How the Supreme Court’s “Single Homicide Rule” is Impacting the Tanner Dashner Case

July 19, 2022 Drunk Driving/DUI, News & Announcements, Violent Crimes

A Florida judge has sentenced 24-year-old Tanner Dashner to over 70 years in prison for a fatal car crash that went up in flames and killed five people in 2018. However, the judge only used the charges for DUI manslaughter instead of also including the additional charges of vehicular homicide that the state wished to prosecute.

We will cover the details of the case, give information on both Florida Statutes, and explain the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to get rid of the “single homicide rule.”

What was the Incident?

On November 23rd, 2018, Tanner Dashner, then 21, crashed into the back of a Dodge Dakota. He was driving 97mph in a 30mph zone. The Dodge he slammed into caught fire, and five of the people inside the vehicle died. The victims included driver Kedan Tillet, 27, and four passengers—Alexis Chaney, 17; Anthony Victor, 21; Anthony Martin, 16; and Darien Douglas, 21. The sixth passenger, Ari’yonnia Stanberry, was pulled out of the fire by a witness.

Dashner’s blood-alcohol content of 0.274 percent, which is over triple the legal limit in Florida. During the plea and sentencing, Dashner pleaded no contest to five counts for each DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide, along with single counts of driving under the influence with damage to a person and driving under the influence with damage to property.

DUI Manslaughter and Vehicular Homicide in Florida

Florida Statute Section 316.193(3) defines DUI manslaughter as when an individual operates a vehicle while intoxicated to the level of a DUI and causes the death of another person or unborn baby. In most cases, DUI manslaughter is considered a second-degree felony, which can result in up to 15 years in prison. In more extreme cases DUI manslaughter can be considered a first-degree felony, which would result in up to 30 years in prison.

Under Florida Statute Section 782.071, vehicular homicide is defined as when an individual operates a vehicle in a reckless manner and behavior that results in the death of another person. The penalties for vehicular homicide are the same as DUI manslaughter, and can also range from a second-degree to first-degree felony. The main difference is that the driver does not have to be under the influence of alcohol to be charged with vehicular homicide, and that the driver was operating in a reckless way.

To read more about both charges and their potential defenses, find out more from our informative page here.

2020 Supreme Court Ruling

In December 2020, the Florida Supreme Court announced that the “single homicide rule” would no longer apply. Up until this decision, the single homicide rule was used to prevent a defendant from being convicted of several criminal statutes for one single homicide.

The case that went before the court was State v. Maisonet-Maldonado where the defendant had been charged with both fleeing and eluding causing serious bodily harm or death, and vehicular manslaughter. Even though they are two different crimes under different Florida Statutes, they were applied to the same homicide. The court held that the single homicide rule violated the plain meaning of Florida Statute Section 775.021. The statute reads “whoever, in the course of one criminal transaction or episode, commits an act or acts which constitute one or more separate criminal offenses, upon conviction and adjudication of guilt, shall be sentenced separately for each criminal offense.” There are three exceptions permitted by the statute, those exceptions are;

  • Offenses which require identical elements of proof.
  • Offenses which are degrees of the same offense as provided by statute.
  • Offenses which are lesser offenses the statutory elements of which are subsumed by the greater offense.

For Dashner’s case, his defense attorney Ashley Minton argued that including an additional five counts of vehicular homicide would be grounds for double jeopardy, and therefore should be dismissed. In her argument, Minton pointed out that the crash and Dashner’s charges occurred and were filed over two years before the single homicide rule was overturned.

Minton claimed that to sentence her client on both DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide “would violate the ex post facto provisions of the United States and Florida Constitutions.” An ex post facto law is when there is a new or increased punishment imposed on an act or crime that occurred before a law went into effect.

Judge Makemson ultimately made his ruling in favor of Minton and the defense, which is why Dashner’s conviction and sentencing are only for DUI manslaughter. Minton told Judge Makenson during the proceeding, “At the time of filing, and the time of the offense, binding Florida case law held that it was settled that dual homicide convictions arising from a single death violated double jeopardy.”  

However after the ruling on June 28th, Assistant State Attorney Brandon White filed a notice with the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach to reverse the judge’s decision to throw out the five counts of vehicular homicide. During the hearing, White objected to Minton’s argument and warned, “if any of these charges are dismissed, it will be reversible error.”

When recently questioned about the ongoing case, White said that the Florida Supreme Court’s repeal of the single homicide rule proved that the previous court had gotten it wrong. “Defendants can now be convicted of both DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide,” White said. “That’s why we’re appealing, because the judge, despite this Supreme Court case, he dismissed our five counts of vehicular homicide.” White continued to say that if the defense appealed to the sentence and won, the state still wants to make sure they have all of the counts they originally charged Dashner with.

What’s to Come

Now that the notice has been filed with the Fourth District Court of Appeals in West Palm Beach, state prosecutors are hoping to restore the vehicular homicide charges filed against Dashner.

From the hearing on June 28th, 2022, the sentence Makemson announced for Dashner would be a term including 14 ½ years for each of the five victims and five DUI manslaughter charges. There will be credit for nearly 1,300 days. Since the terms will be consecutive, Dashner is expected to serve 72 ½ years in prison. He has already got time served for a lesser misdemeanor charge. The Attorney General’s Office will litigate the State’s appeal, which could take between six months to two years for a ruling.

“There’s no secret that I think he deserves life in prison,” White said. “So by getting those charges back, we could seek life in prison once again.” Dashner is still being held in the St. Lucie County Jail, and it is unclear when he will be transferred to a prison.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Both DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide are extremely serious crimes in Florida, with harsh penalties if convicted. In Dashner’s case, his sentence is currently over 70 years, since he will be sentenced to each of the people that died in the car wreck. Getting charged with a DUI or vehicular manslaughter may seem like there are no options, but working with a skilled DUI Manslaughter defense attorney is the best bet for building a defense for your case. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have represented clients all across the state and will guide you through the entire legal process. If you or a loved one have been accused of DUI manslaughter or vehicular homicide, get in contact with us today. For a free consultation call (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message.

Written by Karissa Key

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