According to statistics, there were 10,497 deaths in 2016 due to car accidents caused by drunk drivers. In cases in which there are fatalities, the severity of the potential penalties is cut and dry, as they are considered DUI vehicular manslaughter, which can result in long prison sentences and hefty fines. For car accidents caused by drunk drivers in which there are minor or severe injuries, the determining factor of the penalties comes down to the severity of the bodily injuries, particularly in the state of Florida.
Here's what you need to know if you have been charged with a DUI after causing a motor vehicle accident in which someone was injured, but the type of charge has not yet been made.
Penalties Vary Based on the Severity of Bodily Injuries
While damage to property is considered, the most important factor in a DUI accident case is the severity of bodily injuries that occurred due to an intoxicated driver. If you caused someone to have minor injuries from the accident, you can face up to 12 months in jail and a fine of $1,000. This is considered a first degree misdemeanor.
If a person was seriously injured, however, the stakes are much higher for you. A DUI accident that causes a serious injury is considered a third degree felony in Florida, which means if you are convicted you can be imprisoned for up to five years and be required to pay a fine of $5,000.
If death occurs due to injuries from the accident, whether at the scene or after, you will be charged with vehicular manslaughter, which carries a prison sentence of a minimum of four years to a maximum of 15 years.
Minor Injuries Versus Severe Injuries
Now you are probably wondering what the differences are between minor injuries and severe injuries in regards to the laws in Florida. Fortunately, Florida statute 316.1922(b) clarifies that serious bodily injury is an injury that causes the person to be at risk of death from the injury, long-lasting impairment or loss of an organ or a body part, and serious disfigurement.
Usually, these types of serious injuries are immediately understood. However, there are some injuries that may not be as easily recognized at the time of the accident and during the following weeks, such as a cerebral spinal fluid leak that later causes death or increased intracranial damage.
Motion of Discovery
Even though you have been charged with a DUI, you may still be waiting for the specific charge of first degree misdemeanor, third degree felony, or manslaughter. The reason for this is that the prosecutor may need time to build the case against you, which depends on the outcome of the injuries you caused. At this time, the prosecutor is still building the case and may be waiting for guidance from the health care providers who are treating the injured person(s).
You are not personally privy to the medical information regarding the injured persons, so you're likely wondering just how serious of a legal situation you are in. However, your lawyer can file a motion of discovery to find out what their injuries are and whether or not the injuries will be considered minor or severe by the court. By filing a motion of discovery, your lawyer will be able to better assess the situation you are in and start developing a defense case for you.
In the meantime, do not discuss the case with anyone without having your lawyer present with you, particularly regarding car insurance adjusters, other lawyers, the prosecutor, or the media. If anyone contacts you regarding the case, refer them to your lawyer.
For more information, contact a law firm like the Maltezos Law Offices.