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DUI Manslaughter Charges in Panama City

An ordinary night out can turn catastrophic in an instant when a car crash results in the death of another person. As law enforcement in Panama City arrive to investigate the details of the collision, they will try to determine if the responsible driver was under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances. A person who is caught drunk driving, and such driving as killed another person or unborn child, can be charged with DUI manslaughter.

The repercussions for a DUI manslaughter conviction are severe, marked by harsh penalties and mandatory minimum sentences that can drastically alter your future. The best thing you can do after being alleged of this crime is securing a defense attorney who is experienced in DUI cases.

Defense Attorney for Drunk Driving in Panama City, FL

Were you or a loved one in Panama City recently accused of a drunk driving incident that resulted in the death of another person? You should know that this is a serious offense. You should try to secure legal representation as soon as possible.

The defense attorneys with Pumphrey Law have a deep understanding of Florida’s DUI laws and can help defend you against a conviction in Bay County. Call our office at (850) 681-7777 or send us an online message for a free case evaluation. Our firm represents those in need of criminal defense in Leon County, Bay County, Liberty County, Jefferson County, and the surrounding areas of North Florida.

What is Considered DUI in Panama City?

Law enforcement in Panama City follow the same definition of drunk driving as codified under Florida Statute Section 316.193. A person is guilty of driving under the influence (DUI) if they are caught driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle and:

  • Has a breath- or blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or higher; or
  • Has their normal faculties impaired due to alcohol or controlled substances.

Florida law defines “normal faculties” as any of the following abilities:

  • To see;
  • To hear;
  • To walk;
  • To judge distances;
  • To operate an automobile;
  • To make judgements;
  • To act in emergency situations; and
  • To normally perform the mental and physical acts of our daily lives.

If you’re wondering how police can tell whether a person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, there are a few different methods. This can include field sobriety tests and breath and blood alcohol analyses.

As provided on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE)’s website, Florida’s Alcohol Testing Program has exclusive responsibility for:

  1. The regulation of the operation, inspection, and registration of breath test instruments;
  2. The regulation of the individuals who operate and inspect evidentiary breath test instruments; and
  3. The regulation of blood analysts who conduct blood alcohol testing.

DUI Manslaughter

Florida Statute Section 316.193(3)(3) states that any person who commits a DUI offense and by such operation, causes or contributes to the death of any human being or unborn child, can be charged with DUI manslaughter.

Florida law considers an “unborn child” as a member of the Homo sapiens species at any stage of the development while inside the womb.

Examples of DUI manslaughter include:

  • A person driving their vehicle after consuming multiple alcoholic drinks loses control of the wheel due to their impaired abilities, and crashes into another vehicle head-on, resulting in the death of the other driver;
  • A person who has lost consciousness due to their alcohol consumption tries to sleep it off in their car, not realizing they put the vehicle into neutral. The car starts moving out of its parked spot and hits a pedestrian, resulting in their death; and
  • A person is speeding home from their local bar while drunk, not realizing there is a cyclist on the side of the road. The drunk driver runs over the pedestrian, not realizing it was a pregnant woman. The driver flees without waiting for police officers or to help the woman or her unborn child.

The Florida Bar’s Criminal Jury Instructions provide that a State attorney must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction of DUI manslaughter:

  1. The defendant drove or was in actual physical control of a vehicle;
  2. While driving or in actual physical control of the vehicle, the defendant either:
    1. Was under the influence of alcohol, a chemical substance, or a controlled substance to the extent that their normal faculties were impaired; or
    2. Had a blood- or breath-alcohol level of 0.08 or more of alcohol; and
  3. As a result of operating the vehicle, the defendant caused or contributed to the death of another person or an unborn child.

Penalties for DUI Manslaughter

DUI manslaughter is automatically considered a felony offense. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, a person accused of DUI manslaughter in Panama City faces a second- or first-degree felony.

A standard DUI manslaughter offense is charged as a second-degree felony. If your case results in a conviction you could face:

  • Up to a $10,000 fine; and
  • Up to 15 years in prison.

However, if you engaged in a DUI-related car accident where you knew or should have known that the crash occurred and you failed to remain at the scene to provide your information and render aid, you face a first-degree felony. If your case results in a conviction you could face:

  • Up to a $10,000 fine; and
  • Up to 30 years in prison.

In addition to the fines and prison sentence, a defendant convicted of DUI manslaughter can also face these additional penalties:

  • Community service;
  • Probation;
  • Mandatory alcohol and substance abuse counseling; and
  • Driver’s license revocation.

DUI manslaughter is ranked as a Level 8 offense under Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code. That means a defendant convicted of DUI manslaughter will be given a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 124 ½ months of incarceration. In other words, a person convicted of DUI manslaughter will be sentenced to a mandatory four-year imprisonment, which can go up to a maximum of 15 to 30 years, depending on the circumstances and judge’s discretion.

If you’ve recently been arrested and are facing the potential penalties for DUI manslaughter in Panama City, contact Pumphrey Law Firm. Our defense attorneys can review your case details during a free consultation.

Enhanced Penalties for Certain DUI Cases

The penalties for a DUI manslaughter defendant can be enhanced in certain situations. Under Florida Statute Section 316.193(4), any person convicted of a DUI offense who either has a blood- or breath-alcohol level of 0.15 or higher, or who was accompanied by a minor (under 18) at the time of the incident can be sentenced to the following enhanced fines and imprisonment:

  • First conviction – Fines between $1,000 and $2,000 and nine months in prison
  • Second conviction – Fines between $2,000 and $4,000 and 12 months in prison; and
  • Third or subsequent conviction – Fines no less than $4,000

The convicted DUI defendant would also be required to have an ignition interlock device (IID) for a period of six months for the first conviction or for two consecutive years for a second conviction.

Example DUI Manslaughter Cases in Panama City

The following two cases provide examples of DUI manslaughter in Panama City, FL:

October 2017 The Panama City Beach Police responded to a motorcycle accident involving two individuals at the intersection of Clara Avenue and State Road 392. A press release by the 14th Judicial Circuit State Attorney explained that Dylan Morris was traveling north on his motorcycle when he ran through a stop sign. Morris collided with another motorcyclist driving westbound. Both drivers were thrown across the pavement from the collision. The other motorcyclist, Joaquin Carmargo, was in town celebrating his 55th He sustained life-threatening injuries and was transported to a nearby hospital where he later passed from the extent of the injuries.

Panama City Beach Police Officer Blake Brooks reported that Morris had “bloodshot and glassy” eyes and that he had been slurring his words. Morris later admitted to police post-Miranda that he had been drinking earlier that day. Morris had a blood-alcohol content of 0.127 at the time of the collision and was charged with DUI manslaughter.

In September 2019, Circuit Judge Ana Maria Garcia accepted Morris’ plea deal for DUI manslaughter and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

February 2021A Panama City Beach native was charged with DUI manslaughter after a deadly crash occurred on Highway 98 in Walton County, Florida. The local report indicated that Lawrence Breton Cowart, 32, was driving his Porsche more than 20 miles over the legal limit when he crashed into the back of a Chevrolet truck. The 59-year-old driver in the Chevrolet sustained life-threatening injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene. Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) indicated that Cowart appeared under the influence at the time of the collision. Investigators found that Cowart’s blood-alcohol level was 0.140, along with testing positive for traces of Benzodiazepines. Further investigation revealed that he was driving at 90MPH in a 65MPH zone. Cowart was arrested and charged with DUI manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter. Under the terms of his plea agreement, Cowart was sentenced in June 2023 to four years in prison, followed by 10 years of probation. He was also sentenced to pay $350,000 in restitution.

Potential Defenses to DUI Manslaughter

The aftermath of a car accident will leave any person frazzled. When a motor vehicle collision results in the death of another person, the stakes become extremely high. A person charged with DUI manslaughter in Panama City may still have several defense strategies available to them, such as:

  • Improper field sobriety tests;
  • Insufficient probable cause;
  • Inadmissible breath test;
  • DUI incident did not result in the death of another person; or
  • Plea bargain for a lesser charge such as reckless driving.

There may be defenses available to you that are not listed above. The important thing to do at this time is to connect with an established defense attorney who can accurately evaluate your case. Pumphrey Law Firm provides free consultations when you call us at (850) 681-7777.

Contact a DUI Manslaughter Defense Lawyer at Pumphrey Law Firm

If you’ve found yourself in a Panama City jail cell due to an alleged DUI incident, make your top priority finding legal representation. Drunk driving cases are prosecuted harshly in the state of Florida, especially when the incident involves casualties. Hiring a Panama City criminal defense attorney experienced in DUI and manslaughter cases is the best strategy to identify defenses to fight off a criminal conviction.

Pumphrey Law Firm can assist in the discovery process by investigating all the evidence against you. We can refer to the methods used by the arresting officers to determine if any of the assessments for DUI were faulty or conducted incorrectly. If your case goes to trial in Bay County, we will do our absolute best in defending you before the jury and seeking the best outcome for your case. Contact our office today at (850) 681-7777 or by filling out our online form. We’re ready to get started on your DUI manslaughter case today.

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