DUI. Driving Under the Influence. OUI, DWI, whatever you want it to be. Regardless of moniker it typically involves an individual who is three sheets to the wind from imbibing in one to many hot totties at his favorite pub or one who is flying high on his narcotic of choice while driving or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle. Broken down, to prove a DUI in Florida it must be shown that someone was 1) driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle 2) while they were intoxicated to the extent their normal faculties were impaired. Pretty common run of the mill stuff that most DUI attorneys deal with. So what about the DUI that goes so badly that another individual loses his or her life allegedly precipitating from another’s choice to drive drunk? Is this just a forgone conclusion that if someone dies and you’re drunk while driving that you’re going to prison for a very long time? Not necessarily…
For a DUI manslaughter to stick the State Attorney must prove that not only were you DUI, but also that your impaired driving caused the death of another human being or unborn child. This, my friends, is not always the easiest thing to prove as my colleagues handling auto accident negligence cases can attest. At least for them, prosecuting their civil negligence action only requires a showing by preponderance of the evidence that the bad acts of one caused the injury or death of another. To a criminal defense attorney’s benefit, the State Attorney as we know, must prove a criminal allegation beyond a reasonable doubt. That means every single element. Causation being one of those elements.
So, even if your client is dead red drunk as can be, all may not be lost. Causation is hard to prove! Honestly, have you ever heard of a Plaintiff’s injury case being lost because they couldn’t prove a duty??? Nope. The state is going to have to show that “but for” one’s drunken driving, the victim wouldn’t have died, in addition to showing that one’s drunken driving is the proximate or primary cause of the victim’s death. Guess what this doesn’t contemplate! Not sure if you guessed it, don’t care if you did because yours truly is going to tell you. Comparative negligence of the victim! It’s not stated, but that’s what it boils down to! If I can show, as your Tampa criminal attorney that even though you were blowing and going after a hard night at Mons Venus that your victim was also hammered when he walked out in the middle of that busy road, you’re not going to prison. Jail for 11 months, 29 days probably, but not prison because the State couldn’t show causation and therefor couldn’t show that you “caused” the death of the alleged victim. This kind of thing happens all the time! Now granted, DUI manslaughter cases are tough as there isn’t much jury appeal. However, if you get a jury that follows the law and the facts permit, you just might hit the jackpot and save your clients Jack Daniels soaked tail.
In all seriousness, though many DUI cases can offer an element of humor, DUI manslaughter no matter what the scenario, is tragic. Anytime someone dies due to a purposeful act or the negligence of another it’s awful. However, in the interest of justice just because someone makes a bad choice that does not mean they are responsible for the death of another when they haven’t caused it.
Jason Mayberry is a criminal defense attorney in Tampa and Clearwater, Florida and is very happy to be an author for Lawblawg.com!