DUI Manslaughter Tampa, Florida
Defending Against DUI Manslaughter Charges in Florida
DUI, or driving under the influence, is an offense that several people have committed, even if they were not caught and placed under arrest for it. It is important to understand that Florida has zero tolerance for those who drink and drive and cause fatal accidents, which is known as DUI manslaughter. Law enforcement in Tampa, Florida, as well as the prosecutorial agencies who represent the interests of the state, tirelessly prosecute DUI manslaughter cases. In fact, they often seek the most severe punishment possible, including extended prison terms, steep monetary fines, a permanent loss of one’s driving privileges, and other serious repercussions. The judges in Tampa, Florida also typically defer to the prosecution, as they take DUI manslaughter charges seriously. Meaning, that judges are likely to adhere to the prosecutor’s sentencing recommendations.
Florida statutes define DUI manslaughter as 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 burden is always on the prosecutor to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt that (i) the driver was impaired by drugs or alcohol at or above the legal limit of 0.08% and (ii) caused the death of a living individual or fetus mature enough to survive outside of the womb (known as a “quick child” under Florida Statutes Section 782.971). Despite this significant burden, Tampa prosecutors often prevail in convictions for DUI manslaughter with the assistance of law enforcement given the fact that the elements of the DUI manslaughter law are not onerous to prove.
Skilled Hillsborough County DUI Manslaughter Defense Attorneys
DUI manslaughter charges in Tampa are extremely serious. That is why you should seek the assistance of a skilled DUI manslaughter defense attorney at Musca Law. Musca Law’s experienced Florida DUI defense attorneys will fight aggressively to safeguard your legal rights and interests during each stage of your case. We also work tirelessly to minimize the potential consequences of a DUI manslaughter charge in Tampa, Florida, which could irreparably impact your life for years to come. 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 Tampa DUI Manslaughter Cases
A significant issue that arises at the onset of a DUI manslaughter investigation in Tampa is whether the accused must surrender medical records to the prosecution as well as law enforcement. Florida law allows the prosecution to request a judge for an order for the accused’s medical records directed at the medical facility where he or she received treatment following the accident. These records often contain highly incriminating evidence such as the accused’s blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, as well as statements made to the treatment team and their observations of the accused’s behavior following the crash.
Notwithstanding, prosecutors in Florida face a significant procedural hurdle before they are able to obtain the accused’s medical records. Specifically, the prosecution must send the accused a HIPAA letter or subpoena deuces tecum for medical records. The delivery of the letter triggers certain rights, including the right to have a lawyer present to defend the accused at the evidentiary hearing addressing the issue as to whether the judge should order the production of his or her medical 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 Tampa
Under Florida Statutes Section 316.193, DUI manslaughter is a second-degree felony which carries with it a minimum sentence of four years and a maximum of fifteen years. Hence, a person convicted of DUI manslaughter must serve at least four years in jail, as the presiding judge must consider the sentencing guidelines under Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code.
Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code provides that DUI manslaughter is a Level 8 offense. Under Florida Law, the Legislature ranks crimes according to severity, with a Level 1 as the least serious offense and Level 10 as the most serious offense.
As a Level 8 offense, a conviction for DUI manslaughter in Tampa allows the judge to impose the following criminal penalties:
- Imprisonment for up to fifteen years. However, a Level 8 offense may mean that the offender is imprisoned for 124 ½ months in jail;
- Monetary fines of up to $10,000;
- A maximum of fifteen years of probation;
- Community service; and
- The permanent revocation of one’s driving privileges, subject to certain exceptions.
Qualifications for Obtaining a Hardship License After a DUI Manslaughter Conviction in Tampa
No individual who is convicted of DUI manslaughter in Florida is guaranteed the ability to drive once again. However, there is the possibility of seeking a “hardship license,” which can be obtained only after certain requirements have been satisfied that demonstrate the offender’s commitment to remaining clean and sober.
A person can seek a hardship license after five years of the original revocation. Specifically, the individual must establish that he or she qualifies for reinstatement by showing the following:
- No drug arrests for the five years preceding the application;
- No arrests for driving with a revoked license during the preceding five years;
- The installation of an ignition interlock device for a period of two years;
- No alcohol or drugs have been consumed for five years preceding the application; and
- The applicant completed DUI courses and has remained under the supervision of the DUI program.
Fighting Against DUI Manslaughter Charges in Tampa: Preservation of Evidence
A strong defense starts with the preservation of valuable evidence. The prosecution and law enforcement teams must not destroy or withhold potentially exculpatory evidence. However, they are not required to find exculpatory evidence either. As such, developing a vigorous defense begins with a comprehensive investigation to highlight the weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.
The skilled and experienced Tampa DUI manslaughter defense lawyers with Musca Law are aware of the advantages of being involved in a DUI manslaughter case from its inception. Musca Law’s team of seasoned Tampa defense attorneys retain experts to review the evidence. These experts become a significant part of the defense team, as they expose weaknesses in the state’s case and provide the jury with a complete picture of the evidence. Absent a balanced view of the evidence, the case against the accused would appear to be insurmountable, and a so-called “slam dunk” for the prosecution. The retention of experts is only one part of a multi-pronged defense strategy. Musca Law’s Tampa DUI manslaughter attorneys seek to leave no stone unturned, as they explore all potential avenues of mitigation and defense. As such, the attorneys at Musca Law challenge every ounce of evidence available, and:
- Attend police interrogation of clients;
- Obtain medical records of every individual who died or sustained injuries in the DUI-related accident;
- Take photographs of all automobiles involved in the accident;
- Take photographs of the scene, including skid marks, yaw marks, and debris fields, if possible;
- Interview witnesses; and
- Conduct a search for surveillance video that was not preserved by law enforcement.
Pre-Trial Motion Practice
Musca Law’s Tampa DUI manslaughter defense lawyers are aware of the vital nature of strategic motion practice. Pre-trial motion practice that centers upon police actions as well as whether those actions violated the rights of the accused can make a significant difference for an individual who is accused of DUI manslaughter in Tampa.
Law enforcement officers are susceptible to making mistakes in certain high-pressure circumstances, as in a DUI manslaughter case. Rarely, if ever, would a law enforcement officer intentionally violate an accused’s right however, it does, nonetheless, occur. Consequently, Florida’s criminal procedure law enables individuals charged with a crime to examine the actions of police and whether they pass constitutional muster.
Motions to dismiss and suppress, if well-drafted and presented, could eviscerate the prosecution’s case if the judge determines that law enforcement violated the accused’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to have an attorney, and the right to remain silent. A violation of these rights could result in the judge suppressing the use of damning evidence obtained unlawfully by law enforcement.
The following are some of the ways in which a motion to suppress could affect the accused’s trial:
- Suppressing from trial any statements that the accused made in violation of his or her Miranda rights;
- Seizing bodily evidence such as blood without probable cause will allow the judge to determine that the blood analysis results are not admissible at trial; or
- Stopping the suspect without cause provides the trial judge with reason to prevent the admission of evidence obtained from and after the illegal stop.
Filing motions in limine is another way of attacking the evidence to ensure that a person receives a fair trial. This type of motion does not necessarily challenge the evidence based upon a constitutional violation. Rather, these motions, heard shortly before the trial begins, help to shape the evidence such that the evidence ultimately heard by the jury is not so prejudicial and unfair that the trial is tainted. In other words, a motion in limine seeks to avoid the jury from being exposed to evidence that is prejudicial to the accused.
Trial Defenses in DUI Manslaughter Cases
Trial strategies largely depend upon the facts of each case. A vigorous defense does not involve simply one avenue of defense in most circumstances. Specifically, an argument that seeks to attack every weakness of the prosecution’s case is called the “reasonable doubt defense.” Otherwise stated, the defense attempts to contradict the evidence to prevent the prosecution from persuading the jury that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
There are several defenses that can be raised on behalf of an accused. These are as follows:
- Challenging the results of the blood test as well as the methods employed by investigators who collected the suspect’s blood;
- Moving to exclude statements that were recorded in the accident report that pertain to how the accident occurred. In Florida, these statements are not admissible by virtue of the Accident Report Privilege.
- Contesting the results of field sobriety exercises. Law enforcement as well as the prosecution place substantial evidence on how well the accused performed on field sobriety tests. However, these tests may not be appropriate for those who are disabled or who sustained injuries in the crash. Specifically, the suspect’s failure of a field sobriety test can be explained by the circumstances such as the chaos of the scene, shock, or an injury.
- The results of a breathalyzer test can also be challenged. Studies indicate that breathalyzer readings will be higher, and therefore, unreliable, following airbag deployment. Hence, any breathalyzer tests obtained following a serious crash may not accurately reflect the accused’s BAC.
- BAC levels may also be subject to attack even if the airbags did not deploy. For example, the prosecution can bring DUI manslaughter charges if an individual was driving at or above the legal limit, or was driving while impaired. If the accused’s BAC was not at or above 0.08%, then this can be raised as a viable defense.
- Chemical tests can be challenged at trial. Failing to follow the right procedures or missing a step in the chain of custody could cause the chemical test results to be rendered inadmissible due to a lack of reliability.
- Causation can also be challenged. The prosecution has the burden of establishing that the accused’s actions caused the accident that resulted in the death of another person. Therefore, the accused could assert that the other driver committed a traffic offense that resulted in his or her death. In this instance, the accused would not be guilty of DUI manslaughter. Presenting such evidence of what is referred to as an intervening cause will serve to weaken the government’s case.
- The missing element defense can be asserted in certain cases. The government must establish that the defendant had control over the automobile during the fatal accident. However, if no one witnessed the driver exit his or her vehicle, the prosecution is then missing a “wheel witness.” Moreover, the defense can assert that another individual had control over the accused’s automobile at the time of the accident.
Frequently Asked Questions in Tampa DUI Manslaughter Cases
At Musca Law, we encourage our clients to take a proactive approach with their defense team. We make it a point to provide our clients with a thorough and comprehensive approach to their case. In essence, we want our clients to have a complete understanding of the evidence that is stacked against them and the possible consequences of the case, as well as what the government needs in order to prove to a jury that they are guilty of DUI manslaughter. We also work closely with our clients as we develop a strong defense strategy on their behalf.
When our clients meet with us for the first time, they often have a number of questions. While each DUI manslaughter case is unique, many clients ask the same questions, the answers of which are as follows:
- Can the prosecutor offer a plea deal?
The short and simple answer is yes. Our seasoned Tampa DUI manslaughter defense attorneys explore all avenues of defense, from seeking a not guilty verdict at trial to the negotiation of a fair sentence from our clients. Whether the government chooses to pursue a plea bargain is dependent upon a number of different factors. During one’s case, he or she always has the right to claim innocence.
- How much time will I have to serve if I am convicted of DUI Manslaughter?
If convicted of DUI manslaughter, the maximum prison term is fifteen years. As noted above, the sentencing guidelines call for a sentence that is a little over ten years. There is also a four-year minimum prison sentence in DUI manslaughter cases. The judge could give you credit for not having a prior record, being conciliatory, and/or taking responsibility for your actions. A person who seeks inpatient treatment may be able to seek a reduction of his or her prison sentence for the time spent in a recovery program.
- When can I get a bond after a DUI Manslaughter arrest in Tampa?
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 Tampa DUI manslaughter defense attorneys will provide a confidential case review at no cost to you or your family.