Not every fatality after a traffic crash should result in an arrest or prosecution for a crime. Nevertheless, traffic homicide investigators have the task of deciding whether to take no action, issue a civil traffic infraction, or bring felony charges for DUI manslaughter or vehicular homicide.
On June 26, 2023, the Honorable Chris Helinger, Circuit Court Judge in Pinellas County, FL, granted our motion to suppress a blood draw in a DUI Manslaughter and Vehicular Homicide case. We argued that officers with Largo Police Department illegally ordered the seizure of blood from our client without a warrant, consent, or exigent circumstances in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. After a motion hearing with numerous witnesses, the court granted the motion to exclude the blood draw.
In another case, our client was charged with DUI manslaughter after a two-vehicle crash with a fatality in October 2018. Attorney Leslie Sammis filed motions to suppress the following evidence: our client’s medical records, which were improperly obtained by a trooper with the Florida Highway Patrol and then provided to the State Attorney’s Office; vials of medical blood seized from the hospital after the execution of a search warrant that contained false and misleading statements; and a blood test reading with a BAC over the legal limit of .08. On May 21, 2021, just a week before a hearing on the motions, the prosecutor dropped the DUI manslaughter charge (which was the only charge in the case).
Although each case differs, experience matters when defending DUI manslaughter charges in Florida. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent you during a traffic homicide investigation is critical.
Attorneys might tell you NOT to make any statement to law enforcement once a criminal investigation for DUI manslaughter or vehicular manslaughter begins until you have spoken with an attorney.
In Hillsborough County, FL, the defendant is not eligible to post bond on any charge of DUI Manslaughter until after the first appearance hearing. In these cases, it is crucial to have an attorney at the first appearance bond hearing so that you have the best chance of getting the bond set as low as possible.
As soon as the charge for DUI manslaughter is filed in court, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will suspend your driver’s license pursuant to Section 322.27(1)(a) with a notation that reads: “COMM OFFENSE-REVOC REQUIRED IF CONV.”
Attorney for DUI Manslaughter Prosecutions in Tampa, FL
If your rights were violated and your attorney files the appropriate motions, evidence seized in your case might be suppressed or excluded. Those motions might ultimately lead to the entire case being dismissed.
Filing motions to suppress or exclude any reference to blood being taken or the results of a blood test are particularly important.
If you were arrested for DUI Manslaughter in the Tampa Bay area, including Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, Pasco County, Hernando County, or Polk County, Florida, then contact an experienced DUI attorney at the Sammis Law Firm today to discuss your case.
During the free consultation with an experienced DUI defense attorney in Tampa, FL, we can discuss the charges pending against you, ways to avoid the typical punishments, and the best defenses that can be used to fight the accusations.
Call (813) 250-0500 today.
What Happens To Your Driving Privileges After a DUI Manslaughter Arrest?
Because a DUI manslaughter conviction results in a mandatory revocation of your license, Florida law provides that even an arrest for DUI manslaughter can also result in a license suspension under Florida Statute 322.27(1)(a) and 322.26, even before you go to court.
In fact, Florida Statute 322.27(1)(a) requires a law enforcement agency to initiate an action and provide information to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) within 24 hours after any traffic fatality. That notation on your driving record will be listed as a suspension for “COMM OFFENSE-REVOC REQUIRED IF CONV.”
The court might also impose a condition that you do not drive a vehicle while your case is pending. If no formal charges are filed or if your case is reduced to a less serious charge, then your attorney can request a “show cause” hearing at the DHSMV to get the suspension lifted.
DUI Manslaughter Prosecutions under Florida Law
Under Florida Statute § 316.193(3)(c)(3), DUI manslaughter is an accusation that the defendant 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 the victim.
Specifically, Florida Statute Section 316.193(3) provides:
- A felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
- A felony of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084, if:
- At the time of the crash, the person knew, or should have known, that the crash occurred; and
- The person failed to give information and render aid as required by s. 316.062.
Preserving Evidence after a Manslaughter Accusation
At Sammis Law Firm, our attorneys understand the importance of hiring the most qualified expert witnesses, including an accident reconstruction expert or toxicologist in Florida, who will play a critical role in defending accusations of DUI manslaughter or vehicular homicide.
Florida law enforcement officers will conduct their own investigation to support the DUI manslaughter charges. But it is also important for the defense to quickly retain an expert to conduct an independent accident investigation and reconstruction to show defenses in the case.
Our criminal defense lawyers take a scholarly approach to fighting DUI manslaughter cases, including filing motions to suppress evidence, motions to dismiss criminal charges, and Motions in Limine to exclude prejudicial evidence at trial. The key to obtaining the best result is gradually and systematically dismantling the prosecutor’s case piece by piece.
Furthermore, steps must be immediately taken to preserve all of the evidence. Your attorney must fight to protect your rights during the investigation. A good defense often requires:
- Fighting any effort by the state to obtain the results of any blood drawn for medical purposes in the ambulance or at the hospital;
- Having an expert examine and document the damage sustained by the vehicles involved in the accident;
- Taking pictures and gathering evidence from 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 injured or killed in the accident.
Fighting the DUI Manslaughter Charge
Many of these cases involve a forced blood draw taken without a warrant. Under recent decisions by the United States Supreme Court in Missouri v. McNeely and Birchfield v. North Dakota, a warrantless taking of blood is “per se” unconstitutional. Florida’s statutory scheme for forced blood draws and implied consent is in jeopardy.
If you have been arrested for DUI manslaughter in Florida, including Hillsborough, Polk, Pinellas, Pasco, Manatee, or Sarasota County, contact the attorneys at 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 and the strategy your criminal defense attorney uses throughout every stage of the investigation and prosecution in court.
Our criminal defense attorneys represent both men and women charged with serious driving offenses such as DUI manslaughter throughout the Tampa Bay area, including Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, New Port Richey, Dade City, Brooksville, Bartow, Bradenton, and Sarasota, Florida.
Call (813) 250-0500 today to speak directly with an attorney about your case.
Related Charges after a Crash Involving Death or Serious Injury
- Vehicular Homicide under Florida Law
Vehicular Homicide is a second degree felony punishable by a maximum sentence of fifteen years in Florida State Prison, and a $10,000,00 fine. However, the offense may be enhanced to a first degree felony punishable by thirty years in prison if the driver willfully left the scene of an accident.
- Vehicular Manslaughter under Florida Law
Under Florida Statute § 782.071, 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.
To prosecute a vehicular manslaughter charge, the state does not need to prove that the driver had the intent to harm anyone, but instead, that the operation of the vehicle was in a manner likely to cause the death or great bodily injury of another.
Does the “Single Homicide Rule” Preclude Separate Convictions for DUI Manslaughter and Vehicular Homicide Involving the Same Victim?
Traditionally, when a defendant is charged with DUI manslaughter and other types of charges related to the death of the same victim, such as vehicular homicide and fleeing and eluding causing death, the single homicide rule in Florida precluded separate convictions.
The jury might be presented with both charges, but if a guilty verdict were entered as to both charges, the court would apply the single homicide rule at sentencing to preclude separate convictions.
For example, traditionally, convictions for DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide based upon a single death cannot stand because they violate the defendant’s constitutional right to be free from double jeopardy. See Houser v. State, 474 So.2d 1193 (Fla. 1985) and State v. Chapman, 625 So.2d 838 (Fla. 1993).
However, that line of cases was called into question with the Florida Supreme Court decision in State v. Maisonet–Maldonado, 308 So.2d. 63 (Fla. 2020). In the Maisonet-Maldonado case, the Court eliminated the “one homicide conviction per death” rule for double jeopardy analysis.
Recent Statistics in Florida DUI Manslaughter Cases
According to a recent news article, Hillsborough County has higher than average sentences for DUI manslaughter at 10.18 years in Florida State Prison. Palm Beach County came in higher with an average of 11.54 years in prison.
The study looked at more than 400 fatality cases resolved in Florida since 2012. The statewide average prison sentence is just under ten (10) years.
Although Miami-Dade had the highest number of cases, it also had the lowest average sentence, just over six (6) years. The average in Broward County was just under ten (10) years.
Pre-Trial Detention in DUI Manslaughter Cases in Florida
Florida Statute Section 907.041(4)(a)(c) allows, but does not require, the Court to order pretrial detention with no bond if:
- the prosecutor with the State Attorney’s Office filed a motion for pre-trial detention;
- the defendant is accused of the crime of DUI manslaughter as defined by s. 316.193;
- there is a substantial probability that the defendant committed the crime;
- there is a substantial probability that the defendant poses a threat of harm to the community;
- the conditions that would support a finding that the defendant poses a threat of harm to the community include, but are not limited to, any of the following:
- The defendant has previously been convicted of any crime under s. 316.193 (DUI), or of any crime in any other state or territory of the United States that is substantially similar to any crime under s. 316.193 (DUI);
- The defendant was driving with a suspended driver’s license when the charged crime was committed; or
- The defendant has previously been found guilty of or has had adjudication of guilt withheld for, driving while the driver’s license was suspended or revoked in violation of s. 322.34.
Causation in a DUI Manslaughter Case in Florida
The prosecutor will argue that Florida’s DUI manslaughter statute has a low threshold for proving causation under the DUI manslaughter statute. See § 316.193, Fla. Stat.
Under the statute’s plain language, the State is not required to prove that the defendant’s intoxicated driving was the sole cause of the fatal crash.
As one court recently explained in Pryear v. State, 43 Fla. L. Weekly D491 (Fla. 1st DCA Feb. 28, 2018):
DUI manslaughter requires proof that a defendant operated a vehicle while impaired within the meaning of section 316.193(1), Florida Statutes (2013), and, “by reason of such operation, cause[d] or contribute[d] to causing . . . [t]he death of any human being . . . .” § 316.193(3)(c)3.a., Fla. Stat. (2013) (emphasis added).
“[T]he fact that someone is intoxicated and drives a particular vehicle which causes another person’s death should be enough to satisfy the elements of DUI manslaughter.” State v. Hubbard, 751 So. 2d 552, 563 (Fla. 1999).
“The causation element of the amended statute was interpreted by [the Florida Supreme Court] in [Magaw v. State, 537 So. 2d 564, 567 (Fla. 1989),] as not requiring that the conduct of the operator of the vehicle be the sole cause.” Hubbard, 751 So. 2d at 564 (emphasis in original).
“The statute requires only that the operation of the vehicle should have caused the accident. Therefore, any deviation or lack of care on the part of a driver under the influence to which the fatal accident can be attributed will suffice.” Magaw, 537 So. 2d at 567.
Id. at *5.
In Pryear, the court noted that the current version of the DUI manslaughter statute contains an even lower threshold for establishing causation than the version of the statute interpreted in Magaw and Hubbard. Id.
The previous version of the statute required that operating a vehicle while intoxicated “cause” a death, whereas the current version requires operating a vehicle while intoxicated “cause or contribute to” the victim’s death. See § 316.193(3)(c)3., Fla. Stat. (2013) (emphasis added).
How Do I Get a Hardship After a DUI Manslaughter Court Ordered Permanent Revocation?
In these cases, it is extremely important to get the case reduced to a less serious charge because if you are convicted of DUI manslaughter, then after the conviction, the court will order the DHSMV to permanently revoke your driving privileges (called the “permanent revocation”).
Before you can apply for hardship driving privileges, you must:
- show proof of completion of an approved substance abuse education course;
- serve five (5) years of the revocation period or from the release from incarceration;
- not have any prior convictions for DUI-related offenses (having a prior DUI conviction would make you forever ineligible for a hardship permit);
- not have driven or consumed any drugs or alcohol within five (5) years preceding authorization for early reinstatement; (if you tell the hearing officer you drove, then you will not be eligible for a hardship license for another five (5) years);
- not have been arrested for any drug or alcohol-related offense within five (5) years prior to the hearing date;
- be accepted into and remain in SSSP for the remainder of the sanction period, which is for the rest of your life;
- reinstatement must be restricted to “Employment Purposes Only” for not less than one (1) year; or
- installation of an ignition interlock device for two years (although SSSP might require it for longer).
Additional requirements can be found in §322.26(2), §322.28(2)(d), and §322.271(4). The hardship license is only available if the defendant does not have any prior DUI convictions. The hardship is limited to employment purposes only for the 1st year.
Keep in mind that for other forms of manslaughter, such as manslaughter resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle, the requirements for hardship reinstatement include:
- Must wait one year from conviction date;
- Completion of ADI school;
- Must provide a copy of the crash report.
See §322.26(1)(b), §322.28(4)(a) & Bulletin 014-01.
Finding a Tampa Attorney for DUI Manslaughter
DUI defense attorney in Tampa, FL. With the average sentence of just over ten years in Hillsborough County, FL, the penalties are harsh in these cases. Related charges include vehicular homicide, DUI with serious bodily injury, hit and run (leaving the scene), and DUI with property damage or non-serious personal injury.
The attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm are experienced in fighting serious felony DUI cases. Whether your case involves a breath test, a legal blood test, or a medical blood test, we can help.
Call (813) 250-0500 to talk with an attorney today during a free consultation.
This article was last updated on Friday, August 25, 2023.