In Florida, vehicular homicide is a very serious felony offense that normally results in a prison sentence if the state can prove its case. Most of these cases deal with someone who is driving while impaired from alcohol and/or drugs and causes a traffic crash that results in the death of another person. If the state can prove that the driver was impaired so that his/her normal faculties were compromised, such as sight, judgment, coordination, and the driver causes a crash that results in a death, a vehicular homicide charge will likely follow.
There are serious traffic crashes that occur every day in Florida. Most of them are the result of one or more people driving poorly and violating some traffic law causing a crash. People speed, change lanes without looking, run red lights and commit other traffic infractions that result in serious crashes. It is always a judgment call, but if the person who causes the crash commits a routine traffic infraction, criminal charges are not likely. For instance, regular speeding, running a red light, improper lane change are generally not the kinds of things that result in criminal charges after a serious crash. Those are generally considered negligence cases that result in traffic citations and civil lawsuits.
However, even if no alcohol or drugs were involved, if the driving could be considered reckless, criminal charges can be brought. Recklessness has a legal definition, but it is a matter of interpretation. Basically, it is a judgment call, and it depends on the circumstances, although the more serious the crash and the more serious the injuries, the lower the bar. Also, the more traffic laws that are violated, the more likely a police officer or prosecutor (and ultimately a judge or jury) will consider the driving to be reckless. Simply running a red light will rarely be recklessness that is enough for a criminal case. However, running a red light plus driving 30 miles per hour over the speed limit while texting on a cell phone could certainly be considered reckless driving if it results in a serious accident.
Another example occurred in a recent vehicular homicide case near Jacksonville, Florida. In that case, the defendant was driving on a rural two lane road. There were two cars in front of him driving slower than the speed limit. He decided to pass both cars. However, after passing the second car, he stayed in the oncoming lane for approximately half a mile (in case there were any other cars he would want to pass) and caused a head on collision that killed the other driver. He was charged with vehicular homicide based on the reckless driving. His criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to dismiss arguing that the defendant’s driving could not be considered reckless. However, the judge disagreed and allowed the criminal case to go forward. The judge determined that because it was a calculated decision to remain in the wrong lane (rather than a mistake) and doing so for so long created a very dangerous situation, a jury could consider it reckless driving.