Can You Face Criminal Charges for Letting a Friend Drive Drunk?

Just about two weeks ago, a Florida woman was arrested for allegedly giving car keys to her intoxicated friend, who then drove and caused a fatal crash. Michelle English of Brandon, Florida, now faces criminal charges, even though she was not even in her friend’s vehicle at the time of the accident. This case brings up an important subject that many people are likely unaware of: It’s possible to face criminal charges for letting someone else drive drunk.

Florida Statutes § 784.05 states, “Whoever, through culpable negligence, exposes another person to personal injury commits a misdemeanor of the second degree…”

This means that a person can be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for doing something (or failing to do something) that exposes someone else to harm. In the example referenced above, English is facing culpable negligence manslaughter charges because she stands accused of exposing another person to death as a result of her actions. Her friend, Lucretia Bruno of Lakeland, Florida, was arrested on charges of DUI manslaughter, DUI, and two counts of DUI causing property damage.

What Is Culpable Negligence

The word culpable is defined as “deserving blame.” In a legal sense, it refers to a situation where a person can be held legally responsible for something they did or failed to do. Negligence is defined as failing to act with proper care, thus causing harm to another person. Culpable negligence is, therefore, an act of negligence that one can be held legally responsible for.

There’s a little more to it, however.

Culpable Negligence as a Crime

Most think of negligence as associated with personal injury cases, which are heard in civil court. A person can be held legally accountable for causing harm or damage to another person because they were negligent, and most of the time this type of case would go to civil court, where the penalties are typically financial in nature.

Culpable negligence takes it a bit further. It involves an act of negligence along with gross recklessness or a wanton disregard for the safety of others. This is a type of negligence that can result in charges in criminal court, where imprisonment and probation can be enforced.

Like English, a person can face criminal charges if a friend is intoxicated and they encourage or allow them to drive. This type of charge is rare, but law enforcement may pursue it if they believe it to be necessary and warranted.

Why a Florida Woman Was Arrested for Giving a Friend Her Car Keys

The case we talked about at the beginning of this article has two main factors that most likely spurred law enforcement to arrest English for culpable negligence. The first involves the accident that claimed a person’s life. Just about nine minutes after English gave Bruno the keys to her vehicle, her friend side-swiped a pickup truck that was pulled over on the shoulder of I-4, killing the driver.

The second factor involves the manner in which English is accused of giving Bruno her keys, which is the act that exposed another person to harm. According to witnesses, English and Bruno had been drinking in Lakeland, Florida on the afternoon of the fatal accident. They drove separately to a convenience store, at which point the store clerk noticed that Bruno seemed intoxicated. The clerk attempted to get Bruno’s keys from her, but she refused and went into the bathroom. Another customer found Bruno’s keys there and gave them to the store clerk. The clerk ended up calling the police.

Lakeland police arrived on the scene and did not make a DUI arrest because Bruno was not in possession of her keys at the time. They called English to come in and take her friend home. At this point, the convenience store clerk still had Bruno’s keys and had been instructed by the police to keep them until morning. English came, picked up Bruno, and drove away. The police left the store.

English is accused of returning to the store with Bruno, getting the keys under the guise of retrieving Bruno’s car herself, and giving them to Bruno instead. She then allegedly watched her friend drive off.

How Common Are Charges Like These?

The likelihood of facing criminal charges for letting a friend drive drunk are fairly low, particularly if no one was harmed as a result. When someone is seriously injured or killed in a DUI accident, however, the chances of criminal charges are increased. The same may apply if you’re accused of letting a friend drive your car while intoxicated. Cases like these are decided on an individual basis. Because there are so many factors at play and each situation is unique, it’s important to talk to an attorney about your rights and what you may be up against.

At Thomas & Paulk, we have a long history of protecting defendants and arrestees in Florida. Our Tampa criminal defense lawyers have successfully represented thousands of clients in the face of nearly every type of case, and we know how to handle charges of culpable negligence. You can count on our experience and our commitment to preserving our clients’ freedom. To learn more, call (813) 221-4200 or contact us online.

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