As a DUI manslaughter attorney, I can tell you that DUI Manslaughter is one of the most seriously prosecuted cases in the courthouse. These cases are always high profile for the prosecution and involve as much evidence as a full blown murder case. Given the fact that each DUI Manslaughter will always include at least one grieving and angry family, it is extremely important to hire the right defense attorney who knows how to manage an aggressive defense in a tasteful manner that will not create additional blow back or liability for the client.
Two Types of DUI Manslaughter
Depending on the circumstances, a DUI Manslaughter attorney may have to defend against a case filed as either a 1st Degree Felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison (per victim) or as a 2nd Degree Felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison (per victim). It is not unusual for DUI Manslaughter to be charged in a variety of ways in a multi-count indictment, even though it concerns only one underlying event.
The default way prosecutors charge a DUI Manslaughter is with a 2nd Degree Felony. However, if the evidence proves that the Defendant either knew or should have known, at the time of the crash, that an accident occurred, but failed to provide his/her information and render aid, prosecutors may file the DUI Manslaughter as a 1st Degree Felony. Such a maneuver serves to double the defendant’s criminal liability and maximum possible sentence.
The Prosecution’s Case
Understanding the prosecution’s case is relatively straightforward. After many years experience as a DUI manslughter attorney in Fort Lauderdale – who has handled many serious cases – I can tell you that DUI Manslaughter comes down to three basic components:
1) Standard DUI evidence (driving, influence, impairment)
2) Evidence that an accident occurred and the victim died as a result.
3) Evidence that the defendant’s DUI conduct “caused or contributed to” the accident that in turn caused the victim’s death.
While this is an over-simplification, it explains the basic road map that will be followed by prosecutors. DUI Manslaughter prosecutions differ from regular DUI prosecutions in that they typically involve a plethora of medical examiner evidence, forensic evidence, traffic fatality investigation testimony, and expert witness testimony by accident reconstructionists and toxicologists.
Again, this is an over-simplification, but illustrates the point.
How a DUI Manslaughter Attorney Builds a Defense
Defending against DUI Manslaughter charges also has three basic components. Going through these three basic stages, will give a DUI attorney structure so that he/she may attack the DUI Manslaughter charge in a methodical and diligent fashion, leaving nothing to chance.
Component #1: DUI Basics
In the first component, the case is treated like any other DUI. Your DUI attorney must ask the same basic questions as though this were a regular DUI without any injuries.
In other words, can the prosecution prove that the Defendant:
1) Either drove or was in actual physical control of a motor vehicle,
2) While so situated was under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, or a chemical substance,
3) To the extent that their normal faculties were impaired or were over 0.08 alcohol in their blood.
“Actual physical control” refers to having the present ability to operate the motor vehicle, while not necessarily engaged in the act of driving. Such as when one sits in a parked car with the engine running. “Normal faculties” refers to our every day mental and physical actions, such as walking, talking, acting in emergencies, operating a motor vehicle safely, etc.
A DUI attorney must first evaluate the evidence to determine if the prosecution can put on a case. In doing so, he/she is looking for any lack of evidence, any conflict in the evidence, or any exculpatory evidence. In essence, a DUI attorney is looking to identify any source of reasonable doubt.
- Where do the tough questions lie?
- What issue(s) is the prosecution’s case silent on? What issue(s) does it ignore or take for granted?
- What alternative theories are supported by the very same evidence?
- Is there a lack of evidence?
- Is there a conflict in the evidence?
- Are prosecution witnesses unreliable?
- Do prosecution witnesses tell inconsistent stories?
As we have discussed in other sections on this site, a DUI attorney must also attack the prosecution’s case by looking at a number of legal factors. Some of these include:
- Did the police conduct an illegal traffic stop?
- Did the police do an illegal search and seizure?
- Did the police conduct an illegal interrogation?
- Were field sobriety tests properly and lawfully administered?
- Was a breath/blood/urine test properly and lawfully administered?
The list goes on and on. To learn more about basic DUI defense, please read about
Component #2: Can the Prosecution Prove Causation?
In the second component, a DUI attorney must evaluate the prosecution’s evidence to determine if they can prove “causation.” In other words, can prosecutors prove that the defendant either caused or contributed to the victim’s death?
In the real world this may not be so clear. For example, an autopsy of the victim may reveal that they themselves were also under the influence. This is not uncommon. If two cars collide and the person who dies had 3 times the legal limit of alcohol in their system or had cocaine in their blood, why is all of the blame placed on the other party – who may have been less impaired or not impaired at all.
These cases have happened before and is just one of many examples that can transpire in the real world.
To properly defend someone in the second component, a DUI attorney must begin by launching his/her own independent investigation of the facts and evidence. Hiring a private investigator to obtain surveillance video or statements from eye witnesses ignored or missed by law enforcement can make sometimes turn a loser case into a winner. A DUI manslaughter defense attorney must also be very familiar with accident reconstruction, forensic evidence, medical evidence, toxicology, and most importantly – how to win a case at trial.
Component #3: Build a Case for Mitigation
In the third and final component, it is necessary to prepare a case for mitigation. As important as it is to fight aggressively and attack the prosecution’s case with zeal, it is equally necessary to prepare the case for plea bargain or in the worst case scenario, sentencing. This does not happen over night, but rather takes time and must be done from day one. It would be error to wait until an adverse verdict is reached before building one’s mitigation defense.
Building a case for mitigation entails a thorough work up of the defendant’s personal life, professional background, his/her struggle with mental health problems, a mental health evaluation, addiction assessment, and history of alcoholism/substance abuse. In many cases, a portion of sentencing can be substituted with treatment – although this is lesser so in manslaughter cases than it is in other DUI offenses.
As positive and optimistic as an attorney should be about his/her client’s case, it is still necessary to develop a complete client profile in the event that it is necessary to mitigate a possible sentence. The best dui attorneys prepare for everything.
Other Grounds for a DUI Manslaughter Charge
Causing a pregnant woman to have a miscarriage because of an DUI related crash can also result in a DUI Manslaughter charge. Under to Fl. Stat. §316.193, someone who is guilty of DUI under Florida law who also causes or contributes to the death of any “unborn quick child” is also guilty of DUI Manslaughter. By definition, an “unborn quick child” is a fetus that is viable when it is capable of meaningful life outside the womb through standard medical procedures.
When a DUI Manslaughter case involves the death of a pregnant woman’s baby, the main area of concern for any DUI attorney is whether or not the fetus was viable. To conduct this portion of the case analysis, a DUI attorney must determine what stage of pregnancy the mother was in and whether or not she was having a normal/healthy pregnancy. Hiring the right expert witness is crucial in these types of cases.