How Drunk Driving Can Lead to 24 Years In Prison
Any drunk driving charge is a serious matter. But when an alleged DUI involves serious bodily injury or death to another person, Florida automatically elevates the charge to a felony. Indeed, a DUI that results in the “death of any human being or unborn child” is considered manslaughter, a second-degree felony.
The minimum prison term for a Florida manslaughter DUI is four years. But as a 2015 Miami Herald report noted, some sentences can run for decades. For example, a 20-year-old Broward County woman received 24 years in prison for manslaughter DUI. The woman had a blood-alcohol level of “nearly twice the legal limit,” according to the Herald, when she struck another vehicle and killed two people. Despite her relative youth and lack of criminal history, the judge said that a 24-year sentence was appropriate, in part because the defendant posted to a social media account just before the accident that she was “2 drunk 2 care.”
Court Overturns Excessive Punitive Damage Award in DUI Manslaughter Case
A DUI manslaughter conviction not only carries the potential for a lengthy prison sentence. It can also have civil consequences, as family members of the deceased may file a wrongful death claim to recover monetary damages. And under Florida law, families can seek punitive damages on top of any compensatory award.
But even punitive damages have certain limits, as a recent Florida court decision explained. This case stemmed from a 2008 accident where the defendant rear-ended another vehicle. The second vehicle subsequently hit a third vehicle and flipped over, killing two people and seriously injuring a third person. The defendant was later convicted of two counts of DUI manslaughter.
In a subsequent wrongful death and negligence lawsuit, a jury awarded the injury victim and the father of one of the deceased victims approximately $300,000 in compensatory damages. There was then a separate trial to determine punitive damages. The jury returned a judgment for $1.25 million.
But the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals ordered a retrial on the punitive damages. The appeals court said the trial judge improperly refused the defendant’s request to give the jurors a specific instruction, as required by Florida court rules, that they could not “award an amount that would financially destroy the defendant.”
While punitive damages are meant to punish, they are not intended to leave a defendant completely destitute. In this case, the jury heard uncontradicted testimony that the defendant had “no money, no bank account, no property of any kind.” And given that he is currently serving two life sentences for DUI manslaughter, there is also no prospect of him earning any income now or in the future.
Get Help From a Miami DUI Defense Lawyer
DUI cases tend to inflame public passions, especially when innocent people are harmed or killed. But anger does not justify violating a defendant’s constitutional rights. No matter what a person is accused of, they still have the right to be represented by a qualified Miami criminal defense attorney. If you have been charged a DUI and need immediate assistance, call the Law Offices of Julia Kefalinos today at 305-676-9545.
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