Criminal Defense LawyerLakeland, Tampa, FL

Tragic Polk County Car Wreck Highlights the Complexities of the Criminal Justice System

Man facing criminal charges, standing with hands cuffed behind his back

Polk County criminal defense lawyer explains why this matters

A recent car accident in Polk County, FL resulted in two fatalities, four injuries, and six felony counts — except the at-fault driver can actually only be charged with one felony.

If that sounds confusing to you, you're right. This is a prime example of why you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to handle your case.

Let's take a closer look.

What happened in the fatal accident

On May 9, deputies from the Polk County Sheriff's Office, along with Polk County Fire Rescue, responded to a car accident that occurred at 5:41 a.m. on SR-60 West near the intersection of Pine Grove Road in Willow Oak near Mulberry.

Upon arrival, first responders found a 33-year-old man deceased in a silver 2007 Ford Expedition driven by Elmer Bryan Giron-Canil, 24. A second, 62-year-old passenger was transported to an area hospital where he died from his injuries.

Four other passengers in Canil’s Expedition were injured, as was the other driver involved in the accident, an 18-year-old Bartow High School student who had been driving a red 1996 Chevrolet 1500 pickup truck. The sheriff's office stated that the student was traveling eastbound on SR-60 when Canil, traveling westbound, entered the left turn lane and attempted to turn south onto Pine Grove Road, entering the Chevrolet's path.

In an interview with detectives, Canil stated that he saw the Chevrolet's headlights, but thought he could make it across the travel lanes. He also admitted that he did not have a driver's license because he was in the United States illegally.

Criminal charges filed for fatal Polk County car accident

Polk County Sheriff's Office detectives arrested Canil for six (6) counts of Negligently Operating a Motor Vehicle and Causing Serious Injury or Death to a person while not possessing a driver’s license because of the two fatalities and four serious injuries sustained in the collision. This criminal traffic violation is classified as a Third Degree Felony in Florida. According to Florida Statute 775.082, the maximum penalty for a Third Degree Felony conviction is five (5) years in prison.

To prove this crime in Florida, the prosecutor has to show that Canil drove without a license and by careless or negligent operation of the motor vehicle, caused the death of or serious bodily injury to another. Florida Statute 322.34(6)

The driving without a valid driver’s license charge is classified as Second Degree Misdemeanor in Florida. According to Florida Statute 775.083, the maximum penalty for Second Degree Misdemeanor conviction is 60 days in jail and up to $500 fine.

How felony charges and sentencing work for multiple injuries in one accident

While Canil allegedly caused two deaths and four serious injuries while driving carelessly without a license, he can actually only be charged with one (1) felony under Florida case law. In Coto v. State of Florida (No. 4D18-2602), the 4th District Court of Appeals ruled that a person can only be charged with one count in this situation, holding “it is the course of action of driving with no valid license and causing injury that is prohibited; thus, there can only be one penalty for such an offense.”

So, while Canil was arrested on six (6) felony counts, when the prosecutor reviews the case, they will only file one (1) charge. Otherwise, a motion will be filed to dismiss the other counts.

However, while Canil will only face one felony charge for the incident, Victim Injury Points can be assessed for each alleged victim. Under the Florida Criminal Punishment Code, points are assessed for the crime and victim injury. The Florida Supreme Court has held that a conviction under vehicular homicide or any other offense in which the crime actually involved the impact that caused the death satisfies the causation requirement for the imposition of Victim Injury Points. The court in Coto ruled the same.

Calculating the victim injury points in this situation

In the Victim Injury Points formula, the felony charge of careless operation of a motor vehicle with a suspended license resulting in death or serious bodily injury is a Level 5 offense worth 28 points. Each of the two deaths is worth 120 points, and each of the four serious bodily injuries is worth 40 points. So in Canil’s case, his Victim Injury Point score would be:

28 + 120 + 120 + 40 + 40 + 40 + 40 = 428 points.

This is then put into a formula: (428 – 28) * .75 = 300 months in prison. Divide 300 months by 12, and Canil is facing 25 years in prison based on the victim injury points.

Normally, the maximum sentence for Negligently Operating a Motor Vehicle and Causing Serious Injury or Death is five (5) years in prison. Under the Florida Sentencing Guidelines, if the lowest permissible sentence under the Criminal Punishment Code exceeds the statutory maximum sentence as provided in Florida Statute 775.082, the sentence required by the Code must be imposed.

So, what does this all mean? While Canil can only be charged with one felony that normally carries a five-year maximum sentence, he is facing a sentence of 25 years for this driving episode.

The takeaway: you need an experienced criminal defense attorney

As the Canil case shows, if you're charged with a crime in Florida, you absolutely need a criminal trial attorney who knows how the legal system actually works. Anyone can look up the statutes, but interpreting the various rules and regulations to determine what penalties you're actually facing takes a lot of work and a lot of experience.

If you've been arrested and charged with a crime in Florida, don't panic. Get Grajek. Call or fill out the online contact form to find out how Thomas C. Grajek, Attorney at Law can help.

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