A Florida driver whose negligent or reckless actions cause a death faces potential criminal liability for one of two related, but different crimes: vehicular homicide or vehicular manslaughter (also known as DUI manslaughter). Under longstanding Florida case law, a driver cannot be charged with both crimes for the same death. Rather, if state’s attorneys decide to prosecute a driver for a death the driver caused while behind the wheel, then the attorneys must choose which crime to charge. In this blog post, we explain the distinction between the two crimes and how it could affect the outcome of a case.

About Vehicular Homicide

Florida’s criminal statutes define vehicular homicide as “the killing of a human being, or the killing of an unborn child by any injury to the mother, 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.” Vehicular homicide is a second degree felony, except if it involves a driver who (1) at the time of the accident … knew or should have known that the accident occurred; and who (2) failed to give information and render aid as required by Florida law.

As a second degree felony, vehicular homicide carries potential criminal penalties for a first offense of up to 15 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, and 120 hours community service in a trauma center that treats accident victims. As a first degree felony, the maximum term of imprisonment is 30 years, while the potential fine and community service component are the same as in the case of a second degree felony.

As the language of the statute suggests, to convict a driver for vehicular homicide, the state must prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that a driver’s reckless operation of a motor vehicle that was “likely to cause the death of, or great bodily harm” actually caused a death. Notably, in contrast to what many people think of as homicide, the law does not require the driver to have intended to kill or seriously injure someone. Rather, the crime occurs so long as the driver operated of the motor vehicle with the required degree of recklessness and caused a death. Examples of conduct that could be considered sufficiently reckless under the statute include:

  • Driving far in excess of the speed limit, such as traveling 100 miles per hour in a 35 miles per hour zone;
  • Driving at night without headlights;
  • Racing on a highway with another car; or
  • Intentionally colliding with another vehicle or attempting to run another vehicle off of the road.

About Vehicular (or DUI) Manslaughter

Florida’s Uniform Traffic Control Law defines the separate crime of DUI manslaughter, which occurs when a person illegally operates a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol and in so doing “causes or contributes to causing … the death of any human being or unborn child”. Like vehicular homicide, vehicular/DUI manslaughter is a second degree felony unless it involves the factor of failing to give information or aid, in which case it is a first degree felony.

Vehicular/DUI manslaughter also carries the same potential term of imprisonment and fines as vehicular homicide, but with one crucial difference. Under the law, any “person who is convicted of DUI manslaughter shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 4 years.” In addition, anyone convicted of Vehicular/DUI manslaughter must undergo mandatory substance abuse treatment at the offender’s expense, a loss of driving privileges, and intensive monitoring and driving restrictions (such as an ignition interlock device).

In other words, although the term manslaughter sounds like something less serious than homicide, in reality a charge of vehicular/DUI manslaughter can be far more serious than a charge of vehicular homicide. For one thing, it is far easier for a prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person drove under the influence (which is usually just a matter of a breath or blood test), and that doing so contributed to the of a death, than it is to prove someone’s reckless driving caused a death. For another, conviction for vehicular/DUI manslaughter carries a mandatory four-year prison sentence, which means judges have no discretion to sentence a defendant to less than that term. That is not the case for vehicular homicide.

Likely to Be Charged With Vehicular Homicide or Manslaughter? Call an Attorney.

If you get into an accident in Florida in which your driving might have caused a death, contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. Do not say anything to anyone about the circumstances of the crash until you have spoken with a lawyer. Not a family member. Not a doctor. And, no matter what, not a police officer.

In the aftermath of an accident in which your driving may have caused a death, someone may ask you to submit to a breath, urine, or blood test to determine the presence of drugs or alcohol in your body. While we cannot give blanket legal advice about whether you should submit to such a test, we can point out that Florida law treats requests for testing differently depending upon whether you have already been arrested.

If law enforcement makes the request after having lawfully arrested you on suspicion of DUI, the law deems you to have given implied consent to the test in most circumstances. That means that if you refuse to submit to the test after a lawful arrest for DUI, you will lose your driving privileges for least a year, and more if you’ve been convicted of DUI in the past. Prosecutors can also use your refusal against you as evidence in a criminal proceeding. Thus, the particular circumstances of your accident may dictate whether you should refuse or submit to a test. If you can, speak with a lawyer before responding to the request. If you cannot, then be aware of the potential consequences of your choices.

In contrast, Florida law does not penalize you for refusing a test before being arrested. If someone asks you to submit to a breath, urine, or blood test and you have not been arrested, speak with an attorney before you give an answer. In most circumstances, you are under no legal obligation to consent.

Call Our St. Petersburg, Florida, Vehicular Homicide and Manslaughter Attorneys Today

Have you been the driver in a St. Petersburg-area car accident in which someone died? If so, then you need an experienced St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney on your side immediately. Do not wait. Contact the criminal defense team at Khonsari Law Group right away at (727) 269-5300 to protect your rights.