, or even shock.
- Breathalyzer tests are also subject to attack. Scientific studies show that breathalyzer readings will be higher, and therefore unreliable when airbags deploy. Therefore, any breathalyzer tests obtained after a serious accident will not reflect the suspect’s BAC accurately.
- BAC levels are subject to attack even if the airbags did not go off. For instance, the government can bring DUI manslaughter charges for either driving at or above the legal limit or driving impaired. A BAC that does not rise to the legal limit is a viable defense. Additionally, the passage of time will dilute the amount of alcohol in the blood.
- Chemical tests can be contested at trial. Any failure to follow proper procedures or a missing step in the chain of custody could render the chemical test results inadmissible because they are unreliable.
- Causation is another defense that could be asserted. The prosecution has the burden to prove that the defendant’s actions caused an accident that led to the death of another. Thus, the accused could have a viable defense if the driver of the other vehicle, for example, committed a driving offense that caused the crash, the accused would not be guilty of DUI manslaughter. Presenting evidence of an intervening cause will also weaken the government’s case.
- The missing element defense could be argued in the proper circumstances. The government must prove the accused had control over the vehicle during the fatal crash. However, if no one saw the driver get out of the car, then the prosecution is missing a “wheel witness.” Also, the defense could argue that another person had control over the accused’s vehicle at the time of the crash.
Frequently Asked Questions in Stuart DUI Manslaughter Cases
At Musca Law, we encourage our clients to take an engaged approach with their defense team. We desire our clients to have a thorough and complete understanding of the evidence against them and the possible consequences of the case, along with what the government has to prove in order for a jury to find them guilty. We consult closely with our clients about defense strategies as well.
Our clients pose a variety of questions to us about their cases. We know that each DUI manslaughter case is as unique as every one of our clients is a unique person. However, we have found that we receive many of the same questions from our clients. Below are some of the questions our clients ask and a general answer as well.
Could the prosecutor offer a plea deal?
The simple and short answer to the question is, "yes." We explore all avenues of defense from working to win a “not guilty” verdict after trial to negotiating a fair sentence for our clients. Whether the government wants to plea bargain depends on many factors. The defendant always has the right to maintain his or her innocence.
How much time will I have to serve if I am convicted of DUI Manslaughter?
The maximum sentence allowed for DUI manslaughter is fifteen years. As discussed previously, the sentencing guidelines call for a sentence that is just over ten years. There is also a four-year minimum sentence. The judge could give you credit for not having a record, being contrite, or taking responsibility for your actions and reduce the severity of the crime downward and give you less time in prison. You could also earn gain-time off of the sentence as well.
Also, our clients often like to know whether any time they spent in alcohol recovery after the charges arise can count toward their sentence. Most times, the judge will apply any time spent in an inpatient recovery program to reduce the committed portion of the sentence.
When can I get a bond after a DUI Manslaughter arrest in Stuart?
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 Stuart DUI manslaughter defense attorneys will provide a confidential case review at no cost to you or your family.