Penalties for Florida DUI Manslaughter Widely Vary

If you kill someone in a drunk driving accident in Florida, you will serve prison time if convicted. But how much time may come down to a number of factors, which include not just the individual facts of the case, but the disposition of the survivors, the strength of your defense attorney’s case and, interestingly, where the conviction happens.
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This is according to a recent Miami Herald article, which analyzed why some DUI manslaughter convictions receive such widely varying sentences.

Per F.S. 316.193, the minimum mandatory sentence available in Florida for DUI manslaughter is four years. That’s the least amount of time a judge can give you. The most is 30 years per charge. The statewide average out of 400 DUI fatality cases in Florida since 2012 was just under 10 years.

But some areas had a reputation of being harsher than others. Broward is one of those.

Consider the case of a 20-year-old woman who minutes before a DUI accident that killed two young women tweeted she was “2 drunk 2 care.” She admitted her guilt, heard the wrath of the victims’ angry relatives and then received a 24-year sentence.

But just a few days later, in Miami-Dade, a 57-year-old man was also convicted of DUI manslaughter involving two deaths. A longtime alcoholic, the driver slammed his vehicle into a restaurant while he was drunk. Two church elders were killed. Their relatives offered forgiveness to the defendant A judge sentenced him to 10 years behind bars.

That same day, before another judge in the same courthouse, a 27-year-old woman was convicted of killing two people – one in a DUI crash and then another in a hit-and-run while she was out on bail in the first case. A judge sentenced her to four years in prison.

Data crunching by the Miami-Herald found that Miami-Dade had one of the highest numbers of DUI manslaughter cases in the state, but it also granted some of the lightest sentences. On average, offenders received about 6 years in prison. In Broward, meanwhile, offenders in 27 cases received an average of 10 years.

Farther upstate, the average sentences for DUI manslaughter are even higher. In Palm Beach County, for example, the average is about 11.5 years. In Hillsborough County, it’s a little more than 10 years.

We know that outcomes can be swayed by:
–The skill of the defense attorney;
–The strength of the evidence;
–The media attention in the case;
–Defendant’s criminal history;
–Desire of victim’s loved ones.

But sometimes, it may come down to the judge too. One former Miami-Dade judge said that DUI manslaughter cases were among the most difficult to sentence. She said it requires courage to come down hard on someone when it’s warranted, but it also takes courage to give somebody a break when the case calls for it.

The four-year minimum mandatory law was just passed in 2007. Prior to that, judges had even greater discretion. Additionally, drivers who commit a fatal hit-and-run also face a four-year minimum mandatory term, as of 2014.

Although prosecutors do have the option of waiving that minimum mandatory sentence, that is extremely rare. (There was a 2009 case of a pro-football player who struck and killed a pedestrian. Prosecutors waived the minimum mandatory by noting a trial victory wasn’t guaranteed because victim hadn’t been in the crosswalk at the time he was hit.)

Still, it does help to have an experienced DUI defense attorney on your side, working toward the most beneficial resolution possible.

Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:
A Florida DUI death conviction means prison – but for how long varies widely, July 15, 2015, By David Ovalle and Chris Alcantara, Miami Herald
More Blog Entries:
Florida DUI Motion to Suppress Blood Test Results Reversed, Aug. 25, 2015, Fort Lauderdale DUI Manslaughter Defense Lawyer Blog