Miami Manslaughter DUI Attorney

A conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs imposes many roadblocks on life, but when someone else is injured or killed in an accident where you were driving under the influence, those roadblocks turn into almost impenetrable barriers. If a death results from an accident where someone was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the state may prosecute the driver for DUI manslaughter. A conviction for DUI manslaughter results in a mandatory prison sentence. If you were involved in an accident and charged with DUI, the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Valiente, Carollo and McElligottt PLLC will make sure you have the best possible chance against the power of the government. 

What is DUI?

In the state of Florida, it is illegal to operate – or be in actual physical control – of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcoholic beverages. State law provides that a person is presumptively under the influence if his or her blood alcohol level is .08 percent or greater. Driving under the influence results in criminal charges with potential punishments, including fines, jail times, revocation of driving privileges, and mandatory alcohol treatment.

A DUI can also occur if a person is under the influence of an illegal controlled substance. It is illegal to operate a motor vehicle when the driver is affected to the extent that his or her normal faculties are impaired. Generally, a driver’s normal faculties are impaired when he or she cannot think clearly or maintain physical control over a vehicle. Punishment for driving under the influence of an illegal controlled substance are similar to those for driving under the influence of alcohol. 

What Happens When a Death Results?

Under Florida’s laws, there are two punishment scenarios when a death results from a DUI. Under the first scenario, when a driver operates a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs and causes an accident that results in another person’s death, the driver may be convicted of a second-degree felony. Causing a death while driving under the influence is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The mandatory sentence for a person convicted of DUI manslaughter is at least 4 years in prison. 

Under the second scenario, where a death results from DUI and the driver knew the accident occurred and failed to remain at the scene and render aid, the driver may be convicted of a first-degree felony. Causing a death while driving under the influence and leaving the scene or failing to render aid is punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. 

What are the Requirements for a Conviction of DUI Manslaughter?

The two essential elements of DUI manslaughter are (1) driving under the influence and (2) causing or contributing to the death of a person or unborn child while driving under the influence. 

Proving these two elements require proving the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The accused operated a motor vehicle. Proof of operating a motor vehicle requires actual physical control over the vehicle. Physical control over a vehicle may be established by being inside the vehicle and being capable of driving the vehicle. 
  • The accused drove under the influence. Being under the influence is often established by biological tests, such as on the scene breathalyzers or hospital blood draws. For alcohol-related incidents, a driver is presumed under the influence if his or her blood alcohol level is above .08 percent. For drug-related incidents, other factors may apply to determine if a person is mentally or physically impaired.
  • The accused’s actions caused or contributed to the death of another person or unborn child. This requires proof that the accused was the actual cause of an accident leading to a death.

Defenses to DUI Manslaughter

Florida takes deaths caused by drunk driving seriously, as evidenced by the stiff penalties for conviction. However, the prosecution must meet the burden of proving the accused was under the influence and contributed to the death of another beyond a reasonable doubt. Depending on the facts, several defenses may undermine the prosecution’s case.

  • Illegal stops: To stop a vehicle, a police officer must have a reasonable suspicion that a driver committed a vehicle infraction or probable cause that a driver committed a crime. In the case where a DUI arrest resulted from a traffic stop, pointing out an officer’s mistakes in stopping a vehicle can lead to dismissal of charges based on an illegal stop.
  • Improper field sobriety testing. Before conducting biological tests such as breathalyzers or blood tests, police officers must have probable cause to believe a driver is under the influence. One way police officers obtain probable cause is to conduct a field sobriety test. However, many factors can impact the effectiveness of a field sobriety test, placing the officer’s reasoning for conducting biological tests.
  • Improper biological testing. For accurate readings, breathalyzers must be administered correctly by officers trained in their use. Similarly, the established procedures for blood-alcohol testing must be followed carefully and exactly. A skilled defense attorney can call into question the accuracy of biological tests that suggest the accused was under the influence at the time.
  • Failure to provide constitutional rights. Upon arrest, the accused must be advised of his or her Miranda rights as well as the right to an attorney. Failure to adhere to constitutional rights may result in the dismissal of charges.

Consult with an Experienced DUI and Felony Criminal Defense Attorney 

Any death is a tragic event. Being accused of a DUI-involved death is especially traumatic. For a crime of this nature, you face not only a mandatory prison sentence but can go beyond prison, branding you as a felon. An experienced criminal defense attorney can protect your rights during an investigation and after. Contact a South Florida criminal defense attorney at Valiente, Carollo and McElligott PLLC to discuss your case today.