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DUI Manslaughter

Any car crash that causes death shocks the community. When the crash involves an allegation that a driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, Florida law provides for incredibly harsh consequences if a conviction is obtained.

In 2019, Florida documented 10,142 fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes in which at least one driver was alcohol-impaired which represented 28 percent of all traffic fatalities for the year. As a result, 72% of the accidents, that year did not involve anyone being impaired by alcohol.

DUI manslaughter under Florida law is a serious second-degree felony punishable by up to fifteen (15) years in Florida State prison and a $10,000 fine. Florida law also requires a minimum mandatory sentence of four-year imprisonment for any person convicted of DUI manslaughter. Section 316.193(3)(c)3, Florida Statutes.

Under Florida Law, DUI manslaughter involves any person who is guilty of DUI as defined in Section 316.193(1) and who, by reason of such operation, causes or contributes to causing the death of any human being or unborn quick child. The term “unborn quick child” is a viable fetus as defined in Florida Statute Section 782.071.

Attorney for DUI Manslaughter Charges in Tampa, FL

If you have been arrested for DUI manslaughter in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL, then contact an experienced attorney at the Sammis Law Firm about protecting yourself from this serious charge. Find out more defenses that might apply in a DUI manslaughter case in Hillsborough County, FL.

DUI Manslaughter cases are complicated. You need a criminal defense attorney focused on DUI defense with experience handling serious felony charges. These cases often involve a blood sample taken by the officer and sent off to the crime lab. These cases might involve notice that the State Attorney’s Office is requesting the medical records through a subpoena duces tecum.

Contact us for a free and confidential consultation to discuss the charges pending against you, possible defenses, and the best way to fight the charges.

Call 813-250-0500 today.

Penalties in a DUI Manslaughter Case

Under Florida law, the crime of DUI Manslaughter is charged as a felony in the second degree. DUI manslaughter is classified as a Level 8 offense for purposes of the severity ranking in Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code.

As a result, the scoresheet shows that a conviction for DUI manslaughter required the court to impose a bottom of the guidelines sentence of 124.5 months (or 10.37 years) in prison. The court can sentence the defendant to more than the bottom of the guidelines. In fact, the statutory maximum penalty for this offense is 15 years in Florida State Prison.

Other penalties the court might impose after a conviction for DUI manslaughter might include:

  • probation;
  • up to $10,000 in fines;
  • a permanent driver’s license revocation;
  • community service;
  • impoundment of the driver’s vehicle; and
  • DUI school plus all recommended follow-up treatment.

Causation in a DUI Manslaughter Case in Florida

Florida Statute § 316.1933(1)(a) provides:

If a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that a motor vehicle driven by or in the actual physical control of a person under the influence of alcoholic beverages . . . has caused the death or serious bodily injury of a human being, a law enforcement officer shall require the person driving or in actual physical control of the motor vehicle to submit to a test of the person’s blood for the purpose of determining the alcoholic content thereof . . . .

The law enforcement officer may use reasonable force if necessary to require such a person to submit to the administration of the blood test.

The statute makes clear, for the police to have seized the defendant’s blood, they needed a sufficient basis to believe that:

  • he had driven or been in actual physical control of, a vehicle;
  • that at the time he drove or was in actual physical control of the vehicle he was under the influence of alcohol; and
  • that the vehicle caused the death or serious bodily injury of some person.

The critical question in most DUI manslaughter cases involving a forced blood draw is whether the “motor vehicle driven by or in the actual physical control of” the defendant “caused the death or serious bodily injury of” the victim in this case. The question is one of causation.

In State v. Hubbard, 751 So. 2d 552 (Fla. 1999)], the court cited with approval the opinion of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island in State v. Benoit, 650 A.2d 1230 (R.I. 1994) as follows:

Benoit underscores the importance of the causation element: the defendant’s operation of his or her automobile must cause the accident. There, the court determined that an undisputably drunk driver who, through no misoperation of his own, was struck by another car resulting in the death of another person, cannot be found guilty of DUI manslaughter because the operation of his vehicle did not cause the victim’s death.

Hubbard, 751 So. 2d at 563 (citing Benoit, 650 A.2d at 1234) (emphasis in original). The Hubbard court went on to explain:

When an automobile accident results in serious bodily injury or death, however, a driver is not chargeable with a felony merely because his vehicle was “involved in” the accident. Felony charges lie only if the driver, “by reason of [his] operation [of his vehicle] cause[d] or contribute[d] to causing” the accident. Fla. Stat. § 316.193(3)(c).

Such causation is routinely established by eyewitness testimony, by scientific evidence resulting in the reconstruction of the accident, or both. See Montes-Valeton, 216 So. 3d at 477. Absent evidence of causation, a driver is chargeable with nothing more than a misdemeanor DUI.

Id. For these reasons, your criminal defense attorney must carefully investigate any evidence showing that you did not cause the crash or the injuries that occurred because of the crash.

Hardship Driver’s License after a DUI Manslaughter Conviction

In addition to the four-year minimum mandatory sentence required by Florida law, certain consequences apply to your ability to ever obtain a driver’s license if you are convicted of this serious felony DUI charge.

Florida Statutes Section 322.271 and 322.28 govern the “business purpose only” or “employment purpose only” hardship reinstatement after a Florida DUI manslaughter conviction.

  • DUI Manslaughter Conviction with Any Prior DUI Conviction: After a conviction for DUI Manslaughter in Florida, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) is required to impose a mandatory permanent (lifetime) revocation if the driver has any prior DUI conviction.
  • DUI Manslaughter Conviction with No Prior DUI Conviction: If the driver had no prior DUI-related convictions, then the driver may be eligible for hardship reinstatement after five (5) years have passed from the date of revocation and after the period of incarceration ended if the following requirements have been met:
    • The driver has not been arrested for any drug-related offense for at least the five (5) years period prior to the hearing;
    • The driver has not driven a motor vehicle without a license for at least the five (5) years period prior to the hearing;
    • The driver has not consumed any drugs or alcohol during the five (5) year period prior to the hearing;
    • The driver is required to install the ignition interlock device for a two (2) year period; and
    • The driver has completed DUI school and is being supervised under the DUI program for the entire remaining period of the revocation (the failure to report for treatment or counseling will result in the immediate cancellation of the hardship driver’s license).

Special Defenses for Felony DUI Cases in Florida

Special defenses that may apply in felony DUI cases involving personal injury, or death, including DUI manslaughter under Florida law:

  • Blood Test – Although in the past, officers could take blood by force and rely on the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment, the law makes it clear that a warrant is almost always required if the driver does not provide free and voluntary consent;
  • Crash Report Privilege -The accident report privilege under Florida law provides immunity to a person making a statement during the course of an accident or crash investigation including during a DUI manslaughter investigation in Florida;
  • Roadside Agility Exercises – During a DUI investigation, the law enforcement officer may request that the driver step out of the vehicle and perform certain field sobriety exercises. If the investigation takes place after a car crash then the results may not accurate to the extent they are impacted by the driver being “shook up” or injured from the crash;
  • Breath Test– If the airbags in the driver’s vehicle were deployed during the accident many experts believe that this fact alone can cause the breath test machine to record a higher and inaccurate reading;
  • Wheel Witness – If you exited the vehicle after the accident before the police arrived on the scene, then they will have a more difficult time proving that you were the driver, particularly if you did not make any admissions that you were driving or if those admissions are thrown out under the accident report privilege.
  • Intervening Cause Defense – If the defendant’s conduct did not cause or contribute to causing the death of another human being or unborn quick child, or if another unexpected cause contributed to the loss then an intervening cause defense may exist in the case.

Contact an experienced DUI defense attorney in Tampa, FL at the Sammis Law Firm to discuss any DUI manslaughter case in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL. Call 813-250-0500 to schedule a free phone consultation to discuss the facts of your case.

This article was last updated on Friday, October 21, 2022.