Arrested for a Fatal Car Accident in Fort Lauderdale? Here’s What You May Be Facing.

If you’re a driver who survives a deadly crash when others didn’t, it’s a unique kind of nightmare. Of course you didn’t intend harm. Maybe it wasn’t even wholly your fault. Nonetheless, lives were changed irrevocably – your own included. That is especially true if you’re arrested in connection with a fatal car accident in Fort Lauderdale. Fort Lauderdale fatal crash defense lawyer

Just because a fatal crash occurs (as they do roughly 3,500 times a year in Florida, according to the FLHSMV), it does not necessarily mean the driver(s) will face criminal charges. You might only face a traffic citation.

Criminal traffic charges are typically only filed when there is evidence of willful/wanton recklessness. Not mere carelessness, but reckless driving in a manner likely to cause great bodily harm or death. That can include street racing, being drunk/under the influence, fleeing a law enforcement officer, greatly excessive speeding (significant enough to be considered reckless), or engaging in acts of road rage (weaving through traffic, aggressively cutting people off, etc.).

The other primary catalyst for criminal charges filed in fatal Florida traffic accidents is a driver leaving the scene of an accident, better known as hit-and-run.

As a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer can explain, charges might not be filed immediately after the collision. It’s going to take time for investigators to piece together what they think happened. Some arrests don’t happen until months after the fact. It’s a really good idea if you were a driver in a fatal Broward crash to seek immediate legal counsel from a criminal defense lawyer – even if you aren’t sure whether you did anything wrong. This will help ensure your rights are protected and that you don’t speak out of turn in a way that could threaten your freedom or your future.

Criminal vs. Civil Traffic Crash Cases

Fatal crashes sometimes result in two separate judicial proceedings: One civil, one criminal.

In the civil justice proceedings, the question will be whether the defendant driver was negligent, meaning they failed in their duty to use reasonable care in operating the vehicle, resulting in the death of another person. Such cases are filed by the decedent’s surviving loved ones or their estate. If negligence is proven by a preponderance of the evidence, the defendant may be financially responsible to pay money to the survivors/estate.

In the criminal justice proceedings, the question will be whether there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant driver violated state law, and thus deserves to be punished according to the state’s criminal code.

The proof burden for criminal cases is far higher than for civil cases. That’s the reason a person might not face criminal charges, but could still be found liable in civil court.

Recent Broward Fatal Crash Criminal Cases

Recently, a number of fatal crashes in Broward County have made headlines. Among them:

  • A 42-year-old arrested for two counts of reckless driving and one count of vehicular homicide in Fort Lauderdale after the crash death of a motorcyclist.
  • A 20-year-old arrested for two counts of vehicular homicide, multiple counts of reckless driving, and numerous drug charges following a fatal Tamarac rollover crash that killed two women and injured five other people.
  • A 16-year-old unlicensed teen driver and his father arrested for reckless driving and vehicular homicide for the death of a pregnant ICU nurse and critical injury to her 8-year-old son in Miramar. The teen was allegedly under the influence of marijuana and driving 113-miles-per-hour in a 45 mph zone. The teen’s father wasn’t in the vehicle at the time, but his criminal charges stem from the fact that he provided his unlicensed teen with a vehicle.

Penalties for Fatal Crash Criminal Charges in Florida

The criminal penalties for fault in a fatal crash depend on the details of what happened, the exact crime(s) charged, and any aggravating/mitigating circumstances that apply. (See our recent blog on the Florida Criminal Law Scoresheet for more details on how Southeast Florida courts calculate sentencing after conviction.)

Among the most serious charges filed in these cases:

  • DUI Manslaughter – A maximum of between 15-30 years. F.S. 316.193(3)(c)(3). A person who causes the death of a human being or unborn child by driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs commits DUI manslaughter. That’s typically a second-degree felony, punishable by a maximum of 15 years. However, if at the time of the crash, the person under the influence knew/should have known the crash occurred and failed to render aid, it is increased to a first-degree felony, for which the maximum penalty is 30 years. In either case, DUI manslaughter carries a minimum mandatory penalty of 4 years in prison.
  • Vehicular Homicide – A maximum of between 15-30 years. F.S. 782.071. A person who kills a human or unborn child by injury to the mother caused by operation of a motor vehicle in a reckless manner likely to cause death or great bodily injury commits vehicular homicide. It’s a second-degree felony, punishably by up to 15 years in prison. However, if the person also fled the scene without rendering information or aid, it’s a first-degree felony, carrying a minimum penalty of 4 years in prison and a maximum penalty of 30 years.
  • Fatal Hit-and-Run – A maximum of 30 years. F.S. 316.027. A driver involved in a crash (public or private property) that results in serious or fatal injury to another must immediately stop the vehicle at the scene (or as close thereto as possible) and must remain there until they’ve fulfilled the requirements of F.S. 316.062, which imposes the duty to render aid and information. Willful violation is a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison, with a 4-year minimum mandatory. (Hit-and-run crashes with injury – but not death – are punishable by maximum penalties of between 5 and 15 years.)

Reckless driving may also be charged, but as outlined in F.S. 316.192, it’s specific to cases that involve certain types of recklessness on the road (i.e., fleeing from law enforcement), as well as those who cause crashes resulting in property damage (a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail) or serious bodily injury (a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison). Someone who causes a fatality by driving recklessly is more likely to be charged with vehicular homicide, though it’s possible that charge could be pleaded down to reckless driving.

As you might note, fatal traffic accidents can have very real – and substantial – consequences for those deemed responsible.

If you are one of those facing criminal charges following a deadly collision, it’s imperative that you limit your comments to others and reach out to an experienced Fort Lauderdale defense lawyer as soon as possible.

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

More Blog Entries:

4 Ways a Fort Lauderdale DUI Lawyer Can Challenge the Charges, July 1, 2023, Fort Lauderdale Fatal Crash Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

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