CBS 4 reports that a Palm Beach County woman was sentenced to 20 years in prison for a DUI manslaughter crash that left two construction workers dead and one injured.
A Palm Beach County Circuit Court judge sentenced the 45-year-old accused woman.
Police say that the accused's blood alcohol level following the crash was .235. The legal limit in Florida is .08.
DUI manslaughter is a second-degree felony in Florida, with each count - in this case, deceased person - carrying a maximum of 15 years in prison. With two counts of DUI manslaughter and one count of DUI with serious bodily injury (a third-degree felony), the accused faced a maximum of 35 years in prison.
DUI manslaughter penalties in Florida include a four-year mandatory minimum prison term, as well as a lifetime driver's license revocation.
In a DUI manslaughter case, the State of Florida must prove first and foremost that the accused was operating a motor vehicle while their normal faculties were impaired by drugs or alcohol, or that the accused was operating a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher.
Secondly, the State of Florida must prove that the impairment caused or contributed to the death of the victim.
Just because you may have been impaired at the time of a deadly accident does not necessarily mean that you have committed manslaughter. What if the other driver runs a stop sign? What if the other driver runs a red light? What if the other driver is being aggressive or reckless. While tragic, a fatal accident may be nothing more than a misdemeanor DUI.
Many DUI manslaughter cases proceed to trial because of these factual disputes. The accused may have driving through an intersection as the light turned yellow, but the other driver ran a solid red. The other driver is clearly at fault, but the police and prosecutors may disagree. Rather than accept a lengthy prison term, many people wisely choose to fight their DUI manslaughter cases.
A good DUI manslaughter defense requires the assistance of expert testimony. Accident reconstructionists can help a jury figure out how the crash occurred. Also, the timer software from the traffic signal, along with any video surveillance (such as red-light cameras) will help a jury figure out who ran the red light. If the accused ran the red light, they will likely be convicted of DUI manslaughter. If the accused was crossing the intersection against a yellow light and the victim ran the red, then it cannot be proven that the accused caused or contributed to the crash. The other driver was 100% responsible. Therefore, if the State can prove impairment, the accused should only be found guilty of misdemeanor DUI.
And believe me, when facing 15 years in prison, a misdemeanor conviction is a tremendous victory.