Toxicology Questions in Florida DUI Cases

A recent fatal DUI accident in North Florida is an unfortunate reminder of the risks that come with getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. The criminal conviction of a driver involved in the accident also shines a light on some of the legal issues related to proving impairment in cases in which a driver is allegedly under the influence of drugs. That’s because the science of toxicology hasn’t advanced to the point where experts can definitively say that a person was legally impaired at the time of a crash.Defendant was charged with driving under the influence causing death, driving under the influence causing serious personal injury and driving under the influence causing property damage, stemming from an accident in which a 13-year-old child was killed. On the day in question, Defendant was fresh off of a stint in county jail. He allegedly was involved in two accidents. First, Defendant allegedly sped off after hitting a vehicle. The driver of that vehicle chased after Defendant to get his license plate number. During the chase, Defendant purportedly ran a stop sign, hit a guardrail and then slammed into another car. The child was killed in the second collision.

Blood tests showed that Defendant was under the influence of amphetamine and methamphetamine at the time of the crash. Prosecutors at trial called a University of Florida College of Medicine toxicology professor as an expert witness. They wanted the professor to weigh in on whether Defendant was actually impaired at the time of the collision. Defendant’s attorney objected, however, arguing that the professor didn’t qualify as an expert. Specifically, the lawyer argued that the professor wouldn’t be able to determine based on the amount of the drugs in Defendant’s system and the circumstances of the accident whether Defendant was impaired.

The professor himself admitted that there is no set amount of the drugs that could conclusively cause impairment. But he said the facts were consistent with impairment by methamphetamine. The trial judge allowed the professor to testify and Defendant was eventually convicted. He was sentenced to several years in prison.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the First District said the trial judge didn’t abuse his discretion by allowing the professor to offer is expert opinion.

“The expert witness relied on ample data—‘more than a century’ of medical data and observation—regarding the impact of methamphetamine on human beings,” the court observed. “Further, the expert witness’ opinion was based on sufficient facts or data, as the blood tests, crash data, lay testimony, and other evidence provided that foundation.”

If you or a loved one has been charged with DUI or other crimes in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced attorney. Tampa criminal defense lawyer Will Hanlon is a seasoned attorney who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (813) 228-7095 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case. 

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