The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 9 of the Florida Constitution protect individuals from being twice jeopardized for the same offense.
As explained by the Florida Supreme Court in Lippman v. State, 633 So. 2d 1061 (Fla. 1994), the guarantee against double jeopardy consists of three protections:
- protections against a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal;
- protections against a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction; and
- protections against multiple punishments for the same offense.
“The Double Jeopardy Clause presents no substantive limitation on the legislature’s power to prescribe multiple punishments, but rather, seeks only to prevent courts either from allowing multiple prosecutions or from imposing multiple punishments for a single, legislatively defined offense.” Id. (quoting Borges v. State, 415 So.2d 1265, 1267 (Fla. 1982).
As explained by the court in Valdes v. State, 3 So.3d 1067, 1076 (Fla. 2009), “there is no constitutional prohibition against multiple punishments for different offenses arising out of the same criminal episode, as long as the Legislature intends such punishments.” (citing Hayes v. State, 803 So.2d 695, 699 (Fla. 2001).
Attorney for Double Jeopardy Defenses in Florida
If you are concerned about how the double jeopardy provisions of state and federal law might apply to your case, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Sammis Law Firm.
At Sammis Law Firm, we have offices in downtown Tampa, New Port Richey, and Clearwater, FL.
We help clients fight felony and misdemeanor criminal charges throughout the greater Tampa Bay area.
Contact us for a free and confidential consultation to discuss legal defenses that might apply to your case, including protections against double jeopardy, the statute of limitations, and speedy trial provisions of state and federal law.
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Florida Statute Section 775.021(4)(a)-(b) and the Blockburger Test
The Florida Legislature codified the double jeopardy bar within section 775.021(4)(a)-(b), Florida Statutes.
Section 775.021(4)(a)-(b) is essentially a recitation of the well-known Blockburger test announced in Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299, 304, 52 S.Ct. 180, 76 L.Ed. 306 (1932).
Under the Blockburger test, when the “same act or transaction constitutes a violation of two distinct statutory provisions, the test to be applied … is whether each provision requires proof of a fact which the other does not.” Id.
The Blockburger test is a rule of statutory construction which “serves as a means of discerning [legislative] purpose” only where there is no “clear indication of contrary legislative intent.” Albernaz v. United States, 450 U.S. 333, 340, 101 S.Ct. 1137, 67 L.Ed.2d 275 (1981).
The plain and ordinary language of section 775.021(4) unambiguously states that it is the legislature’s intent “to convict and sentence for each criminal offense committed in the course of one criminal episode or transaction and not to allow the principle of lenity … to determine legislative intent.”
An individual who “commits an act or acts which constitute one or more separate criminal offenses, upon conviction and adjudication of guilt, shall be sentenced separately for each criminal offense; and the sentencing judge may order the sentences to be served concurrently or consecutively.” § 775.021(4)(a).
“[O]ffenses are separate if each offense requires proof of an element that the other does not, without regard to the accusatory pleading or the proof adduced at trial.” Id.
Exceptions to the Intent to Punish Each Criminal Offense
The Florida Legislature has prescribed three, and only three, exceptions to the statute’s aforementioned intent to punish for each criminal offense in the course of one criminal episode as explained in § 775.021(4)(b)(1)–(3).
The Florida Legislature does not intend to allow separate sentencing for related offenses that:
- require identical elements of proof;
- are degrees of the same offense as provided by statute; or
- are lesser offenses in which the statutory elements are subsumed by the greater offense.
Absent a clear statement of legislative intent to authorize separate punishments for two crimes, courts employ the Blockburger test as outlined in section 775.021(4).
A double jeopardy claim based upon undisputed facts presents a pure question of law, which the appellate court will review de novo.
Do DUI and Reckless Driving Convictions Violate Double Jeopardy?
In Anguille v. State, 243 So. 3d 410, 412 (4th DCA 2018), the Defendant asserts that convictions for DUI with serious bodily injury and reckless driving with serious bodily injury violate the principles of double jeopardy.
The court reframed the issue first to determine whether the Defendant could be convicted of both DUI and reckless driving.
The court found that “[r]eckless driving and DUI do not require identical elements of proof, they are not degrees of the same offense, nor is either a lesser offense that is subsumed within the other.” Id. at 413.
Then the court reasoned that by extension, separate convictions for DUI with Serious Bodily Injury and Reckless Driving with Serious Bodily injury, where the injury is to the same person, “falls firmly within approved boundaries of double jeopardy principles and is expressly allowed within the legislative scheme.” Id.
Do DUI Manslaughter and Vehicular Homicide Violate Double Jeopardy?
In many DUI manslaughter cases, the prosecutor will also add a count for vehicular homicide. If the case went to trial and a guilty verdict was returned for both, the charges would merge at sentencing into the higher offense of DUI manslaughter.
The merger of the charges was caused by the “single homicide rule.” This rule is a judicially created extension of the constitutional and statutory double jeopardy bar that provides a second tier of double jeopardy protection.
In Houser v. State, 474 So. 2d 1193, 1197 (Fla. 1985), the Florida Supreme Court noted:
“Florida courts have repeatedly recognized that the legislature did not intend to punish a single homicide under two different statutes. . . . The principle has been applied in the case of dual charges of DWI manslaughter and manslaughter.”
Prior to December of 2020, there would have been no doubt that at sentencing, the vehicular manslaughter charge would merge with the DUI manslaughter charge. The fact that double jeopardy claims for DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide fell under the principle of merger (i.e., the “single homicide” rule), prohibits multiple punishments for a single killing.
In December of 2020, the Florida Supreme Court abrogated this exception:
“[T]he single homicide rule is no longer applicable under Florida law.” State v. Maisonet-Maldonado, 308 So. 3d 63, 70 (Fla. 2020).
Now dual convictions arising from the death of a single victim are analyzed like any other double jeopardy claim.
The Maisonet-Maldonado ruling has significant implications for dual convictions that relied solely on the single homicide rule. Under a traditional double jeopardy analysis, however, dual convictions for vehicular homicide and DUI manslaugther might still be prohibited under Section 775.021(4)(b)2 for the reasons explained in the Goodwin v. State, 634 So. 2d 157 (Fla. 1994), despite the elimination of the “single homicide” rule.
As a preliminary matter, the Maisonet-Maldonado decision can be distinguished because it considered dual convictions for “fleeing or attempting to elude causing serious injury or death” and “vehicular homicide.” Those two crimes are not both forms of manslaughter because the first charge requires only serious injury.
As the Maisonet-Maldonado decision demonstrated, the single homicide rule had previously been widely extended to encompass even non-homicide crimes. The court in Maisonet-Maldonado concluded that dual convictions of those offenses were previously covered by the single homicide rule, but were not otherwise prohibited by section 775.021, since none of the three statutory exceptions in section 775.021(4)(b) applied.
The Maisonet-Maldonado case can be distinguished for several reasons. First, vehicular homicide and DUI manslaughter both require the death of another person, so they can be easily distinguished from the charges in Maisonet-Maldonado.
Second, the charges in Maisonet-Maldonado were previously covered by the single homicide rule, but were not covered by a statutory exception in section 775.021(4)(b). But DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide are covered by a statutory exception found in section 775.021(4)(b) as explained in Goodwin v. State, 634 So. 2d 157 (Fla. 1994).
In Goodwin, the Florida Supreme Court specifically found dual convictions and sentences for DWI UBAL manslaughter and vehicular homicide are aggravated forms of a single underlying offense (manslaughter) distinguished only by degree factors. As such, multiple punishments for those charges are not allowed under §775.021(4)(b)2., Fla. Stat.
In Goodwin, the Florida Supreme Court considered this question:
“Whether a defendant can be convicted and sentenced for UBAL manslaughter and vehicular homicide arising out of one death?”
The Florida Supreme Court reasoned:
“Based on our opinion in Sirmons v. State, 634 So.2d 153 (Fla. 1994), we find that the two offenses at issue here are aggravated forms of a single underlying offense distinguished only by degree factors. Multiple punishments thus are not allowed. § 775.021(4)(b)2., Fla. Stat. (1989). See also Houser v. State, 474 So. 2d 1193 (Fla. 1985).
For that reason, we answer the certified question in the negative, quash the decision below to the extent it is inconsistent with this opinion, and remand for further proceedings consistent with our views here and with Sirmons. We disapprove the opinion in Murphy v. State, 578 So. 2d 410 (Fla. 4th DCA 1991), to the extent it is inconsistent with this opinion. We decline to address the other issues raised by the parties, which lie beyond the scope of the certified question.”
The concurrent opinion in Goodwin noted that the “single homicide rule” also applied as a separate and alternative reason to prohibit dual convictions:
“I believe that the Legislature could not have intended that a defendant could be convicted of two crimes of homicide for killing a single person.”
A different basis for double jeopardy applies for DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide because they can be forms of a single offense of manslaughter distinguished only by degree factors making multiple punishments prohibited under Section 775.021(4)(b)2 as explained in Goodwin.
Specifically, Section 775.021(4)(b)2 prohibits dual convictions for “[o]ffenses which are degrees of the same offense as provided by statute.” As such, Goodwin is still good law and the easiest way to understand why the double jeopardy prohibition that still exists under Section 775.021(4)(b)2, even after the elimination of the single homicide rule (which is a completely different concept that had been applied uniformly to a diverse array of charges).
The unique and special relationship between charges of DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide is demonstrated in Houser v. State, 474 So. 2d 1193 (Fla. 1985). In Houser, the Florida Supreme Court found that dual convictions for sections 316.1931(2) (DWI manslaughter) and 782.071 (vehicular homicide) were prohibited for several reasons, including the “single homicide rule.”
First, the Houser court disagreed with the lower court’s reasoning that DWI manslaughter was framed as an enhancement of the penalty for driving while intoxicated, and driving while intoxicated is a crime distinct from vehicular homicide. Id. at 1196.
The Houser Court noted that “[d]ouble jeopardy considerations may bar prosecution for DWI manslaughter following acquittal for driving while intoxicated…, but the additional element of the death of a victim raises DWI manslaughter beyond mere enhancement and places it squarely within the scope of this state’s regulation of homicide.” Id.
Additionally, the Houser Court went on to note the Courts had consistently found that double jeopardy prohibited dual convictions for the charges presented in that case by citing Ubelis v. State, 384 So.2d 1294 (Fla. 2d DCA 1980); and Brown v. State, 371 So.2d 161 (Fla. 2d DCA 1979), affirmed, 386 So.2d 549 (Fla. 1980).
The Houser Court also noted:
Relevant to this discussion is the Brown court’s analysis of the relationship between the statutes under discussion here: “Causing the death of a person by the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated is a specific category of manslaughter. § 860.01(2), Fla. Stat. (1977) [subsequently recodified at § 316.1931(2)]. Vehicular homicide otherwise than from intoxication has been removed by the legislature from the manslaughter statute… and made an offense subject to a lesser penalty than that imposed for manslaughter. §§ 782.07 and 782.071, Fla. Stat. (1977).” 371 So.2d at 162, n.1.
Id. at 1197 n.5.
The implications of the Houser decision had wider implications because, in that decision, the Florida Supreme Court formally adopted the single homicide rule. 474 So. 2d at 1197. As a result, the Houser court had no reason to determine whether the exception in Section 775.021(4)(b)2 or Section 775.021(4)(b)3 applied since the single homicide rule eliminated the need for a traditional double jeopardy analysis.
Instead, the court in Houser decided the issue based on the “single homicide rule” only. As such, the decision had wider implications for all offenses arising from a single death (which went well beyond cases involving dual convictions for DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide).
The Houser decision was expressly overturned in State v. Maisonet-Maldonado, 308 So. 3d 63, 70 (Fla. 2020), when the Florida Supreme Court abrogated this broad rule: “[T]he single homicide rule is no longer applicable under Florida law.” Id.
That ruling does not necessarily mean that double jeopardy no longer prohibits dual convictions for DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide. Instead, the courts must now review dual convictions arising from the death of a single victim as it would any other double jeopardy claim under the traditional analysis required by the prohibitions against double jeopardy in the Florida Constitution or the United States Constitution.
After the decision in Maisonet-Maldonado, 308 So. 3d 63, 70 (Fla. 2020), the analysis does not end after determining that the single homicide rule no longer applies. Instead, the Court must now consider the type of traditional double jeopardy analysis found in Goodwin, which specifically found one of the three statutory exceptions in section 775.021(4)(b) does apply to dual convictions for DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide manslaughter, specifically Section 775.021(4)(b)2.
As a result, it can be argued that Goodwin is still good law and binding precedent that courts must follow. The Goodwin decision was not overruled by State v. Maisonet-Maldonado, 308 So. 3d 63, 70 (Fla. 2020), which is limited to the principle of merger under the “single homicide rule.”
Other factors go in favor of finding that double jeopardy applies in this case based on the unique relationship between DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide. For example, although the charges are not currently in the same statute, vehicular homicide is located in Section 782.071, which is within the same chapter as manslaughter in Section 782.07.
As noted by the Brown court’s analysis, “[c]ausing the death of a person by the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated is a specific category of manslaughter. § 860.01(2), Fla. Stat. (1977),” although the DUI manslaughter charge was subsequently recodified into a subsection of § 316.1931.
Since DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide are both forms of “manslaughter,” they share a common name. “The legislature created the offense of vehicular homicide ‘to cover the hiatus between [. . .] manslaughter and the traffic offense of reckless driving . . . .’ ” State v. Young, 371 So. 2d 1029, 1027 (Fla. 1979). As explained in the dissenting opinion in Werhan v. State, 673 So. 2d 550, 555 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996)(Benton, J., dissenting):
“…Section 782.071(1), Florida Statutes (1993), seems to define a kind of negligence not readily distinguishable from culpable negligence proscribed by the manslaughter statute.”
Both offenses contain similar formal elements and criminalize similar conduct. In Grala v. State, 414 So.2d 621 (Fla. 3d DCA 1982), the court reasoned that DUI Manslaughter statute requires proof of the following elements:
- that the victim is dead;
- that the death was caused by the operation of a motor vehicle by the defendant; and
- that the defendant was intoxicated at the time he operated the motor vehicle.
While the vehicular homicide statute essentially requires proof of the following three elements:
- that the victim is dead;
- that the death was caused by the operation of a motor vehicle by the defendant; and
- that the defendant operated the motor vehicle in a reckless manner likely to cause the death of, or great bodily harm to another person.
Although each offense requires proof of an element that the other does not (DUI Manslaughter requires proof of intoxication while vehicular homicide requires proof of recklessness), the offenses are still degree variants of each other as required by the Goodwin decision.
Prosecutions for DUI manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter are unique in the sense that evidence of DUI while contributing to a crash resulting in death is necessarily proof of recklessness. This is true under the theory that a person impaired by alcohol is apt to be wanton (acting with a conscious and intentional indifference to consequences and with the knowledge that damage is likely to be done to a person or property).
Explained another way, logic dictates that vehicular homicide can occur either with or without impairment. But if you have impairment while causing or contributing to a crash resulting in death, then you necessarily have proof of both DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide.
As such, the charges are degree variants of each other under Section 775.021(4)(b)(2). Additionally, when proof of impairment is present, the lesser offense of vehicular homicide is necessarily subsumed by the greater offense of DUI manslaughter. As such, another statutory exception applies under Section 775.021(4)(b)(2) that prohibits dual convictions.
This article was last updated on Monday, June 19, 2023.