Vehicular Manslaughter Charges In Florida: When A Tragic Accident Becomes A Legal Nightmare
Vehicular manslaughter, known as vehicular homicide under Florida law, is Florida’s most serious criminal driving offense. Vehicular homicide in Florida is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Under certain circumstances, if you left the scene of the accident and failed to give aid to the victim, charges could be upgraded to a first degree felony involving up to 30 years in jail.
The penalties associated with a vehicular homicide offense can change a person’s life forever. If the tragedy was caused by a simple accident or driving error, that makes the pain much worse for both the grieving family and the driver charged with a crime. Sometimes a driver’s act that would normally warrant a citation rises to the level of a felony crime because the mistake caused a chain reaction leading to someone’s accidental death.
What the Prosecution Must Prove in Florida Vehicular Homicide Cases
Florida Statute §782.071 defines vehicular homicide as the killing of a human being or unborn child due to operating a motor vehicle in a reckless manner likely to cause great bodily harm or death to another.
Florida prosecutors in a vehicular homicide case must demonstrate, beyond a reasonable doubt, that:
- The defendant was driving a motor vehicle;
- The defendant was driving so recklessly that the death of another was a likely consequence of their driving behavior;
- The defendant’s reckless driving caused another person’s death.
It does not matter whether the defendant intended to cause harm – “recklessness” is enough to support criminal charges under the vehicular homicide statute. What is recklessness? Florida Statute Sec. 316.192 defines reckless driving as operating with “willful and wanton disregard” for the safety of others. This may include excessive speeding, rapidly switching lanes, risky driving maneuvers, and fleeing law enforcement.
If the defendant was intoxicated at the time of the crash, they can be charged with DUI manslaughter – a second-degree felony that brings with it the wide range of penalties associated with drunk driving in addition to vehicular homicide.
Potential Defenses to a Vehicular Homicide Charge in Florida
- You were not driving recklessly. Under the legal definition, reckless driving requires willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others. Basically, that you were completely indifferent to the consequences of your behavior and the harm it could cause. This requires a “state of mind” that goes beyond mere negligence or driver’s error. In some cases, this requires witness testimony or expert evidence showing your car was driven in a particular manner. An experienced criminal defense attorney can challenge the prosecution’s evidence regarding recklessness and find flaws in their case.
- Your actions did not cause the other driver’s death. Prosecutors must demonstrate a link – beyond a reasonable doubt – that your actions behind the wheel led to the other’s tragic death. While the death is a tragedy, plain and simple, it may have been caused by some intervening factor. This could include an underlying health condition, a flaw in their own vehicle or driving that led to the accident, or some other cause meaning you did not actually cause their death. Challenging this element of the prosecution’s case also requires a strong and vigorous defense that is not afraid to call expert witnesses or present forensic evidence that helps your case.
Talk to Our Orlando-Area Criminal Defense Attorneys About Your Options in a Vehicular Homicide Case
A tragic accident is hard enough to handle in many ways. If someone has died and you find yourself charged in connection to their death, the effects can be devastating. Our Orlando vehicular homicide defense attorneys have been there for people in these situations and can walk you through the legal process. Most importantly, we will carefully investigate the facts of your case and challenge the prosecution’s evidence. Contact Joshi Law Firm today for more information.