DUI MANSLAUGHTER, VEHICULAR HOMICIDE AND CRASHES WITH SERIOUS BODILY INJURIES
Traffic accidents happen all the time, especially in South Florida. Unfortunately, some of them result in Death or Serious Bodily Injury to one or more involved in the crash. The law knows these drivers didn’t intend to kill anyone. That’s why it doesn’t consider their actions Murder. But it has to draw the line between some behaviors. It treats impairment, not intoxication, harshly; and rather than punish Careless Driving, it punishes Reckless Driving. Thus, Florida created DUI Manslaughter and Vehicular Homicide charges.
In layman’s terms, DUI Manslaughter occurs when someone Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or a Controlled Substance (DUI) causes, or contributes to causing, someone’s death. To best understand the crime, let’s start with the definition of a DUI.
Proof of DUI
Most people understand the crime DUI. Although the idea is simple, the law is complex. Here’s the definition. If you drive, or are in actual physical control of a vehicle, and while you drive or are in actual physical control of a vehicle, are under the influence of alcoholic beverages, a chemical substance or a controlled substance to the extent that your normal faculties were impaired; or you had a blood or breath-alcohol level of .08 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood or 210 liters of breath (BAC), you committed DUI. Please check out my page on DUIs to learn more about the offense.
Breath or Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)
Simply put, the law punishes DUI in two ways: unlawful BAC and impaired normal faculties. To prove unlawful BAC, police test your breath after arrest. To do so, they must follow strict testing protocols. They check Intoxilyzers every time a person takes the breath test. The instrument analyzes alcoholic samples and non-alcoholic samples to confirm the sensors work. They certify operators to handle and understand these instruments. You must wait 20 minutes without drinking or burping before breath testing to keep mouth alcohol from tainting the results.
If police fail to follow the rules, a judge might exclude your breath test results. Because Mr. Brown knows the rules, he knows when the police made mistakes. Then he’ll use that information to help you defend your case.
Besides the technical definition, most people know DUI when they see it. That’s because most people have consumed or seen someone consume too much alcohol. To make things clear for a jury, the law defines normal faculties. Normal faculties include but are not limited to the ability to see, hear, walk, talk, judge distances, drive an automobile, make judgments, act in emergencies and, in general, normally perform the many mental and physical acts of our daily lives. This set of directions broadly describes an impaired person.
How DUI Manslaughter Cases Differ from DUIs
Although DUI and DUI Manslaughter cases seem similar, their investigations differ greatly. First, while police arrest almost all DUI defendants at the scene, police rarely arrest DUI Manslaughter defendants the night of the incident. That’s because the investigations focus on the crash more than impairment. They’re very scientific.
Usually, police call their Traffic Homicide Investigators to the scene. These expert witnesses study traffic fatalities and only investigate serious crashes. Police block off the scene to take pictures, gather broken glass, check for skid marks, take measurements and even seize cars. Sometimes, they check event data recorders (EDRs), better known as the black box. They use the scene and EDRs to determine crash speeds and angles of impact.
Second, police don’t test your breath for alcohol. They don’t ask you to perform field sobriety exercises either although they observe your behavior. To test breath, police must lawfully arrest someone. Here, they avoid arresting you on scene to complete the crash investigation.
Third, prosecutors hire Accident Reconstruction Experts to examine the scene. Like the Traffic Homicide Investigators, Accident Reconstruction Experts draft reports using science and physics to explain the crash. Unlike most witnesses, they can offer expert opinions about matters relating to the crash.
Punishment for DUI Manslaughter
DUI Manslaughter is a second degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. It contains a 4 year minimum mandatory, which means you serve the time day for day. Only prosecutors can eliminate the minimum mandatory. The penalty increases if you knowingly leave the crash scene and fail to give information and render aid. Then, the charge becomes a first degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison. If you’re in a crash that causes multiple deaths, you face one count of DUI Manslaughter per death.
DUI Serious Bodily Injury (SBI)
Between DUI and DUI Manslaughter, lies DUI Serious Bodily Injury (SBI). It’s a third degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison. SBI means substantial risk of death, serious personal disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of bodily function. Depending on the injury, police investigations borrow elements from both DUI and DUI Manslaughter approaches. Pleading to DUI SBI does not prevent you from facing DUI Manslaughter charges if the injured person later dies.
Vehicular Homicide and Leaving the Scene of an Accident
When someone sober causes a traffic fatality, police consider a Vehicular Homicide charge. It’s the killing of a human being caused by the operation of a motor vehicle by another in a reckless manner likely to cause the death of, or great bodily harm to, another. Here, the fight focuses on the nature of the driving pattern. Therefore, police rarely arrest suspects on the night of the crash. They apply the same investigation procedure for DUI Manslaughters without concern for impairment.
Vehicular Homicide is usually a second degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. But if the driver knew the accident occurred and failed to give information and render aid, it becomes a first degree felony punishable up to 30 years in prison. Florida encourages the driver at fault to keep the injured person from dying. It also criminalizes Leaving the Scene of an Accident with Death as a first degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Leaving the Scene of an Accident with Serious Bodily Injury is a third degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
Talk to an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney!
DUI Manslaughter and Vehicular Homicide prosecutions differ from most State prosecutions. Law enforcement typically doesn’t arrest you at the scene of the crime. They perform fact intensive investigations, employ experts in Traffic Homicide Investigation, retain outside experts in Traffic Homicide Investigation and medical experts to check into both the driver and deceased. These post-accident investigations can last years before the State of Florida files formal charges against you.
These aren’t the type of cases that every lawyer can properly defend. They’re very nuanced and require someone with an expertise in this field. Fortunately, Mr. Brown worked in a special unit as an Assistant State Attorney where he only investigated and prosecuted Traffic Fatalities. He has filed DUI Manslaughter charges and defended against them.
The criminal defense firm Brown Legal PLLC operates from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but regularly handles cases throughout South Florida and the rest of the state. Before it’s too late, talk to Mr. Brown and see if he can help you best defend yourself! Reach out over the phone at (954) 524-6700 or through the Contact Page if you have any questions.