In Florida, vehicular homicide is a serious offense that can have devastating consequences for all parties involved. Aside from the emotional toll such an accident can take, the potential penalties are also severe, including prison sentences ranging from 15 to 30 years. For this reason, it is important that if you or a loved one has been charged with vehicular manslaughter, you retain an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help defend your rights.
In Florida, a person commits vehicular homicide when he or she:
- Operates a motor vehicle in a reckless manner that is likely to cause the death of or great bodily harm to another; and
- Causes the death of another human being.
If the accident injured the mother of an unborn child and that child died as a result, under Florida law, the offender can be charged with vehicular manslaughter. An unborn child is defined as a human fetus, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.
A mere showing of negligence is not enough to sustain a conviction of vehicular homicide. A prosecutor must show that the defendant was driving recklessly, which means with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others or their property. The prosecution is not required to prove that the defendant intended to hurt anyone, only that he or she was reckless. Common examples of reckless driving include extreme speeding or impaired driving due to intoxication or sleep deprivation.
In Florida, a charge of vehicular homicide is a second degree felony, and is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and the payment of a $10,000 fine. Additionally, this charge results in the permanent revocation of a valid driver’s license.
However, if at the time of the accident, the driver knew or should have known that the accident occurred, yet he or she failed to give information to law enforcement or render aid, then the offense can be charged as a first degree felony. A first degree felony carries a potential prison term of 30 years and the payment of a $10,000 fine. To be charged with a first degree felony, the offender need not have known that the accident caused an injury or a death.
A court also has discretion to order an offender to serve 120 community service hours, under the supervision of a physician, in a hospital that regularly treats car accident victims. Additionally, if the event would have entitled the victim to seek compensation for his or her injury if no death had occurred, then the driver can be held liable for those costs in civil court.
Possible defenses that can be raised by someone charged with vehicular manslaughter include that:
- Law enforcement officials did not comply with procedure when collecting evidence;
- Witness statements are inconsistent;
- Recklessness was not due to intoxication, but rather to a preexisting medical condition;
- Reasonable doubt exists;
- The accident reconstruction was flawed or the investigation was improper; or
- An independent intervening cause that was not reasonably foreseeable caused the victim’s death.
If you have been arrested for vehicular homicide, an experienced attorney can help you formulate a defense and may even be able to get your charges reduced. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.