One out of every 135 people across the nation will be arrested for driving under the influence each year. Being arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in Florida can be confusing, frightening, and intimidating. From the moment those handcuffs are wrapped around your wrists, you have found yourself in a nightmare that there is seemingly no way to wake up from. Fortunately, however, there is legal help available to ensure your DUI charge is effectively represented against so that you can stay out of jail, keep your license, and avoid paying astronomical fines.
If you or a loved one has been arrested for DUI, it is important that you contact a licensed and experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Fully understanding your legal rights and how to successfully defend against the serious charge of DUI is extremely important to the success of your case.
Florida DUI Laws
Drunk driving charges are commonly referred to as either driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI). There are two aspects to every Florida DUI case—the administrative license suspension and the criminal charges. The administrative aspect is guided by civil and administrative law. It relates to your driving record and driver’s license. The criminal aspect is controlled by criminal law, which will dictate the penalties, fines, fees, sentencing, and parole or probation.
On the administrative side, an individual’s license is taken away before conviction if the driver fails a sobriety test or refuses to take it. This occurs right on the spot and before you even have the chance to appear in court. You can additionally have your licensed suspended on the spot when you are arrested for DUI even if you cooperate and take the required blood alcohol tests.
Within a few days following your arrest, you have the right to schedule an administrative hearing, which is separate and distinct from your criminal charges. The administrative hearing will not address your guilt or innocence as to the criminal act; rather, it will look to the circumstances surrounding the arrest, including:
- Did the officer request you take a test?
- Were you made aware of the consequences if you refused or failed the test?
- Was your arrest based on reasonable grounds?
- Did you refuse or fail the test?
- Should your license be suspended or revoked?
After your drunk driving arrest, you will appear in court several times, for at least the arraignment, trial or entering of a plea, and sentencing. Most drunk driving convictions will be considered misdemeanors, but they can become felonies when serious injury or death occurs as a result of your impaired driving. A misdemeanor can still land you in a Florida jail for up to a year, and a felony could result in years in a state penitentiary.
Florida DUI Penalties
1st Conviction: A fine of between $500 and $1,000 and up to six months in jail. Probation of up to one year can also be imposed. You can face a license suspension of 180 days to one year. If your blood alcohol content (BAC) was over .15 or there was a minor in the vehicle, you could face a minimum fine of $1,000 and a fine of up to $2,000. The court can impose an ignition interlock for up to six months, require completion of a DUI school, order a substance abuse violation, and require 50 hours of community service, among other things.
2nd Conviction: If you are convicted of a DUI within five years from your first conviction, you will receive a minimum penalty of $1,000 and a maximum of $2,000. If your blood alcohol content (BAC) was over .15 or there was a minor in the vehicle, you could face a minimum fine of $2,000 and a fine of up to $4,000. You must serve at least 10 days in jail, but can be sentenced to up to nine months. You can additionally be required to complete one year of probation. Your license will be suspended for five years and the court could require you use an ignition interlock device for a minimum of one year. The court can also require completion of a DUI school, order a substance abuse violation, and require 50 hours of community service, among other things.
3rd Conviction: If you are convicted of a third DUI within 10 years from your first conviction, you will receive a minimum penalty of $1,000 and a maximum of $5,000. You can face a license suspension of 10 years. If your blood alcohol content (BAC) was over .15 or there was a minor in the vehicle, you could face a minimum fine of $4,000 and a fine of up to $5,000. You must serve at least 30 days in jail, but can be sentenced to up to 12 months. You can additionally be required to complete one year of probation. The court will require you use an ignition interlock device for a minimum of two years. The court can also require completion of a DUI school, order a substance abuse violation, and require 50 hours of community service, among other things.
4th Conviction: Your fourth DUI can be charged as a felony. If you are convicted of a fourth felony DUI, you will receive a minimum penalty of $1,000 and a maximum of $5,000. Your license will be permanently revoked. If your blood alcohol content (BAC) was over .15 or there was a minor in the vehicle, you could face a minimum fine of $1,000 and a fine of up to $5,000. You could be sentenced to up to five years in prison. You can additionally be required to complete five years of probation. The court will require you use an ignition interlock device for a minimum of two years. The court can also require completion of a DUI school, order a substance abuse violation, and require 50 hours of community service, among other things.
Fighting a DUI in Florida
Before you ever reach the trial stage, a DUI can be successfully challenged on legal, constitutional, or administrative grounds. A triumphant challenge can result in crucial state evidence being thrown out by the court, making it impossible for the state to continue prosecution.
Some of the primary ways to attack a DUI include:
- Challenge the Stop
Florida and federal law clearly define that an officer can only stop you for one of two reasons: 1) the officer has a reasonable suspicion that you are committing a traffic infraction; or 2) the officer has probable cause that you are committing a crime. Many times, it can be shown that a police officer was mistaken in his or her reason for stopping you. If you can prove the stop was invalid, all of the evidence gathered during the stop, and being used in your prosecution, must be suppressed, thus forcing the state to dismiss your case.
For example, say an officer stopped you because your license plate was expired and subsequently arrested you for a DUI. In this instance, if you can prove your license plate was not expired, you will show the officer had no valid grounds to stop you, thus making the evidence gathered against you a fruit of the unlawful stop.
- Challenge the Field Sobriety Tests
In most Florida DUI cases, law enforcement officers will administer a field sobriety test prior to your arrest. Field sobriety tests are notorious for being unreliable and inaccurate. There are several ways to challenge the officer’s testimony as to your performance during this test, including:
- Do you have any physical disabilities, such as a bad back or knee injury? Physical disabilities or injuries can affect your ability to perform the field sobriety test, thereby making the test unreliable and inadmissible.
- Does the officer know what your true balance and coordination is? Some individuals with poor balance or conditions that render them dizzy or uncoordinated will not pass a field sobriety test regardless of their intoxication level.
- Is the office qualified to perform the specific field sobriety test? Some field sobriety tests, such as the HGN test (requiring you follow a pen with your eyes) may only be performed and testified about by certified alcohol recognition experts. Other tests, such as requiring you to recite the alphabet backwards, have been deemed unreliable in many courts and not admissible.
- Challenge the Breathalyzer
Breathalyzer machines used by law enforcement are subject to strict maintenance requirements and tight regulations in order to be admissible. Additionally, the testing must be completed in a very specific manner. Oftentimes, these devices designed to measure BAC are poorly maintained and thus inaccurate. The failure to either properly maintain these devices or conduct the tests in accordance with required procedures can result in the test results being ruled inadmissible.
For instance, if the officer fails to perform any of the following steps, among others, it could result in the breath test results being deemed inadmissible:
- Did the officer observe you for the 20 minutes straight prior to administering the breath test?
- Did the officer calibrate the machine properly before testing?
- Did the officer tell you to “keep blowing” while administering the test?
- Did the officer correctly state the law?
- Suppress Your Statements
If you have been pulled over on suspicion of DUI, it is imperative that you watch what you say, particularly if you have been drinking. While you have the right to be read your Miranda warnings, officers are free to ask some common questions such as where are you going, where are you coming from, without reading you your rights. If you make any incriminating statements, you may be able to suppress them.
An officer must read you your rights when you are under arrest or no longer free to leave. Once the officer reads you your rights, you should politely decline to speak or answer any further questions and request an attorney. A common problem arises during DUI arrests wherein the officer never reads you your rights even when it becomes clear you are no longer free to leave. If the officer continues to question you and you make any incriminating statements, you can challenge the admission of such statements as they were obtained in violation of your legal rights.
Another possible challenge centers around Florida’s Accident Report Privilege. Often, DUI defendants are involved in an accident, only to later find themselves charged with a DUI. In Florida, you are legally required to report any accident to the authorities. This creates the possibility that you may make incriminating statements to law enforcement officers concerning the accident. Fortunately, Florida law developed what is known as Florida’s Accident Report Privilege. The law prevents the use of most incriminating statements gathered for investigatory purposes in a later criminal or civil trial. The purpose of it is to encourage witnesses to an accident to cooperate with law enforcement officers during the investigation of automobile accidents.
Florida’s Accident Report Privilege is not absolute and there is one major exception. If the officer suspects you were driving under the influence, he or she may inform you that the investigation is no longer into an accident; rather, it is a criminal investigation. To continue questioning you at this point, the officer must read you your rights. Many times, an officer will forget to inform you the investigation’s nature has changed and will not read you your rights. If this occurs, you can make a successful challenge to the admission of any incriminating statements.
Zealously Defending Our Clients Against DUI Charges
DUI charges can lead to jail time, loss of your license, enormous fees, and a negative impact on your job and livelihood. If you have been charged with a DUI, it is imperative you retain the assistance of a knowledgeable and aggressive DUI defense attorney who will fight to see that you are never convicted of this serious offense. To schedule a free consultation with one of our skilled Gainesville Criminal Defense Attorneys, call our law office today.