Car accidents happen every day. In addition to injuries and a bad experience, drivers could also face a vehicular homicide charge in Florida if someone died as a result of reckless driving. Due to its severity, a conviction for this offense can result in imprisonment, hefty fines, community service, and restitution.
Florida Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles reported 401,076 crash accidents in 2021. Three thousand seven hundred thirty-nine of these accidents resulted in death. Even though not all of these fatalities result from a vehicular homicide offense, it is still crucial that you are familiar with this legal term.
Therefore, this article will discuss essential information about vehicular homicide in Florida. Should you have any specific questions about your charges, book a free consultation with our Tampa Bay criminal attorneys.
What is Vehicular Homicide in Florida?
Florida Statute §782.071 establishes that vehicular homicide consists of killing a human being, or an unborn child, due to reckless driving. In other words, this offense arises when a driver is operating a motor vehicle in a reckless manner that is likely to kill or severely injure another person.
Vehicular homicide offenses in Florida are not limited to cars, trucks, and motorcycles. As pointed out by the Standard Jury Instructions, this crime can also occur with vessels such as watercraft, barges, airboats, or any vehicle used as a means of transportation on water.
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, there were 24 vehicular negligence cases in 2018. But even if you are facing a charge for vehicular homicide in Florida, the prosecution must prove that:
- A person or unborn child died;
- The death was caused by a motor vehicle or vessel you were operating;
- You were driving or operating the vehicle in a reckless manner.
Reckless driving and vehicular manslaughter
In these types of cases, the prosecution does not need to prove that you actually meant to harm the victim. However, they do need to demonstrate the reckless driving element beyond reasonable doubt.
In simple terms, they need to prove that you were aware of the potential consequences of your driving actions, and yet you showed disregard for the safety of property or other people. Take Hamilton v. State, 439 So. 2d 238 as an example.
Ms. Hamilton was convicted of vehicular homicide after taking the life of a five-year-old child. The accident that led to her conviction occurred in a residential area and did not involve any form of DUI or mechanical defects.
The defendant appealed her conviction on the basis that there was not enough evidence of reckless driving. However, the court disagreed with the defendant’s argument and established that there were numerous factors in affirming her conviction.
Some of the elements that the court highlighted include:
- The visibility on that day and road was good;
- Ms. Hamilton was traveling in a heavily congested residential area;
- The defendant was familiar with the area;
- The speed limit was 30 miles per hour, and Ms. Hamilton was driving upwards of 50 miles per hour;
- There was a “SLOW-CHILDREN PLAYING” sign;
- The defendant failed to reduce her speed and exercise the slightest degree of care to avoid the collision.
Penalties for Vehicular Homicide in Florida
Vehicular manslaughter in Florida is classified as a felony crime and is considered a Level 7 offense according to Florida Criminal Punishment Code. The specific charges for this offense depend on whether the driver stayed at the accident scene.
A simple charge for vehicular homicide is a felony of the second degree. However, if you hit and run, the charges will increase to a first-degree felony because you failed to provide your information and render aid.
Below is a table with the penalties associated with vehicular homicide in Florida:
|Offense||Type of Felony||Maximum Imprisonment||Maximum Fine|
|Vehicular homicide and failing to render aid or give information||1st degree||30 years||$10,000|
|Vehicular homicide||2nd degree||15 years||$10,000|
In addition to these penalties, a conviction for this crime can also lead to:
- 120 community service hours in a trauma center or hospital that regularly receives victims of vehicle accidents.
- Paying damages to the victim or their family.
Due to their severity, a simple charge for vehicle homicide has a statute of limitations of three years. However, this period extends to four years if you flee the accident scene.
If you have been accused or charged with vehicular homicide, a criminal defense attorney can help you assess your case and explore your potential defenses. Contact our legal team to schedule a free consultation.
Vehicular Homicide vs. DUI Manslaughter
Given their similarities, vehicular homicide and DUI manslaughter can be easily confused. However, these are separate offenses. When it comes to DUI manslaughter, being under the influence of alcohol or other substances is one of the key elements of this offense.
Vehicular homicide, on the other hand, only implies reckless driving. As shown in Hamilton v. State, drinking or being intoxicated is not a required element of driving recklessly. In fact, reckless driving can include different actions that show disregard for the safety of others.
Some examples of reckless driving include, but are not limited to:
- Driving under the influence
- Fleeing the police
- Driving over the speed limit
- Running stop signs or red lights
- Not reducing the speed in a congested area
- Racing other vehicles
- Driving too fast without consideration for current road conditions
Both of these offenses start as a second-degree felony and can escalate to a first-degree felony if drivers fail to render aid and provide their information.
Facing Criminal Charges? Speak to a Criminal Lawyer
Given that it implies the harm or death of a person, vehicular homicide offenses can result in severe consequences if you are convicted of this crime. As a result, it may be in your best interest to contact a criminal defense attorney near you.
Goldman Wetzel is a criminal defense law firm that represents clients facing criminal charges in the Tampa Bay Area. If you or a loved one have been charged with vehicular homicide in Florida, our seasoned defense lawyers may be able to help. Call 727-828-3900 to book a free consultation.