Drunk driving is a dangerous and reckless act that claims the lives of thousands each year in the United States. When this irresponsible behavior results in a fatality, the consequences become even more severe.
From 2009 – 2018, the CDC reported 7,573 people killed in DUI-related crashes in Florida, including other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. The state also has a high rate of DUI infractions, with 44,001 occurring in 2022.
Specific laws and penalties are in place to address cases where individuals operate vehicles under the influence and cause fatal accidents. Sadly, people still choose to drive while under the influence. The punishment for drunk driving and killing someone includes civil lawsuits and criminal charges.
Florida’s DUI manslaughter laws
Under Florida law, if a person causes the death of another while driving under the influence, they can be charged with DUI manslaughter. Florida’s DUI manslaughter statutes are designed to hold individuals accountable for their actions when they operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs and cause someone’s death.
In Florida, DUI manslaughter is considered a second-degree felony, carrying severe penalties that reflect the seriousness of the offense. However, in certain situations, the charge can be upgraded to a first-degree felony.
The potential consequences faced by those convicted of DUI manslaughter in Florida are severe. Upon conviction for DUI manslaughter, individuals may face:
- Imprisonment: The statutory minimum sentence is four years in state prison, but depending on the circumstances, it can range up to 15 or even 30 years
- Fines: They may be required to pay substantial fines reaching $10,000 or more
- License suspension: A mandatory driver’s license revocation period of at least three years is imposed upon conviction, with additional restrictions and requirements upon restoration
- Probation: Individuals convicted of DUI manslaughter will likely face a lengthy probation period with strict conditions and regular check-ins with a probation officer
- Ignition interlock device (IID): Offenders must install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle. This device measures blood alcohol content (BAC) and prevents the car from starting if the driver is intoxicated.
The severity of punishment may increase if there are aggravating factors such as previous DUI convictions, excessive speeding, or leaving the scene of the accident.
Additionally, individuals convicted of DUI manslaughter may face other collateral consequences that can impact their personal and professional lives. These can include a civil lawsuit, loss of employment, difficulty obtaining future job opportunities, higher insurance rates, a damaged reputation within the community, and significant emotional distress for the offender and the victim’s family.
Average sentences for DUI manslaughter
The average sentence for DUI manslaughter in Florida can vary depending on the specific circumstances of each case, such as the level of intoxication, prior criminal record, and any additional aggravating or mitigating circumstances.
It should be noted that Florida has a reputation for imposing some of the harshest penalties for DUI manslaughter. As a result, some cases have seen individuals sentenced to over 20 years or even life imprisonment for DUI manslaughter convictions.
In addition to the aforementioned legal penalties, individuals convicted of DUI manslaughter in Florida may also face additional consequences as part of their punishment, including:
- Loss of vehicle: The court may order the forfeiture or confiscation of the offender’s vehicle that was involved in the accident. This is a way to deter future incidents and hold the individual accountable.
- DUI education classes: Offenders might be required to attend mandatory DUI education classes or counseling programs to educate them about the dangers of driving under the influence and preventing recidivism
- Inpatient alcohol treatment: Depending on the circumstances, individuals convicted of DUI manslaughter may be ordered by the court to undergo an inpatient alcohol treatment program to address issues related to substance abuse
Florida’s DUI manslaughter sentencing guidelines and factors
When sentencing individuals convicted of DUI manslaughter in Florida, judges typically have some discretion within the statutory guidelines. However, there are specific sentencing guidelines and factors that play a significant role in determining the penalties imposed:
- Blood alcohol content (BAC) level: The level of intoxication at the time of the offense is an important factor considered during sentencing. A higher BAC may lead to more severe penalties.
- Prior criminal record: Previous DUI convictions or other criminal offenses can influence the severity of punishment. Individuals with a history of drunk driving or other serious crimes may face harsher sentences.
- Aggravating circumstances: Factors such as excessive speeding, reckless driving, fleeing the scene of the accident, or causing multiple fatalities can aggravate the offense and lead to enhanced penalties
- Mitigating circumstances: These could include a lack of prior criminal history, evidence of remorse and rehabilitation efforts, cooperation with law enforcement, or involvement in community service
- Victim impact statements: Victim impact statements allow family members or loved ones affected by the incident to provide their perspective on how the crime has impacted their lives. These statements can weigh heavily in sentencing decisions as they help paint a vivid picture of the emotional and psychological toll inflicted upon those left behind.
It is important to remember that while sentencing guidelines exist, judges have discretion and may deviate from the guidelines to tailor the punishment to fit the specific circumstances of each case. This discretion ensures that sentences consider the offense’s gravity and individual factors that may affect the offender’s culpability or potential for rehabilitation.
Civil repercussions for killing someone while driving drunk
Some potential civil repercussions for killing someone while driving drunk include the following:
- Wrongful death lawsuit: The family or estate of the deceased may file a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver who caused the accident. This legal action seeks to hold the driver liable for causing the death due to their negligent or reckless behavior.
- Compensatory damages: If found liable in a wrongful death lawsuit, the driver might be required to pay compensatory damages to the victim’s family or estate. These damages aim to financially compensate for losses such as funeral expenses, medical bills, loss of financial support, and emotional pain and suffering.
- Punitive damages: Sometimes, a court may also award punitive damages. These damages are intended to punish the driver for their reckless behavior and act as a deterrent for others.
What damages can be recovered?
Both economic and non-economic damages could be recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit against a drunk driver. Economic damages seek to compensate the victim’s family or estate for measurable financial losses incurred as a result of the death, including:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical expenses related to the accident
- Loss of financial support and benefits the deceased would have provided
- Loss of services and support that the deceased would have provided
Non-economic damages aim to compensate for intangible losses suffered by the victim’s family and may include:
- Pain and suffering experienced by the deceased before their death
- Loss of companionship and guidance provided by the deceased
- Pain, suffering, emotional distress, and mental anguish suffered by the surviving family members
- Loss of consortium which refers to the loss of love, companionship, and intimacy experienced by a spouse or partner
How can an experienced drunk driving accident attorney help you?
An experienced drunk driving accident attorney in Tampa, Florida, can provide valuable assistance in several ways:
- Legal guidance: They explain your rights and the legal process while guiding you through each step, ensuring you understand your options and make informed decisions
- Investigation: The attorney will thoroughly investigate the accident to gather evidence of the other driver’s intoxicated state, negligence, or recklessness
- Building a strong case: Using the gathered evidence, an experienced attorney builds a strong case on your behalf
- Negotiating with insurance companies: Dealing with insurance companies can be challenging, especially when grieving the loss of a loved one. An experienced attorney knows how to negotiate effectively to ensure you receive fair compensation for your injuries and losses.
- Seeking maximum compensation: The attorney will seek maximum compensation for all applicable damages, including medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, and other related costs
- Expertise in drunk driving laws: They will know how to leverage these laws to strengthen your case and hold the drunk driver accountable for their actions
- Trial representation: If a settlement cannot be reached, an experienced attorney will represent you at trial. They will present your case effectively, arguing and advocating for your rights.
Get help, support, and legal representation from the caring and compassionate drunk driving accident lawyers at Jack Bernstein, Injury Attorneys in Tampa, Florida.
FLA. STAT. § 316.193 (3)(c). (2023).