In Florida, the crime of vehicular homicide occurs when a driver kills another person by driving a motor vehicle in a reckless manner such that another person is likely to die or be seriously injured. One possible defense to the crime of vehicular homicide, particularly in the drag racing context, is whether the cause of death could be attributed to someone other than the defendant, for instance, the victim or another person involved in the accident.
Consider a drag race that occurred in Florida a few years ago that resulted in a conviction for vehicular homicide. The defendant was drag racing with another vehicle occupied by a driver and a passenger. Both cars sped towards a part of the road that narrowed. The other vehicle tried to speed up and pass the defendant, but the defendant also sped up and would not let the other car pass. As the two cars raced towards the narrow portion of the road, the other car lost control and the passenger died. The defendant, who managed to safely stop his car without crashing, was charged with felony vehicular homicide and racing on a highway.
The criminal defense attorney for the defendant argued that the defendant was not guilty of vehicular homicide because his actions did not cause the crash or the death. The criminal defense lawyer argued that the other driver caused the death of his passenger by speeding up and then losing control of his car. Alternatively, the criminal defense lawyer argued that the victim herself caused her death by voluntarily participating in the drag race.
The court disagreed, and the defendant’s conviction for vehicular homicide was upheld. The Florida law says that a victim’s own conduct can be used as a defense to vehicular homicide but only where the victim’s conduct by itself led to his or her death. An example given was where a passenger inexplicably grabbed the steering wheel and caused the car to crash during a drag race which resulted in the passenger’s death. However, in this case, the victim may have contributed to her death by agreeing to participate in the drag race, but the driving of the defendant was also a contributing factor.
Regarding the other driver’s conduct, his conduct was also not the sole cause of the death. The court found that the defendant contributed to the crash by failing to slow his car to let the other car pass as they approached the narrow part of the road. This created a dangerous situation which contributed to the accident and the death. When the other driver responded by driving faster, that was a foreseeable response during a drag race that did not affect the defendant’s guilt for the crime.