West Palm Beach DUI Manslaughter & Vehicular Homicide Lawyer
Accidents happen, but they can quickly become complicated where alcohol or drugs are involved. Law enforcement agencies are quick to investigate possible DUI charges, especially when a death or an injury results to another person. If you or someone close to you is charged with DUI, even if they’ve not been involved in an injury accident, it’s vitally important to contact a West Palm Beach manslaughter & vehicular homicide lawyer for help as soon as possible.
When Charges Can Be Pressed
Before beginning a DUI investigation, a police officer must have a reason to believe the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The DUI investigation often begins when a vehicle is stopped for any number of reasons. A typical DUI case begins when a police officer stops a driver for speeding, failing to signal, having an expired tag, or a number of other basic traffic infractions. Once stopped, the police officer may smell alcohol or note other signs the driver is under the influence and the investigation commences.
Understanding the Law’s Nuances
While a basic DUI will be treated as a misdemeanor, everything changes when a death or serious bodily injury is involved. DUIs, while very serious, are relatively easy to work through. They are misdemeanors and typically result in probationary sentences with expensive and time-consuming conditions. While jail is possible, it is usually unlikely, particularly for first-time offenders and, while the costs and penalties can be significant, life goes on.
DUI Manslaughter and DUI causing serious bodily injury are different animals entirely. They are felonies, rather than misdemeanors and the likelihood of incarceration goes up dramatically, even for first-time offenders. If you are charged with any of these offenses, it is critical you contact an attorney immediately.
Defining Vehicular Homicide vs. DUI Manslaughter
DUI manslaughter charges are generally brought when alcohol is determined to be a factor in a fatal accident. Vehicular homicide is often added to the list of charges when a person is believed to have been responsible for another person’s death after an accident. However, it can be a standalone charge as well. The primary difference is that the government does not have to prove a driver charged with vehicular homicide was impaired at the time of the accident. They do have to provide evidence the charged person was driving recklessly and that behavior led to the accident. Like DUI manslaughter, a person convicted of vehicular homicide is subject to a sentence of up to 15 years in prison. Because so many issues are involved in these types of cases, it’s always important to say nothing to anyone about the accident until you’ve discussed the situation with an attorney.
The Importance of Testing
During a DUI investigation, a police officer may request different kinds of tests. The most common tests are the roadside exercises. The roadsides are a series of physical activities an officer will ask you to perform when he or she suspects you have been drinking. Examples of these tests are the walk and turn, the one leg stand, the Romberg alphabet, and the finger-to-nose. Each of these tests are supposed to be divided attention tasks to test your ability to perform multiple tasks at the same time. Even sober, these are not easily performed. The officer has a list of things he or she is looking for as you perform the task and will note whenever you do one of these things incorrectly. The officer will later testify that your mistakes are what indicated you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
After the roadsides are completed, the officer will likely arrest you and bring you to the police station for further testing. At the BAT, the officer will request a sample of your breath to determine your blood alcohol content. They will tell you that, if you refuse to take this test, your driver’s license will be suspended for a period of 12 months for a first offense and a period of 18 months for a second offense. What they do not tell you, however, is that if you take the test and blow above the legal limit of .08, your driver’s license will also be suspended for a period of 6 months for a first offense. They also don’t mention that your high breath reading will be used to convict you at trial and that it is often more difficult for your attorney to convince a jury that you are not guilty once you have blown into their machine.
Where serious bodily injury or death is involved, police may require an actual blood test. This has become more complicated in recent years as the United States Supreme Court has determined that in many of these cases, a warrant is necessary before the officer can draw blood. For many years, it was believed that any time an office believed there was alcohol or drugs involved in a case where there was an accident with serious bodily injury or death, they could take your blood without a warrant. The Court has recently ruled against them on this issue, but officers continue to try.
If you are involved in a DUI, particularly one involving serious bodily injury or death, it is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can explore whether the police officers properly conducted the testing they inevitably did in your case.
Vehicular Homicide Statute
Florida Statute, Section 782.071. Vehicular homicide
Vehicular homicide.—“Vehicular homicide” is 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.
(1) Vehicular homicide is:
(a) A felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
(b) A felony of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084, if:
1. At the time of the accident, the person knew, or should have known, that the accident occurred; and
2. The person failed to give information and render aid as required by s. 316.062.
This paragraph does not require that the person knew that the accident resulted in injury or death.
(2) For purposes of this section, the term “unborn child” has the same meaning as provided in s. 775.021(5).
(3) A right of action for civil damages shall exist under s. 768.19, under all circumstances, for all deaths described in this section.
(4) In addition to any other punishment, the court may order the person to serve 120 community service hours in a trauma center or hospital that regularly receives victims of vehicle accidents, under the supervision of a registered nurse, an emergency room physician, or an emergency medical technician pursuant to a voluntary community service program operated by the trauma center or hospital.
History.—s. 16, ch. 74-383; s. 6, ch. 75-298; s. 12, ch. 86-296; s. 14, ch. 96-330; s. 9, ch. 98-417; s. 1, ch. 99-153; s. 2, ch. 2001-147; s. 5, ch. 2014-194.
Exploring All the Evidence is Crucial
In any accident involving serious bodily injury or death, traffic investigators will be reviewing the facts related to the accident and reconstructing the events to determine what factors contributed to the incident. Defense attorneys understand the process and also take the opportunity to conduct their own investigations. That’s extremely important when DUI manslaughter or vehicular homicide charges are likely to result.
If you’ve been involved in an automobile accident resulting in serious injuries or fatalities, it’s important to contact an experienced West Palm Beach DUI manslaughter & vehicular homicide lawyer for advice and help immediately. With the potential consequences involved, having an attorney at your side throughout the process is a virtual necessity. Waiting until charges have actually been filed can delay your defense, so get in touch with an attorney for help today. Call Scott Berry Law, P.A. at 561-370-7420 to set up a consultation now.