Recent Sentencing for Vehicular Homicide Cases

April 9, 2024 Criminal Defense, Violent Crimes

The state of Florida has several different offenses when it comes to negligent driving. One of the more severe forms of careless driving is when a collision occurs, and someone dies. When this happens, the person responsible for the crash can be charged with vehicular homicide.

Vehicular homicide is ranked as a Level 7 offense under the Florida Criminal Punishment Code. That means absent grounds for a downward departure, the judge must sentence the defendant to a minimum of 9¼ in prison, or the statutory maximum of 15 years in prison.

What is the realistic sentence, then, for a person recently convicted of vehicular homicide? These cases will often depend on the victim impact statements, the defendant’s statement or apology, as well as the evidence from the incident. This page will differentiate between reckless driving, DUI manslaughter, and vehicular homicide. We will also provide two example cases of people in Florida recently convicted of vehicular homicide.

How Does Vehicular Homicide Differ from DUI/Reckless Driving?

In Florida, Vehicular HomicideDUI Manslaughter, and Reckless Driving are all serious offenses, but they differ in their definitions and penalties:

  1. Reckless driving – When a person is accused of operating a vehicle with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others. Considered a second-degree misdemeanor in Florida.
  2. DUI Manslaughter – When a person is accused of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which results in the death of another person or unborn child. Considered a second-degree felony, or a first-degree felony if the suspect fails to stop and provide their information and render aid.
  3. Vehicular Homicide – When a person is accused of driving recklessly that results in the death of another person or unborn child. Considered a second-degree felony, or a first-degree felony if the suspect fails to stop and provide their information and render aid.

While all three offenses surround negligent driving, reckless driving can be charged without an accident occurring. On the other hand, both DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide imply that a victim has died because of the collision. The main difference between vehicular homicide and DUI manslaughter is the element of being under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances.

Example Cases in Florida

The following provides details from two recent vehicular homicide cases in Florida:

  • December 2023 A Tallahassee local pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide for a deadly crash that occurred in 2021. According to the local report, 33-year-old Jennifer Gallo was alleged to have driven U.S. 319 in the opposite direction around 5am on September 25, 2021. Gallo’s wrong-way vehicle ended up colliding in a head-on crash with Nora Cooney, who died in the crash. In December 2023, Gallo pleaded guilty to the first-degree vehicular homicide charge. It’s worth noting that she had a previous DUI incident in 2017 but agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement to attend DUI classes. Gallo was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
  • March 2024 A vehicular homicide suspect was found guilty on all charges in January, resulting in her most recent sentence in a St. Lucie County courtroom. According to the local report, the accident took place in September 2021 when 10-year-old Yaceny Berenice Rodriguez-Gonzalez was attempting to cross the street to board her school bus. At the time, the school bus was stopped with its red lights flashing and its stop sign extended. As the young girl was crossing the street, a white sedan heading northbound went around the bus and hit the girl, then taking off. The responding officers found Rodriguez-Gonzalez in a field, who later died in the hospital from her injuries. The driver of the white sedan, Arianna Colon, claimed that she did not see the bus lights or any children around the stopped bus, so she assumed she had only hit a pothole. She further addressed that she didn’t stop the vehicle or even attempt to break, “because she didn’t see anything in front of her that would cause her to do so.” The maximum sentence Colon could have received was 45 years. However, she was recently sentenced to 12 years in prison. Colon’s defense attorney, Jerome Stone, claimed that her sentence was fair:

“I thought it was a fair sentence. It was the bottom of the guidelines. She has not had any prior criminal history, and the judge did what I though was fair based on the sentencing guidelines and we can accept that. There was no malicious intent on her part. It was an accident. If she would have stopped, she wouldn’t have received any jail time. It would’ve been a civil case. There was nothing here that justifies that she should receive the maximum.”

Importance of Hiring Quality Legal Defense

When a person in Florida is alleged to have operated a vehicle in a negligent or dangerous manner, it’s worth considering the option of hiring legal counsel. Criminal charges for a reckless driving charge already come with stiff penalties. If you were involved in an accident where someone has died, you should contact a defense attorney as soon as possible.

An experienced lawyer can review the details of the collision and determine which steps should be taken to formulate the best plan of defense. Pumphrey Law may advise using an expert witness, challenge the methods the responding law enforcement officers used, or analyzing any blood-alcohol tests taken after the crash.

When it comes to cases involving fatal motor vehicle crashes, the prosecution typically allows the family and friends of the deceased person to give their impact statements during trial. Due to the nature of these offenses, it is common for the State to push for the harshest of penalties for a conviction. To avoid the life-altering implications of a criminal conviction, hire the attorneys with Pumphrey Law to represent your case.

Contact the Defense Team with Pumphrey Law Firm

If you or someone you care about is facing a criminal charge for vehicular homicide, you should reach out and speak to an attorney as soon as possible. There may be defense avenues available to you. Our office provides free consultations when you contact our office at (850) 681-7777 or send us a message through our site.

Pumphrey Law Firm represents individuals in need of criminal defense in Gadsden County, Liberty County, Wakulla County, Jefferson County, and the surrounding areas of Florida’s Panhandle.

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