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Florida Supreme Court Changes How DUI Manslaughter Cases Can Be Prosecuted

So, you or someone you know became involved in a DUI manslaughter case.

Although an unfortunate situation, knowing the legal procedures involved in these cases is critical when building your defense strategy. In 2020, the Florida Supreme Court has made significant changes to the prosecution proceedings of DUI manslaughter cases.

These changes impact the way you choose to handle your case. Depending on the circumstances and evidence the prosecution has. Being unaware of the current legal handlings of these cases can have a severe impact on your potential sentencing.

No need to worry if you are unfamiliar with the changes in prosecution proceedings in DUI manslaughter cases. We’ll explain these details and how it impacts a case.

Previous Prosecution Law For DUI Manslaughter

Two landmark cases in Florida’s legal history resulted in legislation related to vehicular manslaughter and DUI charges. Houser v. State and Carawan v. State set precedents the prosecution of suspects charged with multiple crimes from the same incident.

In Houser v. State, the concern was there may be many charges stemming from a singular vehicular manslaughter or DWI incident. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that multiple convictions were illegal due to double jeopardy principles.

Carawan v. State is more relevant because of the reaction of the Florida Supreme Court to its decision. This case concluded that they assumed the Legislature wouldn’t try and charge one homicide under multiple statutes in favor of lenity.

The legislature decided to amend the law to clarify that defendants can incur charges from however many offenses occurred during a single criminal incident.

Together, these changes in law ruled that in DUI cases where there was criminal activity and death, the more serious charge would receive sentencing while dropping the lesser charge. This is to avoid the risk of double jeopardy.

For example, if someone was driving under the influence and killed another person in an accident, they’ll receive charges for both DUI Manslaughter and DUI With Serious Bodily Injury or Death. Both of these charges are part of the case in court.

Upon sentencing, only the more serious charge of DUI Manslaughter will stick. They would dismiss the lesser charge of DUI With Serious Bodily Injury or Death.

This is because, technically, the crime is already receiving a punishment. DUI Manslaughter comes with higher punishment for the death of the victim. A charge of DUI With Serious Bodily Injury or Death additionally would mean they punish you multiple ways for the same crime.

Florida Supreme Court Changes to DUI Manslaughter Cases

A new case, State v. Maisonet-Maldonado brought about new changes that shifted how sentencing now proceeds. Houser v. State prevented multiple convictions of fleeing and alluding causing serious injury or death and vehicular manslaughter DUI if the incident only involved a single victim.

In 2020, the Florida Supreme Court made a decision overturning how these legal technicalities and issues have been handled for the past 35 years.

The Florida Court system now ruled the Houser v. State result was wrongfully decided. They ruled that the Principle of Lenity (which requires a court to apply unclear law to a case in the way that is most favorable for the defendant) should not be applied in instances of double jeopardy concerns.

Now in DUI Manslaughter cases, both charges of vehicular manslaughter DUI and DUI With Serious Bodily Injury or Death are charged and sentenced separately. This applies when both charges stem from the same incident and involve a single victim.

Evidence presented against the defendant is now even more important to consider because it justifies the number of ways death as a result of a DUI can be charged and sentenced. Instead of fighting the main DUI manslaughter charge, a defendant will now have to fight possible sentencing on every charge.

What These Changes Mean for You

If you’re arrested on charges involving DUI manslaughter, those other “lesser” charges now stick. This is because trial and sentencing for both of these crimes no longer qualify as double jeopardy.

The Florida Supreme Court’s reasoning is because of the wording of the charges. Yes, a DUI manslaughter means an intoxicated driver killed a victim. Other charges also involve this crime.

Charges such as DUI With Serious Bodily Injury or Death and Fleeing Or Attempt to Allude Causing Serious Bodily Injury or Death, again, also involve the death of the victim. However, there may be evidence in your case that other events took place beside the death.

They include death in those lesser charges. But can also include evidence that other harm occurred. These slight differences in how the law words these charges were enough to justify changing the law.

Now, they may charge a defendant and sentence separately for both crimes. Even if it was the same incident or stemmed from a single incident resulting in the single victim’s death.

Next Steps

DUI manslaughter cases are tragic occurrences. The changes the Florida Supreme Court made in how sentencing for these cases are handled can be confusing for all involved.

It’s important to remember that now, charges that stick and sentencing depend on the evidence presented by the prosecution. Those lesser charges are not dropped at sentencing in favor of only receiving sentencing for the single most punishable charge.

It is important to review the evidence in your case and work with your legal team to receive the most desired outcome despite these recent changes.

Contact us to work with a legal team that can help navigate you through these changes in your case.

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