Clay County mother charged with DUI manslaughter in death of her daughter

A Clay County mother was arrested this month on two felony charges for the December crash that killed her 5-year-old daughter. The woman was charged with DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Police said the woman was driving in the emergency lane on Interstate 295 in Jacksonville about 12:45 a.m. and swerved when the lane ended, going off the road and into the trees lining the highway, the newspaper reported. Both DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide are second-degree felonies, with maximum penalties of 15 years in prison on each charge. The DUI manslaughter, however, has a minimum mandatory sentence of four years in prison, while vehicular homicide has no such mandatory sentence.

While it may seem that DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide are basically the same charge, there are distinct elements of each crime. For a DUI manslaughter conviction in this Jacksonville DUI Case, the state must prove A) the driver was legally intoxicated and B) a person died as a result of a crash. The key to this case is the first element – proving whether the driver was drunk. The driver was hospitalized also, the newspaper reported, so it is very likely the state took blood samples to determine the level of alcohol in her system. That is likely the delay in the charges from the December crash – waiting on the toxicology results from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It is not uncommon for a delay of three to six months in Jacksonville DUI Cases like this.

Vehicular homicide is the killing of a person “by the operation of a motor vehicle by another in a reckless manner likely to cause the death of, or great bodily harm to, another,” according to Florida law. In this Jacksonville DUI Case, it would appear that this charge is there if the state feels there would be an issue proving that the driver was legally intoxicated. If the driver was driving dangerously, in this case driving in the emergency lane, a vehicular homicide charge could apply, but the state would have to prove the driver was driving recklessly.

Both charges have their challenges – both for the state and for the defense. But the filing of vehicular homicide may indicate the DUI isn’t as cut and dried as one would think. Media reports did not include a blood-alcohol level. While most people think of alcohol with DUI, it also includes drug use. So if the blood test showed evidence of drugs, the issue then can become how long the drug was in the driver’s system and where it could be proven to impair the driver at the time of the crash in this Jacksonville DUI Case.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Jacksonville DUI Attorney, Victoria “Tori” Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.