Court rules there is no double jeopardy violation for the driver in an accident involving multiple victims

-Summary by Anna Lusk

On March 17th, the Supreme Court of Florida considered State v. Deontae Palinski Johnson and whether a driver who caused a single car accident with multiple victims could be subject to multiple punishments under the law for each victim. The Supreme Court ruled that the driver may be subject to multiple punishments.

The driver in this case was involved in a three-car crash that resulted in the death of one person and injuries to three others. The driver fled the crash without fulfilling his lawful duty to give the injured parties reasonable assistance. In prosecuting this driver, the Court needed to ensure that it would not be violating the Double Jeopardy Clause for punishing him on behalf of all the victims of the car crash. The Double Jeopardy Clause of the U.S. Constitution states that an accused person may not be tried again in court after he has already been acquitted, convicted, or punished. To determine whether double jeopardy could be present in this case by punishing the driver for all the victims, the Court turned to the statute at issue. Florida Statute section 316.027 addresses punishments for drivers involved in car crashes. The Supreme Court notes several hints in the statute which allude that the driver should be punished based on how the car crash affected each individual victim. First, the Court notes that the statute is broken up into three separate paragraphs which describe punishments based on the victims’ injuries. Second, the Court notes that it believes the statute is victim-centric because of the Legislatures’ choice to connect the criminal prohibitions in 316.027 to the driver’s compliance with section 316.062 (states that a driver must give reasonable assistance to victims in car crashes) shows that the statute has a victim-centered focus. Third, the Court notes that a portion of section 316.027 states that if a driver violates the statute, the driver must make restitution to the victim. The Court settles that the text indicates that for each statutory violation, there will be one victim. Therefore, the Court concludes that because the statute is victim-centric, it would not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause to punish the driver for multiple victims.

One Justice dissented. Justice Labarga contended that a driver may only be punished under the statute on a per-crash basis, not a per-victim basis.