In Stracar v. State, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal explains that a vehicular homicide conviction requires proof that a driver was reckless, not just negligent, and says that evidence of depressants in the driver’s blood at the time of a crash isn’t enough.
Ms. Stracar was involved in a car accident in which the vehicle she was driving left the roadway and traveled up along an adjacent sidewalk before crossing another divided roadway and striking a sign. According to the trial court, the impact with the sign launched the car in the air over the median of an intersecting street where it landed on another automobile, crushing and killing the two people inside. Stracar traveled roughly 500 feet at about 40 miles an hour after originally leaving the roadway, the trial court said. She was uninjured, but had to be removed from the roof of her car because of damage to it following the crash.
There was no evidence showing that Stracar tried to brake after leaving the roadway, nor that she tried to avoid the collision. Weather conditions were good, the road was dry and there were no curves in the area of the roadway where the accident began. At a local hospital, tests showed that Stracar’s blood alcohol content was 0.02 percent, well below the 0.08 percent legal limit. Tests also revealed that Stracar had THC in her system from some prior use, as well as Xanax at what the court called a “therapeutic level” and oxycodone at a “potentially therapeutic level.”
Stracar was charged with DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide. A jury convicted her of the latter charge and the trial court sentenced her to 10 years in prison after denying Stracar’s motion for acquittal. The trial judge said “it was difficult to conceive how such driving could be considered anything but reckless,” which is one of the elements that must be proved for a vehicular homicide conviction.
The Fourth District reversed the decision on appeal, however, finding that the evidence wasn’t sufficient to support a conviction. “Vehicular homicide is the killing of a human being . . . caused 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,” the appeals court explained. “Recklessness,” meanwhile, requires a showing that the driver acted with “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property,” according to the court.
Here, the court found that while Stracar’s actions were clearly negligent, the evidence didn’t show that they rose to the level of recklessness. The drug test results showing that she had depressants in her system at the time of the crash wasn’t enough alone to prove recklessness, the court said, and there was no evidence showing that she acted in a “knowing and purposeful” manner or with conscious disregard for the consequences. As a result, the appeals court remanded the case back to the trial court with instructions to enter an acquittal for Stracar.
If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, it is imperative to have a qualified, experienced attorney representing you. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine have significant experience representing clients in a wide variety of criminal cases, from DUI and vehicular homicide to drug and weapons charges. From our offices in Ft. Lauderdale, we represent clients throughout the region, including in Hialeah, Pompano Beach and Coral Springs.
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