As we previously discussed in this blog, one element of the crime of vehicular manslaughter in Florida is reckless driving. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was driving “in a reckless manner” before the fatal accident. In this post, we will give a basic outline of what that means.

Willful or wanton disregard

Florida’s criminal code defines reckless driving as operating a vehicle “in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” The statute refers explicitly to fleeing a police officer in a motor vehicle as reckless driving. Otherwise, the evidence in each particular case will determine whether a driver’s actions showed “willful or wanton disregard” for public safety.

“Willful” in this context means intentional. “Wanton” means the defendant did not purposely hit someone, but understood the danger of their actions and did them anyway. Examples can include drinking and driving, and drag racing. This is different than first-degree murder, in which the accused must have acted intentionally.

Drag racing death called manslaughter

In a recent example, a Florida 18-year-old was charged with vehicular manslaughter after a collision with another man’s car. The other man died. Police say the two were racing on the highway “at an extreme rate of speed” before the crash. Prosecutors will likely try to prove that the defendant disregarded the safety of other motorists or pedestrians by driving too fast to be able to avoid an accident.

Vehicular manslaughter is generally charged as a first- or second-degree felony. You could face several years in prison and a large fine. However, the law does allow the judge to sentence the defendant to 120 hours of community service instead.

Your defense begins with a phone call

If you have been arrested, or if you are under investigation for vehicular homicide, don’t wait. Contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as you can. It is crucial that you speak to a knowledgeable lawyer before you talk to the police.