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DUI Manslaughter Defense

DUI Manslaughter Defense

Analysis of Postmortem Specimens

Strict Liability vs Causation

Florida had a strict liability DUI manslaughter statute until 1986.  All the state needed to prove was that the defendant was driving while impaired, was involved in a car accident and somebody died as a result of the car accident. It did not matter if the defendant was at fault for the accident. The legislature amended the DUI manslaughter statute in 1986 to include the element of causation.

Constitutional Issue with Strict Liability

The problem with the strict liability DUI manslaughter statute, in my opinion, was that the criminal culpability for a misdemeanor DUI and the criminal culpability for a DUI manslaughter was equal. A good argument could be made that the strictly at liability DUI manslaughter statute violated the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution as a cruel and unusual punishment. The current DUI manslaughter statute requires the state to prove the following: 1) driving under the influence; 2) an accident resulting in death and 3) and that the defendant was somehow at fault for the accident. The causation element must be proved independent of impairment.

Not My Fault Defense

Defending DUI manslaughter cases is difficult under any circumstances. It is human nature to look for somebody to blame when somebody dies before their time.  It is also human nature to not speak ill of the dead.  However, a legally viable defense to DUI manslaughter is that the decedent was at fault for the accident even though the defendant was driving drunk. The defendant would be guilty of DUI, but not DUI manslaughter in that scenario. The “not my fault defense” is a particularly difficult proposition to sell to a jury. In essence, you are saying to the jury “Yes, my client was driving drunk. Yes, my client was involved in a fatal car accident. However, the car accident was the dead guy’s fault.”

Theory vs. Reality

Nobody ever gets screwed by the law in a bar exam essay question.  However, this is not a law school exam question. Defense attorneys need to stop thinking about legal theory and focus on where the rubber meets the road.  Technically, the defense bears no burden of proof, but if this is your defense, you are going to need to show some solid evidence.  The jury is looking to blame somebody and there is a good chance that it is going to be the defendant and also you could get a Dui Lawyer Orlando to help you rest your case, so everything is easier.  Personally, I wouldn’t want to use this defense if it did not have a strong factual basis.  The risk of alienating the judge and jury by blaming the victim without any serious basis is too great.

Where to Find the Evidence

The autopsy report from the County Medical Examiner’s Office is a valuable source of information for the defense. Please note that the Medical Examiner’s Office may be called something different in another state.  Biological specimens, such as blood and urine, are preserved during the course of an autopsy. Toxicology testing is performed on the specimens. The results of the toxicology tests may show that the was under the influence of some sort of drug or alcohol at the time of the accident.

It should be relatively easy to establish whether the decedent was under the influence of a drug at the time of the accident. The postmortem blood sample will identify the drugs in his or her system at the time of death. Postmortem quantitative analysis of controlled substances in a decedent’s blood is another topic for another time. The biggest problem that defense attorneys run into when trying to evaluate the culpability of the decedent is the quantitative analysis of ethyl alcohol in the decedent’s blood.

No matter what methods are used, using the BAC at the time of autopsy in order to determine the decedent’s impairment at the time of the accident is an educated guess at best and gross speculation at worst.  The reason for the uncertainty is because alcohol can be produced or destroyed in between the time of death in the time of the autopsy. Autolysis is defined as the self digestion or destruction of an organism’s own cells through the action of its own enzymes. This begins to occur within hours of an individual’s death and his present throughout the vast majority of the vascular system within hours. The result is an environment which supports the endogenous production of alcohol. Multiple environmental factors contribute in determining if endogenous alcohol is produced or the extent of the endogenous production. The two most significant are typically time and temperature.

Postmortem BAC Testing is Never Ideal

We obviously want the BAC to be as accurate as possible. In an ideal world we would like to have a blood sample taken from the decedent as soon as possible after the accident and a second blood sample taken 45 minutes to an hour after the first blood sample with both being prior to death. If that is the case, we would probably not need to use the postmortem sample.

If possible, the first thing that the defense attorney should do is check the decedents medical records in order to determine if a BAC screen was ordered by a doctor at the hospital. You may have to request a subpoena duces tecum if the medical evidence from the hospital is not provided in discovery.  Sometimes individuals die on the scene or on their way to the hospital so this is not always available. If there is no antemortem sample, the defense attorney has to be able to assess the reliability of the autopsy sample.

Additional Reading

Postmortem analysis of biological specimens for ethyl alcohol is very complicated.  Try as I might, I cannot say it any better than it is said on this website: BAC Analysis in Postmortem Specimens. Another good website for forensic science in general is The Truth About Forensic Science

Remember that it is the State’s burden to prove that the defendant was at fault for the accident. If you can put on strong evidence that the decedent was impaired it is up to the State to rebut that.  There are simply too many variables for the toxicologist to credibly testify as to a definitive state of impairment at the time of the accident.

For more information, please contact us at:

The Law Offices of Michael A. Dye, PA, 1 East Broward Boulevard #700, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301 (954)990-0525 or
The Law Offices of Michael A. Dye, PA, 2 S Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33131 (305)459-3286

DUI Marijuana | Urinalysis Cross Examination

DUI Marijuana Cross Examination

Urine test positive for THC?

This last week I had the opportunity to “pinch hit” in a jury trial. My job was to cross examine the State’s 3 toxicology witnesses. If you just read the police reports, you would think that the prosecution was walking into a “slam dunk” type of a case. You had an individual who submitted to an Intoxilyzer 8000 breath test and blew a .074. While right under the legal limit of .08, the client purportedly admitted to having “just smoked a bowl of weed” when he was asked to submit to a urine test. So the State decided to take the case to trial based on the poor driving pattern, bad roadsides(defendant is physically handicapped) and low breath combined with an admission of drug use.  It was critical for the state to establish that the defendant was under the influence of marijuana at the time when he was driving the car since the breath was below a .08.  The state called 1 chemist and 2 forensic toxicologists in an effort to do just that.

Initially, I would like to thank Gary Ostrow and Melanie Batdorf for allowing me to co-counsel on this case.  They did a fantastic job handling the case and set me up for a great shot.  So I give all credit to them for the heavy lifting.

Witness I, Laboratory Chemist | Not an Expert Witness

The first witness for the State was an individual with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry with over 30 years of forensic science laboratory experience.  The state did not offer her as an expert.  She testified that she conducted a test on the urine sample provided by the defendant which is known as an “IA” or “immune assay” test.   On while being questioned on direct examination by the State she testified that the urine sample provided by the Defendant tested “positive for THC.”  THC is the principal psychoactive compound found in marijuana.  While this answer is not an outright lie, it is certainly not the “whole truth” that witnesses are expected to provide.

On cross examination, I immediately asked the witness if the test she performed detected the presence of THC, an active metabolite of THC or an inactive metabolite of THC.  The answer to this question is crucial because if the state can prove THC or an active metabolite, the chance of a guilty verdict increases substantially.  Only THC and its active(psychoactive) metabolites are controlled substances under Florida Statute Chapter 893.  Accordingly, if the test only detect an inactive metabolite of THC, it is insufficient to prove impairment.  The chemist with over 30 years laboratory experience stated that she did not know whether the test identified THC or another substance indicative or prior exposure to THC a/k/a as a metabolite.  When I began to question her about the difference between active and inactive metabolites, she stated that I would have to ask her supervisor because she didn’t know.  However, she did state that the manufacture’s box containing the test kit said THC on the outside of it.

It is disturbing that the chemist did not know what a “positive” result indicates.

Witness II, Forensic Chemist, Expert Witness

The second witness for the state was a forensic chemist who performed the GC/MS and TLC test on the urine sample.  Again, on direct examination, the forensic chemist testified that the defendant tested positive for cannabis in the TLC test only.  The state elicited more specific testimony wherein the witness stated that cannabis is the active substance in marijuana.

This witness was qualified as an expert witness.  Accordingly, the first thing that I did was go back and determine what substance was detected by the prior IA test performed by the first witness.  She testified that the IA test could not detect THC or any active metabolites in THC.  Rather, she testified that the substance detected by the IA test was 11-nor-9-Carboxy-THC which is an inactive metabolite indicating prior exposure to THC.  She went on to state that the TLC test was also incapable of detecting THC or active metabolites of THC.  She conceded that the TLC test simply confirmed the presence of the inactive metabolite 11-nor-9-Carboxy-THC.

There were two key points to this cross examination that put the nail in the state’s proverbial coffin.  First, she testified that there were no impairing substances detected by the laboratory.  Second, the witness testified that the laboratory has the ability to detect the presence of THC and the active metabolites of THC, but they did not and do not perform the test necessary to do so.

Witness III, Forensic Chemist, Supervisor, Expert Witness

The third witness was the supervisor who signed off on the toxicology report.  However, he did not perform any of the laboratory analysis.  From the laboratory perspective, he was not a very useful witness from the state.  However, having worked with him before, I knew that he was the most knowledgeable regarding the physical and mental effects of drug use.

Once again, this witness testified that the defendant tested positive for cannabis and did not differentiate between impairing substances and inactive substances.  On cross, he too admitted that there were no psychoactive substances detected in the sample.  He then went on to testify as to how to identify the impairing effects of cannabis and the proper use of a urine drug test in a DUI case.  Unfortunately for the state, none of the indications of cannabis impairment were present in the video.

Summary of the Testimony

  • All three witnesses for the state initially, on direct examination, testified that the defendant tested positive for an illegal, psychoactive chemical substance capable of causing impairment alone or in conjunction with alcohol;
  • All three state witnesses changed their testimony on cross examination.  One stated that she didn’t know what a positive result actually indicated.  The second two witnesses admitted that the defendant did not test positive for any illegal and/or psychoactive chemical substances;
  • There was nothing from the toxicology results that could indicate that the defendant was impaired by anything;
  • At the very most, the state proved that the defendant MAY have been exposed to THC within a 30 day period prior to the day he was arrested for DUI.

Every Lie Contains Some Truth

11-nor-9-Carboxy-THC. is an inactive secondary metabolite of THC.  When the inactive metabolite is detected in the urine, the is a high probability that an individual has been exposed to THC at some point prior to the test.  So did the defendant test positive for THC?  Obviously, the state’s answer is “kinda”, but my answer is no.  There is a very big difference between testing positive for THC and testing positive for an inactive secondary metabolite of THC.  One is a controlled substance under Chapter 893 Florida Statutes.  The other is not.  The controlled substance can be used as a basis for a conviction, the inactive metabolite cannot.  In this case, the urine test offered absolutely nothing indicative of impairment at the time the defendant was driving the vehicle.

Despite all of the above, state experts across the country continue to provide testimony that is misleading at best.  It is most certainly not the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Testimony of this sort is being offered in courtrooms across the country every single day and every single day innocent individuals are being convicted based on this type of evidence.

Other sources of information:

http://www.thetruthaboutforensicscience.com/

http://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/gcms-evidence-attacking-and-defending-68604/

For more information, please contact us at:

The Law Offices of Michael A. Dye, PA, 1 E Broward Blvd #700, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301 (954)990-0525 or
The Law Offices of Michael A. Dye, PA, 2 S Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33131 (305)459-3286

Florida DUI Laws | Changes are Needed

Florida DUI Laws

Florida DUI Laws | The War on Drugs

Florida DUI Laws & The War on Drugs

Florida DUI laws and the war on drugs are unnecessarily inextricably intertwined with one another.  Florida Statute 316.193 states:

“(1) A person is guilty of the offense of driving under the influence and is subject to punishment as provided in subsection (2) if the person is driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle within this state and:

(a) The person is under the influence of alcoholic beverages, any chemical substance set forth in s. 877.111, or any substance controlled under chapter 893, when affected to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired;”
Accordingly, an individual can only be convicted of DUI if that individual is impaired by 1) alcoholic beverages, 2) chemical substances enumerated in Florida Statute 877.111 or 3) controlled substances specifically listed in Chapter 893 Florida Statutes.

The Problem with Chapter 893

Florida Statute 316.193 prohibits driving while impaired by drugs by referencing Florida Statute Chapter 893.  The problem is that Chapter 893 Florida Statutes does not contain all psychoactive substances that can impair an individuals ability to drive a vehicle.  There are some glaring omissions in Chapter 893.  For example, Ambien, generic name zolpidem, is not a controlled substance under Florida Law.  Ambien is a federally controlled substance, but the Florida DUI statute does not specify substances controlled under federal law.  Also excluded from Florida’s DUI statute are over the counter substances such as dextromethorphan and diphenhydramine.  It is possible to be charged with other offenses while high on unscheduled substances.  You might be convicted of reckless driving or vehicular homicide, if somebody dies, but you cannot be convicted of DUI.

Where DUI and The War on Drugs Meet

In order for a substance to be a “DUI eligible” substance it must be a controlled substance under Chapter 893.  A substance must come to the attention of state lawmakers in order for a substance to be listed in Chapter 893.  Accordingly, Florida DUI laws regarding drugs are reactive.  Admittedly, there is no way to create a statute that will specifically enumerate all substances capable of impairment.  However, the law, as written, does not take into account the changing nature of the recreational pharmaceutical market.  The law addresses the issue on a substance by substance basis.  The law is ineffective against specific drugs until such time as that specific drug causes a problem.

Currently, the only way to make a substance “DUI eligible” is to place it on the controlled substance list.  However, reactively adding new substances to the controlled substance list is unnecessary if impairment wasn’t limited to controlled substances under Chapter 893.  Florida Statute 316.193 needs to be changed unless the legislature wants to go back to the drawing board every legislative session when a new concoction rolls out.

Changes Needed

No drastic changes are needed to change the current statute to a statute that evolves as legal and illegal drugs are developed and hit the market.  This is the change that I would propose:

“(1) A person is guilty of the offense of driving under the influence and is subject to punishment as provided in subsection (2) if the person is driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle within this state and:

(a) The person is under the influence of alcoholic beverages, any chemical substance set forth in s. 877.111, or any substance controlled under chapter 893 a controlled substance under Chapter 893 Florida Statutes or any other drug or psychoactive substance capable of impairing a person’s physical or mental faculties, or any combination of said substances, when affected to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired;”

The revision, as written above, eliminates the continuous need to amend Chapter 893 Florida Statutes in order to incorporate new substances into the DUI statute.  Not only is it efficient, but it also effectively closes the over the counter loop hole in Florida’s DUI Laws.

From a defense perspective, this really doesn’t change anything.  The state still has the burden to prove that there was a substance in the driver’s system and that the substance is capable of and did impair the defendant’s ability to drive a car.  This is not a metabolite DUI statute.  The state would still have to perform lab tests on blood and urine.  The belief that this would somehow permit a DUI conviction based on the unsubstantiated belief of a police officer does not have any merit.

For more information, please contact us at:

The Law Offices of Michael A. Dye, PA, 1 East Broward Boulevard #700, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301 (954)990-0525 or
The Law Offices of Michael A. Dye, PA, 2 S Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33131 (305)459-3286

Drugged Driving Florida 2015 | Prediction No Change

Florida DUI Legislation

Who is Writing the DUI Laws?

Drugged driving has rapidly become an issue that has a significant impact on public safety.  With 2015 just around the corner I am going to go out on a limb and make my drugged driving predictions for 2015.

My Conclusion:

At least one poorly drafted, overbroad and unconstitutional bill purportedly drafted to curb drugged driving will not make it through the legislature.  To the public, that means no change.

Here is what history has taught us:

Florida Statute 316.193 is Florida’s DUI statute. For at least the last three years, there has been at least 1 bill introduced in the Florida Legislature which has attempted to redefine the crime of DUI.  The majority of the proposed changes to Florida’s DUI statute have focused on drugged driving.

All 50 states have laws prohibiting driving while impaired by drugs. The differences between the various state statutes is a) which drugs and substances qualify as an “impairing substance” and b) the legal definition of “impairment.”  Two recent attempts, Florida Senate Bill 1810, 2012 & Florida Senate Bill 1118, 2014 would have changed the definition of impairment, for drugged driving cases, from an “actual impairment” standard to a “per se” definition of impairment.  A “per se” standard is also referred to as “metabolite DUI.”

Florida’s Current DUI Statute Requires Actual Impairment

Florida’s DUI statute permits an individual to be charged with and convicted for DUI under an alcohol or drug theory.  With regard to drug impairment, under the current statute, an individual’s ability to drive a car must actually be impaired by a controlled substance while driving in order for the state to secure a conviction for DUIThe recent attempts to change Florida to a per se DUI state would have made it a crime to have any detectable amount of a controlled substance, a controlled substance analogue or a metabolite of a controlled substance while driving.  The obvious benefit of creating a per se standard is that prosecutors do not have to prove actual impairment.  Under a per se statute, a person can be convicted of DUI even if he was completely sober at the time he was driving but remember that there is a cosmetic surgeon performing nose surgery in New Jersey to help you.  The number of people convicted of DUI will rise simply because a per se statute expands criminalizes what was previously lawful behavior.

The flawed logic behind a per se DUI statute is that a conviction equals justice.  However, does convicting a sober individual of DUI truly amount to justice?  How is the public good served by convicting a sober driver of DUI?  Who are we trying to protect from the menace of sober drivers?   Almost any politician would be glad to take responsibility for creating a law that lead to an increase in drugged driving convictions.

In a rush to be seen as “tough on crime” politicians throughout the country have proposed some of the worst legislation imaginable.  Florida Senate Bill 1810, 2012 is pretty much the “gold standard” for poorly drafted legislation.  The bill died in committee.  I do not believe that Senator Stephen Wise, who proposed Senate Bill 1810, is ignorant or that the bill was in any way malicious.  He recognized that there is a problem and tried to solve it.  By taking an extremely broad approach to the problem of drugged driving, Senator Wise drafted a bill that would have created some unintended and otherwise comical results.  Let’s look at some of the ridiculous results that would have arisen from a strict interpretation of Florida Senate Bill 1810 had it become law in 2012.

Proposed Statutory Amendments Expanding the Definition of Impairment:

FL Stat 316.193(1)(c): “The person has in the blood or urine a substance  identified as a controlled substance as defined in Schedule I of chapter 893 or the Federal Register, or one of its metabolites or analogs;”

Florida Stat 316.193(1)(d): “The person has in the blood or urine a substance identified as a controlled substance in Schedule II, Schedule III, or Schedule IV of chapter or the Federal Register, or one of its metabolites or analogs.”

Proposed Statutory Amendments Creating New Affirmative Defenses

FL Stat 316.193(15)(a): “If a person who is charged with violating subsection (1)(d) introduced into his or her body a controlled substance prescribed by a licensed health professional authorized to prescribe the controlled substance and if the person consumed the controlled substance in accordance with the health professional’s directions, the person is entitled to an affirmative defense against any allegation that the person violated subsection (1)(d). The introduction of a non-prescribed substance into the person’s body does not constitute an affirmative defense with respect to any non-prescribed substance.”

FL Stat 316.193(15)(b): Except for paragraph (a), the fact that a person charged with violating subsection (1) is or was legally entitled to introduce into the human body alcohol, a chemical substance, a controlled substance, a medication, a drug, or any other impairing substance does not constitute a defense against any charge of violating subsection (1).

Absurd Results Created by Poorly Drafted Legislation:

Absurd Result # 1 DUI Marijuana

A chemotherapy patient who smokes 1 puff of marijuana for medicinal purposes and drives 10 days later will be guilty of DUI.  Despite the fact he would no longer be impaired by marijuana, he would still be found guilty of a DUI because marijuana metabolites can be detected in biological fluid for up to one month.  The patient is not entitled to either of the above listed affirmative defenses because marijuana is a Schedule I Controlled Substance at the state and federal level.  If marijuana were to become legal in Florida, the same individual would still not have an affirmative defense due to marijuana remaining a Schedule I Controlled Substance at the federal level;

Absurd Result # 2 DUI Antidepressant

Wellbutrin is a substituted cathinone.  Cathinone is a schedule I controlled substance on both the state and federal levels.  Wellbutrin, a/k/a Bupropion, is an analogue of cathinone.  The proposed legislation does not define the term “analogue” as used in the proposed amendments to Florida Statute 316.193(c).  The affirmative defense of “legal prescribed use” is not available for analogues of Schedule I Controlled Substances.  According to the language in the proposed amendment, all individuals prescribed and taking Wellbutrin would be found guilty of DUI.  If the legislation were amended to specifically exclude bupropion or define “analogue” in accordance with the Federal Analog Act 21 U.S.C. 813 then taking Wellbutrin and driving would not be illegal.  Nevertheless, these amendments were never made.

Absurd Result # 3 DUI Anabolic Steroids

Professional athletes and gym rats beware!  Steroids are Schedule III Controlled Substances on both the state and federal level.  According to the proposed amendment, you would be convicted of DUI for taking steroids if you get caught driving a car.  If you use Nandrolone Undecanoate a/k/a Deca Durabolin or “Deca”, you should be prepared to take the bus for a long time as “Deca” can be detected in your biological fluids for up to  17 or 18 months after last use.

Absurd Result # 4 DUI Testicles

Adult males naturally produce testosterone.  Accordingly, all men will have a certain level of testosterone in their system.  Testosterone is a Schedule III controlled substance and the amendment proposed by Senator Wise made no distinction between endogenous testosterone production as opposed to “supplementing” your natural testosterone levels with external sources.  All men with healthy, functioning testicles have testosterone in their system 100% of the time.  Accordingly, a strict construction of the proposed amendment would result in all men with functioning testicles being guilty of DUI whenever they get behind the wheel of a car.

Absurd Result # 5 DUI’s for Everybody

It also bears mentioning that, on the average, women naturally produce testosterone at around 1/7 the rate of men.  Accordingly, all normal healthy women will have some testosterone in their system 100% of the time.  Since the amendment made no distinction between endogenous testosterone or illegally obtained testosterone, all normal, healthy women would be guilty of DUI.

Absurd Conclusion: Anybody who operates a motor vehicle on the streets or highways of the State of Florida is guilty of DUI.

Do These Results Seem Absurd to You?

I admit that the hypotheticals #4 and #5 above are a tad on the “extreme” side.  However, that is the plain language of the statute.  The results are absurd.  Yet, that is what is on the horizon.  Approximately 1/3 of all states have passed per se DUI statutes.  These statutes are written in such a way as to criminalize innocent and socially acceptable conduct.  Different states have enacted different versions of per se statutes and some drugged driving laws are better than others. For example, some states exclude specific commonly abused illegal drugs. Some limit the specimens that can be collected (urine, oral fluid, blood) or specify specific cut-off levels.

The Solution is Education

Educating younger drivers on the dangers of drugged driving is only 1/2 of the equation.  However, there will be no meaningful change until the law makers educate themselves.  The proposed legislation that I listed above shows exactly how out of touch politicians are with the problems faced in today’s society.  How does criminalizing driving with high testosterone levels help society?  There will be no change until the law makers can accurately identify the problem.

Accordingly, I stand by my conclusion.  The legislature will attempt to fix a problem which they cannot identify by proposing more dumb laws.  Unfortunately, sometimes those dumb ideas pass and become law.

My Offer

If any member of the Florida Legislature reads this and would like my assistance drafting a tough, effective and reasonable drugged driving statute, contact me and I will help you draft it from A to Z.

For additional information, please contact

The Law Offices of Michael A. Dye, PA, 1 East Broward Boulevard #700, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301 (954)990-0525 or
The Law Offices of Michael A. Dye, PA, 2 S Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33131 (305)459-3286