The Civil and Criminal Implications of a Florida DUI

At The Pittman Firm, we work with our clients to get Florida accident victims compensation via state and federal courts. We are proud to serve the community as a Panama City injury law firm, including representing people injured by drunk drivers. While the civil and criminal court systems in the U.S. are separate and distinct, we believe it is useful for all residents to have a general understanding of both facets of the legal system as they relate to driving under the influence.

Driver Pleads Guilty, Sentenced to Twelve Years in DUI Manslaughter Case

The News Herald recently provided an update on a tragic accident that impacted our community back in mid-2012. On Thursday, Jimmy John Christo Jr. pled guilty to charges stemming from a crash that killed Joe Landers, the chief of police for Lowell, Arkansas, on April 27, 2012. Despite a request from Christo's lawyer for a lesser sentence, the judge sentenced Christo to 12 years in prison. The charges against Christo included two felonies, DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of a fatal accident, and three misdemeanors, two related to marijuana possession and one for leaving an accident scene involving property damage. At the time of the collision that killed Landers, Christo's blood alcohol level was almost 3 times the legal limit.

Types of Criminal DUI Charges in Florida

In Florida, like in all states since 2011, a driver over 21 years of age is guilty of DUI if he or she has a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher. The precise nature of the criminal charge can depend on both the driver's history and the results of the DUI incident. A few key types of criminal drunk driving violations in Florida include:

  • First-Time Offense – This applies to a driver who was not involved in an accident and has no prior DUIs. This is typically charged as a misdemeanor.
  • Second or Subsequent Offense – Penalties climb for drivers convicted of repeat DUI offenses.
  • DUI with Property Damage or Bodily Injury – These are enhanced charges with enhanced penalties.
  • Felony DUI (Without Accident) – The charge typically rises to a felony level if the driver is charged with a third DUI in a 10-year period or a total of four or more DUIs in a lifetime.
  • Felony DUI with Serious Bodily Injury, Manslaughter or Homicide – A DUI may also rise to the level of a felony when it results in serious bodily injury. A felony charge for DUI manslaughter applies when the impaired driver causes death. The charge rises to homicide if the driver acted recklessly. These charges can both be enhanced if the driver leaves the scene of the crash.

These different levels of DUI crimes carry increasing punishments including longer jail terms, harsher fines and financial penalties, and longer or permanent license suspension. In some cases, including for certain first offenses, a judge may also require a driver to install an ignition interlock for a period of time. This is a small unit that prevents a driver from starting a vehicle if it detects a set level of alcohol on a breath test.

Civil Law Firm for Panama City DUI Victims

As stated earlier in this entry and in prior blog discussions, the civil system is separate from the criminal courts. A victim injured by another driver may have a viable civil claim, even where the defendant's blood alcohol level is below the legal limit (or, of course, if a defendant was negligent despite being unimpaired), or the prosecutor declines to file criminal charges. While not necessary for a civil plaintiff to succeed, a criminal conviction can be useful in a victim's civil case, and it may also encourage a defendant to settle a civil claim. Importantly, the standard of proof is lower in civil courts, with a criminal conviction requiring evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt" while a civil verdict only requires a "preponderance of the evidence" (i.e. the majority of the evidence favors the plaintiff).

As a Panama City personal injury attorney, Wes Pittman understands the interplay between the criminal and civil system. He has devoted his career to civil practice in order to help injured victims (and the families of those who lost their lives) recover monetary damages that allow them to move forward after a tragic incident. Along with his team, he is committed to ensuring every client understands how the law applies to his/her unique case, and he is dedicated to guiding each client through the legal process. Please call to arrange a free consultation.

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