Not every fatality on the roadway, as tragic as it may be, should result in an arrest or prosecution for vehicular homicide.
In many of these cases, conduct that would generally warrant only a traffic infraction suddenly results in vehicular manslaughter arrest only because a death resulted from the accident.
Vehicular homicide, as its name implies, requires the death of a victim. § 782.071, Fla. Stat.
Florida’s vehicular homicide statute requires the State to prove that the driver killed a human being by operating a motor vehicle in a reckless manner likely to cause the death of, or great bodily harm to, another.
Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent you on these charges as soon after the accident as possible is critical. Never make a statement to law enforcement once a criminal investigation begins until you have spoken with an attorney.
Attorney for Vehicular Homicide Cases in Tampa, FL
The attorneys at Sammis Law Firm in downtown Tampa, FL, are familiar with the policies and procedures used during traffic homicide investigations in Florida.
We represent clients arrested for Vehicular Homicide (often called “Vehicular Manslaughter” or “Involuntary Manslaughter”) in the greater Tampa Bay area.
We defend clients against accusations of vehicular homicide under Section 782.071 throughout the following counties: Hillsborough County, Hernando County, Pasco County, Pinellas County, and Polk County.
Our main office is located in downtown Tampa in Hillsborough County, FL. We also have offices in Clearwater near the Criminal Justice Center (CJC) courthouse and in New Port Richey near the West Pasco Judicial Center courthouse.
Contact an attorney at the Sammis Law Firm to discuss your case.
Call (813) 250-0500 today.
Preserving Evidence in a Vehicular Homicide Case
To prosecute a vehicular homicide charge, the state does not need to prove that the driver intended to harm anyone. Instead, the state must prove the operation of the vehicle was in a manner likely to cause the death or great bodily injury of another.
At Sammis Law Firm, we understand the importance of hiring the most qualified expert witnesses, including an accident reconstruction expert in Florida who will play a critical role in the defense. Florida law enforcement officers will conduct their own investigation to support the vehicular manslaughter charges.
The defense should also quickly retain an expert to conduct an independent accident investigation and reconstruction to show defenses in the case.
When fighting vehicular manslaughter cases, we file viable motions to suppress evidence, dismiss criminal charges, and exclude prejudicial evidence at trial. The key to obtaining the best result is fighting each aspect of the state’s case and systematically dismantling the prosecutor’s case piece by piece.
Furthermore, steps must be immediately taken to preserve all of the evidence or fight to protect your rights during the investigation, including the following:
- Having an attorney present for any interrogation by law enforcement;
- Taking pictures of the damage sustained by the vehicles involved in the accident;
- Taking pictures of the location where the accident occurred, including any marks left on the roadway;
- Obtaining witness statements of anyone who witnessed the accident; and
- Obtaining hospital medical records of anyone who is injured or dies after the accident because of those injuries.
“Vehicular Homicide” under Florida Statute 782.071
Under Florida Statute § 782.071, vehicular homicide (often called “vehicular manslaughter”) is an accusation that a driver killed another human being by operating a motor vehicle in a reckless manner likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another.
Vehicular homicide is a felony of the second degree punishable by up to fifteen (15) years in Florida State Prison. Vehicular homicide can be enhanced to a first-degree felony if the person fails to give information and render aid as required by s. 316.062.
Many vehicular manslaughter cases involve allegations that the driver was intoxicated, resulting in an additional charge for DUI manslaughter.
Requirements for Vehicular Homicide under F.S. 782.071
Vehicular homicide is a lesser included offense of manslaughter, created to cover the hiatus between manslaughter by culpable negligence and the non-criminal traffic offense of reckless driving created by section 316.029, Fla. Stat. (1975). McCreary v. State, 371 So.2d 1024, 1026 (Fla.1979).
The culpable conduct necessary to sustain proof of manslaughter under section 782.07 is the conduct of “a gross and flagrant character, evincing reckless disregard of human life, or of the safety of persons exposed to its dangerous effects, or there is that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of a conscious indifference to consequences, or which shows wantonness or recklessness, or a grossly careless disregard of the safety and welfare of the public, or that reckless indifference to the rights of others which is equivalent to an intentional violation of them.” Id.
Neither carelessness nor ordinary negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle is sufficient to sustain a conviction for vehicular homicide. By definition, vehicular homicide requires proof of the elements of reckless driving. See State v. Lebron, 954 So.2d 52 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007).
The Definition of Reckless Driving in Florida
The term “reckless driving” is defined in § 316.192(1)(a), Fla. Stat., as follows:
(1) Any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.
“Willful” is defined as “intentional, knowing, and purposeful.”
“Wanton” means “with a conscious and intentional indifference to consequences and with the knowledge that damage is likely to be done to persons or property.” See W.E.B. v. State, 553 So.2d 323 (Fla. 1st DCA 1989).
It is important to note that speeding is not itself a necessary component of vehicular homicide, as evidenced by multiple cases upholding convictions for vehicular homicide, despite an absence of any proof of speeding.
In Luzardo v. State, 147 So. 3d 1083, 1088 (Fla. 3d DCA 2014), the court considered the requirements to prove that the driver engaged in reckless conduct “likely to cause the death of, or great bodily harm to another.” Instead, the court explained:
“The determination of a prima facie case of recklessness in a vehicular homicide case is a fact intensive, ad hoc inquiry. The focus is on the actions of the defendant and, considering the circumstances, whether it was reasonably foreseeable that death or great bodily harm could result.”
Examples of Vehicle Homicide Fact Patterns
The crime of “reckless driving” requires something more than mere negligence. See Luzardo v. State, 147 So. 3d 1083, 1086 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2014). In the Luzardo case, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal explained:
Neither carelessness nor ordinary negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle are sufficient to sustain a conviction for vehicular homicide. By definition, the crime of vehicular homicide requires proof of the elements of reckless driving.
Reckless driving, in turn, is defined as driving “…in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property….” Fla. Stat. § 316.192(1)(a) (2012).
“Willful” means “intentional, knowing and purposeful” and “wanton” means “with a conscious and intentional indifference to consequences and with the knowledge that damage is likely to be done to persons or property.”
Id. (internal citations omitted).
The court then found that most of the cases upholding a vehicular homicide conviction consist of extremely egregious fact patterns, including:
Santisteban v. State, 72 So.3d 187 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011) (finding reckless driving when defendant drove a gasoline truck, filled with 9,000 gallons of fuel, at excessive speeds around a curving highway ramp, while weaving around other drivers);
State v. Lebron, 954 So.2d 52 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007) (finding reckless driving where defendant, while speeding, attempted to pass a slower vehicle from the right lane, in the middle of traffic);
D.E. v. State, 904 So.2d 558 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005) (finding sufficient evidence to support reckless driving, when juvenile knowingly drove the car without adult supervision in violation of the law, far in excess of the speed limit, around a dangerous curve, near a school, in the dark, and in an area likely to become congested);
Martinez v. State, 692 So.2d 199 (Fla. 3d DCA 1997) (finding sufficient evidence to support a conviction for vehicular homicide where defendant drove 70 mph in a 30–mph zone, on a curving section of road, while passing another vehicle in a no-passing zone);
Lewek v. State, 702 So.2d 527 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997) (finding evidence was sufficient to establish reckless driving where defendant drove a car with shallow tire treads, a missing lug nut, and window tinting that was too dark at 60 mph in a 45–mph zone and failed to reduce speed for a yellow light, subsequently running a red light);
State v. Knight, 622 So.2d 188 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993) (finding a prima facie case for vehicular homicide where defendant did not possess a valid driver’s license, was driving 65–70 mph in a 35–mph residential area, and was operating a damaged vehicle without the consent of the owner);
Wright v. State, 573 So.2d 998 (Fla. 1st DCA 1991) (evidence was sufficient to sustain a vehicular homicide conviction where defendant had consumed both a full quart and half a six-pack of malt liquor, was travelling approximately 20 mph over the speed limit, was driving in the oncoming lane of traffic to pass another vehicle, and did not attempt to slow down or maneuver to avoid striking the victim);
Byrd v. State, 531 So.2d 1004 (Fla. 5th DCA 1988) (finding sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction for vehicular homicide where defendant drove at twice the posted speed limit in heavy traffic, was warned to slow down, and only tried to stop about six feet from another stopped vehicle);
Savoia v. State, 389 So.2d 294 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980) (finding sufficient evidence to support a vehicular homicide conviction where defendant, driving on a wet road, drove at 90 mph while intoxicated and crashed into a parked truck without attempting to apply brakes).
In Thrift v. State, 293 So. 3d 608, 609-10 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020), the court affirmed an appeal of a judgment of conviction for vehicular homicide after the driver accelerated through a busy intersection while running a red light and hit another vehicle in the turn lane. However, in that case, the court noted evidence of reckless driving other than just running a red light, including:
“At trial, witnesses testified that very shortly before the crash, Thrift was seen speeding, driving aggressively by swerving and “cutting off” other cars, making repeated illegal u-turns over concrete medians, and running a red light at another intersection minutes before running a second red light at the crash site.
Intersection cameras also recorded Thrift running a red light at a very busy intersection, nearly hitting an oncoming car, just minutes before the fatal crash. Immediately before striking the victim’s sedan, Thrift’s minivan was seen stopped on the right shoulder of the roadway just outside the intersection were the victims’ vehicle was stopped.
The minivan’s hazard lights were activated. Thrift then was seen to suddenly accelerate straight through the intersection.
The brake lights of Thrift’s vehicle were not activated. Besides the testimony of the eyewitnesses to Thrift’s driving, the jury was also presented with still photographs and videos of Thrift’s van just before the crash taken from intersection cameras.
The jury was also presented video recordings of the crash itself.”
Hardship Early Reinstatement after a Vehicular Homicide Conviction
If you are convicted of vehicular homicide, a minimum three-year revocation will be imposed. You can apply for a hardship early reinstatement under the following circumstances:
- you must first serve one year without driving a motor vehicle for any reason;
- you must provide proof of completion of appropriate driver improvement school;
- you must provide the DHSMV with a copy of the crash report;
- if the court ordered a revocation, then the hearing officer must consult with a supervisor; and
- proof of completion of advanced driver improvement school, or if alcohol or drug-related proof of completion of an approved DUI school.
See §322.28(4)(a) & Bulletin 014-01.
Types of Vehicular Manslaughter-Related Charges
The types of charges related to vehicular homicide include:
- DUI Manslaughter under Florida Law
Under Florida Statute § 316.193(3)(c)(3), DUI manslaughter under is an accusation that the accused drove while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, and as a result of the DUI, the accused caused or contributed to the cause of the death of victim.
- Leaving the Scene of a Crash with Death
Under § 316.027(2)(c), leaving the scene of a crash with death does not require that the vehicle be operated in any particular manner. To establish the crime of leaving the scene of a crash with death, the State need only prove that the defendant left the scene of a crash which resulted in death—not that the defendant caused the death. § 316.027(2)(c) (requiring only that the crash “results in the death of a person”).
- Fleeing or Eluding Causing Serious Injury or Death
Fleeing or eluding causing serious bodily injury or death under § 316.1935(3)(b) requires that the defendant willfully flee or attempt to elude a law enforcement officer in an authorized law enforcement patrol vehicle, with agency insignia and other jurisdictional markings prominently displayed on the vehicle, with siren and lights activated, and during the course of the fleeing or attempted eluding, the defendant does the following:
- drives at a high speed or in any manner demonstrating a wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property, and
- causes serious bodily injury or death to another person.
Vessel Homicide in Florida
Under Section 782.072, F.S., the crime of vessel homicide is the killing of another human being by operating a vessel in a reckless manner that is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another person. The crime is charged as a second degree felony punishable by up to fifteen (15) years in prison.
Suppose a person commits vessel homicide and, at the time of the accident, knew or should have known that the accident occurred but failed to give information and render aid. In that case, the offense becomes a first degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in Florida State Prison.
A person is not required to know that the accident resulted in injury or death. See Section 782.072, F.S. The penalties for vessel homicide are similar to the penalties for vehicular homicide.
Overview of Vehicular Homicide Laws Across the United States – Visit the MADD website to find an overview of the vehicular homicide laws across all 50 states that summarizes the criminal penalties, the name of the charge, the statute number, and the maximum fine. The article explains why penalties can vary from a few days in jail followed by probation to a life sentence.
Attorney for Vehicular Homicide Charges in Hillsborough County, FL
If you have been arrested for vehicular manslaughter in Florida, including Hillsborough, Polk, Pinellas, Pasco, or Hernando County, contact the Sammis Law Firm to discuss ways to aggressively fight the serious charges that have been made against you.
Your freedom and liberty depend on your attorney’s actions early in the case. The results in your case might also depend on the strategy your criminal defense attorney uses throughout the investigation and prosecution.
Under § 782.071(1)(a), the crime of vehicular homicide requires proof that the defendant (1) kill a human being, (2) by the operation of a motor vehicle, (3) in a reckless manner likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another.
Our criminal defense attorneys represent both men and women charged with serious driving offenses such as DUI, DUI manslaughter, or vehicular homicide throughout the Tampa Bay area, including Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, New Port Richey, Dade City, Brooksville, Bartow, Bradenton, and Sarasota, Florida.
Contact us today to speak directly with an attorney about your case.
This article was last updated on Thursday, June 15, 2023.