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Florida Supreme Court Settles Circuit Split, Holding Dual DUI Convictions Regarding Single Victim in Single Incident Violates Double Jeopardy

by David M. Reutter

The Supreme Court of Florida held dual convictions for DUI causing damage to property or person – § 316.193(3)(c)(1), Florida Statutes – and DUI causing serious injury – § 316.193(3)(c)(2), Florida Statutes – as to the same victim arising from a single episode violates the prohibition against double jeopardy.

The Court’s opinion was issued in response to a certified question by the Court of Appeal for Florida’s Third District, which also affirmed the convictions for the two DUI offenses.

In 2014, Robert Velazco drove his pickup truck through a red light and collided with a scooter operated by Alexander Concepción Rodas, who sustained serious injuries and his scooter was damaged. Velazco fled the scene, but the police soon tracked him to his home. A breath test revealed he was over the legal limit for alcohol to drive and a urine sample tested positive for cocaine.

Velazco was charged with leaving the scene of a crash involving serious injury, DUI causing series bodily injury, DUI causing damage to property or person, and failure to obey a traffic control device. He proceeded to trial and was found guilty as charged and sentenced accordingly. On appeal, Velazco argued his dual DUI convictions violate the prohibition against double jeopardy. The Third District Court of Appeal disagreed and held the two offenses are not degree-variant offenses and not aggravated forms of the basic DUI offense because the statute doesn’t refer to “degree” and provides for separate penalties for distinct, non-overlapping harms. In affirming the convictions, it certified direct conflict with the holding in Anguille v. State, 243 So.3d 410 (Fla. 4th DCA 2018). The Florida Supreme Court accepted jurisdiction to resolve the inter-district conflict.

The Court began its analysis by noting that it is “well-settled that multiple convictions arising from a single violation of the DUI statute do not violate double jeopardy where injury results to several persons.” See Melbourne v. State, 679 So.2d 758 (Fla. 1996). Velazco’s convictions, however, arise out of a single incident to a single individual. Therefore, he argued that his dual DUI convictions are impermissible because they are “[o]ffenses which are the degrees of the same offense as provided by statute.” § 775.021(4)(b)(2).

The Court said it has “explained that a statute need not use the word ‘degree’ for the degree-variant exception to apply.” Valdes v. State, 3 So.3d 1067 (Fla. 2009). It added: “Since Valdes, this Court’s analysis of whether two offenses are degree variants of each other under 775.021(4)(b)2. has not focused on whether the offenses cause separate, distinct, non-overlapping harms…. Instead, we have considered factors such as whether the offenses are located in the same statute, share a common name, contain similar formal elements, and criminalize similar conduct.”

The dual offenses of DUI causing damage to property or person and DUI causing serious injury are both located in the DUI statute, § 316.193. “The statutory language and framework of the DUI statute evinces a degree relationship,” the Court stated. It pointed to § 316.193(3), which “contains several provisions detailing certain aggravating conduct with corresponding increases in punishment as the harm caused by the DUI driver increases.”

Further, “the two offenses contain nearly identical elements,” the Court wrote. “The line difference between the two offenses . . . is the final aggravating conduct – the seriousness of the resulting harm.” Section 316.193 “most clearly establishes that the instant offenses meet the degree-variant exception and compels the conclusion that felony DUI serious bodily injury and [misdemeanor] DUI bodily injury/property damage are merely aggravated forms of the basic DUI offense,” the Court concluded. Thus, the Court held that “dual convictions for both offenses as to the same victim arising from a single episode violate the prohibition against double jeopardy.”

Accordingly, the Court quashed the decision of the Third Circuit Court of Appeal, approved the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision in Anguille to the extent it is consistent with the Court’s opinion, and remanded for further proceedings. See: Velazco v. State, 342 S.3d 614 (Fla. 2022). 

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