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Failing to Render Aid After a DUI Manslaughter Crash in Florida Results in a More Serious Charge

The case we wrote about in our previous post was a DUI manslaughter case near Jacksonville, Florida that involved some interesting legal issues.  A crash occurred at about 1:00 a.m. involving two vehicles.  The victim’s vehicle was forced off of the road into a canal.  The defendant initially fled the scene of the crash, but he did return about an hour later.  However, he never checked on the status of the victim.  There were issues surrounding the blood draw and whether the state could force a person to give blood for alcohol testing without consent and without a search warrant.

Another interesting issue was discussed in this DUI case.  DUI manslaughter is obviously a serious charge.  It is a second degree felony in Florida, which means a person can get sentenced to up to 15 years in prison if convicted.  We have heard of judges giving those sentences, or close to it, for the more egregious DUI manslaughter cases.  A DUI manslaughter can become even more serious if the suspect does not render aid to the victim after the crash.  In that case, the DUI manslaughter charge goes from a second degree felony to a first degree felony, which is punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

It is not clear what exactly the term “render aid” entails.  If the suspect has no medical training, there is only so much he/she can do to help an injured victim and there is only so much that person should try to do in order to not make things worse.  At a minimum, we can assume rendering aid means staying at the scene, checking on the victim and calling for an ambulance as soon as possible.  If the victim has an obvious emergency that can be handled by the suspect, the suspect probably needs to try and alleviate that problem.

In the case discussed in the last post, the defendant knocked the other car off of the road and into a canal.  The defendant then left the scene.  The victim’s car was upside down in the canal, and the victim died from drowning rather than the impact of the crash.  It was not clear whether the defendant could have saved the victim, but it is clear he did not bother to try.  As a result, the state charged him with the more serious first degree felony of DUI manslaughter and failing to render aid to the victim.

The criminal defense lawyer made a legal argument that the defendant was not guilty of the more serious DUI manslaughter and failure to render aid charge because the defendant did not know the victim was injured or dying.  That raised an interesting legal issue- in order to be guilty of this enhanced DUI manslaughter charge, does the defendant have to know the victim was injured in the crash?  Sometimes it is obvious, but for crashes that occur at night where it is dark, it might not be so clear.

The court rejected the criminal defense attorney’s argument.  The DUI manslaughter law was interpreted so that a DUI suspect does not have to know the victim was injured; the suspect only has to know there was a crash.  This makes sense because it is consistent with the law that requires people to remain at the scene of a crash involving property damage or injury to exchange insurance and other contact information.  If the DUI manslaughter law required a suspect to know there was an actual injury, it would give people an incentive to fail to go over and check on a victim or even flee the scene.  If you do not bother to check and see if the victim is injured, they could not say you were required to render aid.  As long as the suspect knows there was a crash, the suspect must remain at the scene and check with the other parties to see if there is an injury.  If there is a serious injury that results in death, the suspect must take reasonable steps to render aid or risk being charged with a first degree felony if he/she was impaired from alcohol or drugs.