A little more than a year ago, Florida's Supreme Court published amendments to the jury instructions for criminal cases. These changes were instituted with the goal of improving the clarity of the information given to juries and to make updates that are necessary due to advances in technology. The general changes apply to all criminal cases, but there were some significant amendments that directly or indirectly impact DUI cases. If you've been charged with DUI in Florida, it's important for both you and your Florida criminal defense attorney to be aware of the current state of the law.
The Importance of jury instructions in DUI cases
Florida criminal defense attorneys and judges are expected to be aware of the laws that apply in DUI cases because they are working with these laws every day. Jurors, on the other hand, usually know little to nothing about the specifics of the laws when they enter service. The way the law is explained to juries can have a substantial impact on verdicts and sentencing, and that's why jury instructions are so important. If a Judge improperly instructs the jury, it can be grounds for an appeal that could overturn a verdict, but the person may have to suffer through years of jail time before the appeal is decided. That is why it's so important for all concerned to review and understand changes to laws concerning jury instructions.
Aggravated fleeing or eluding is a required preliminary finding in DUI leaving the scene cases
The jury must now first consider whether the person committed aggravated fleeing or eluding before they can decide if a DUI hit and run defendant is guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt, of the death or injury of a victim. For the preliminary finding, the jury must determine whether the defendant ran away from the scene with awareness that an injured person required assistance. If there was awareness of the injury, the jury must determine whether the person intentionally failed to provide assistance or call the police. A person cannot be convicted of a DUI leaving the scene offense without this preliminary finding.
Changes in the definition of a vehicle
A vehicle is now defined as any device that is not driven on rails or tracks. This change broadens the definition of what is considered a vehicle. The amendments do not define mobile carriers or personal delivery services, so it will be up to the courts to interpret these clauses and provide precedent.
What are normal faculties?
The amendments clarify the definition of what normal faculties are. The term normal faculties appears in Florida Statute §316.1934. The new definition requires the jury to be instructed that normal faculties refer to a person's capacity to see, hear, walk, talk, estimate distances and respond to emergencies in an appropriate way. This ability to properly perform the regular functions of daily life includes safely driving a motor vehicle. The judge is not required to define impairment of normal faculties when the state's theory of guilt rests upon a chemical test exclusively, provided that the test results exceed 0.08 blood alcohol concentration. The definition of normal faculties, therefore, should be given only when the results of the chemical test are below 0.08 BAC, or the defendant refused to take a chemical test. It should be noted that for blood alcohol levels below 0.05, the jury must be instructed to presume that the driver was not under the influence, and the presumption can be rebutted with a determination that the driver was not operating with normal faculties.
The defense that the vehicle was not operable
Another important change is that a jury can now be instructed that the driver could not be driving under the influence if the vehicle was inoperable. In cases where the defendant is never actually driving the car, this defense can be used to show that the defendant had no actual control over the vehicle, because it was not capable of being started or driven. To persuade the judge to give this instruction, the judge must be convinced that it was not the defendant's actions that rendered the vehicle inoperable. This is not always an easy task because there can be facts that show that the mechanical problems alleged were intentionally caused by the defendant. The prosecutor can argue that the vehicle was operable prior to the police arriving, such as in the case of a car crash. This type of defense is most successful when employed by an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney.
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