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The Florida Bar

Multiple DUI Counts Based on Same Episode

Fort Lauderdale DUI Attorneys know better than anyone that some drivers have very bad luck. They may have no prior DUI charges and suddenly be accused of several different DUI offenses as a result of one episode. This can happen where an accident results in injury to several people and property damage to several cars. The State may allege a separate crime for each victim. As explained, the validity of such charges is determined by legislative intent pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 775.021(4).

For years district court rulings conflicted on whether the constitutions and statutes permit multiple convictions under such circumstances. An early decision upheld two convictions and sentences for DUI with serious bodily injury based on injury to two people in one accident. Similarly, the court upheld four convictions for DUI with property damage where four vehicles were involved in one accident.

The Florida Supreme Court cast doubt on these decisions in Boutwell v. State. In that case, the Court ruled that the defendant could be convicted of only one charge of driving on a suspended license causing an accident resulting in serious injuries in violation of Fla. Stat. § 322.34(3), despite the fact that four people suffered serious bodily injury in the accident. Two district courts construed Boutwell as barring multiple convictions where one accident results in multiple victims. Another district court ruled to the contrary and permitted multiple DUI convictions. The Florida Supreme Court resolved this conflict by holding that a defendant may be properly convicted of multiple DUI offenses arising out of one event where there are multiple victims. Florida courts have subsequently applied this ruling.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Melbourne v. State should be considered carefully to avoid confusion. The Court explained the difference between Boutwell, involving driving with a suspended license causing an accident with multiple deaths or injuries, and Melbourne, involving DUI causing an accident with multiple deaths or injuries. In the former, multiple prosecutions were impermissible because the link between driving with a suspended license and the injury is indirect and the driving with a suspended license did not in any way cause the defendant’s aberrant driving. In the latter, the link between DUI and the injury was direct and the DUI caused the defendant’s unsafe driving. The distinction is further illustrated by cases holding that there can only be one conviction for leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death or injury no matter how many people are killed or injured in the accident. The absence of a link between the statutory violation of leaving the scene and the death and injuries, bars multiple convictions just as in Boutwell.

Simple DUI is treated differently. Melbourne and subsequent district court cases hold that multiple convictions for simple DUI based on multiple victims are impermissible. The court considered this situation where the defendant was charged with two DUIs with serious bodily injury based on two victims, but was convicted of only the lesser included DUI on each count. The appellate court concluded that there could be only one simple DUI conviction for the entire episode. Similarly, the court applied the same rationale to find a double jeopardy violation where there were three victims, but the state opted to charge the defendant with three identical counts of felony DUI based on prior DUI convictions.

As the previous discussion suggests, legislative intent plays an extremely important role in determining whether the defendant can be convicted of more than one charge based on one episode. That is true even where there are multiple victims of one bad act. In State v. Mitchell, the court considered whether one continuous episode of fleeing and eluding can result in multiple charges based on the number of officers. The court ruled that the legislature intended to allow multiple charges in such cases. However, in Innis v. State, the court reached a different conclusion where two officers were in one vehicle during a chase rather than being in multiple vehicles as in Mitchell. In Innis, the court concluded that there was no legislative intent to allow separate charges where two officers were in one car.

In Mitchell, the court relied on the Grappin/Watts “a/any test.” That test provides:

when a question arises regarding the unit of prosecution intended by the legislature in a particular criminal statute, use of the article “a” will result in the conclusion that the legislature clearly intended that the commission of multiple proscribed acts in the course of a single episode be prosecuted as discrete offenses; whereas use of the article “any” will result in the conclusion that the statute is ambiguous as to legislative intent and, as a result, in application of the rule of lenity to prohibit more than one prosecution.

But in Bautista v. State, the Florida Supreme Court clarified the nature of the “a/any test.” The Court reconciled that test with the ruling in Melbourne v. State, where the Court ruled that multiple convictions for multiple deaths arising out of one accident, did not violate the double jeopardy clause. The Melbourne Court reached that conclusion without comment on the “a/any test,” which on its face would not permit multiple convictions because the statute refers to “[t]he death of any human being.”

In Bautista, the Court concluded that the “a/any” test is not inconsistent with its ruling in Melbourne, and multiple convictions for multiple deaths in DUI Manslaughter cases are permissible. In reaching that conclusion, the Court explained that the “a/any test” is not “a simple syntactical rule” to be applied “in isolation from the context in which the test arose.” Instead, it is one tool to be used with other rules of statutory construction to determine “the Legislature’s intended unit of prosecution.” The Court went on to say:

Grappin and its progeny should not be interpreted to suggest that the intended unit of prosecution is automatically rendered ambiguous whenever a statute uses the word “any.” In the DUI manslaughter statute, the intent of the Legislature is clear. And since our purpose in construing a statutory provision is to give effect to legislative intent, the unit of prosecution in DUI manslaughter cases must be the number of victims killed—not the number of DUI traffic violations. The a/any test should not be applied to create ambiguity where none exists and then to reach a result contrary to clear legislative intent.

If you have been charged with a DUI in Fort Lauderdale, seek the advice of a qualified Broward County DUI Attorney.

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