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DUI Manslaughter in Florida Requires Causation Between Crash and Impairment

When a person is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the extent that his/her normal faculties are impaired and gets into an accident, the DUI charge becomes much more serious. If another person is seriously injured in the accident, the driver will likely be charged with DUI with serious bodily injury which is a felony. If a person dies as a result of the accident, the driver will likely be charged with DUI manslaughter which is a first degree felony in Florida and often comes with a significant prison sentence if the defendant is convicted of the crime.

However, proving a DUI manslaughter case in Florida is not as simple as proving there was an accident, someone died in the accident and one of the drivers was drunk. The state must prove that the defendant’s impairment caused or contributed to the accident and the death. In other words, if the accident would likely have occurred even if the driver was completely sober and/or the accident was not the defendant’s fault, then the state cannot prove a DUI manslaughter case.

In a recent DUI manslaughter case near Jacksonville, Florida, the accident reconstructionist experts who looked at the crash determined that the victim must have been doing a wheelie on his motorcycle when he was hit by the defendant who had been drinking. The victim was driving his motorcycle at about 85 miles per hour and was not wearing a helmet. Because the accident happened, if the victim was doing a wheelie prior to the crash and driving at that speed, there is a good chance the the defendant would not have even seen the motorcycle because its headlight would have been pointed upwards and difficult for oncoming traffic to see. Basically, because the way the accident likely happened, the state could not prove that the defendant was at fault in the accident nor could the state prove that the defendant’s impairment caused or contributed to the crash. As a result, in this case, even though there was a crash, someone died and the defendant was impaired from alcohol, the charge of DUI manslaughter was thrown out because the impairment did not cause or contribute to the crash. The victim’s own reckless driving apparently caused this crash, and the defendant is not criminally liable for it.