There are quite a few varieties of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) laws and charges in Florida.
On one end of the spectrum, there is a first-time offender Florida DUI charge. But, on the other end of the spectrum, there is the case where a driver drove drunk and ultimately killed another human being.
In between these two extremes, there is a wide variety of reasons that a driver may receive a DUI while operating a vehicle.
This content is designed to prepare drivers who have never received a DUI in Florida for the possibility that they are stopped by a law enforcement officer after having a few drinks and getting behind the wheel.
Breakdown of Florida DUI Statutes
A DUI offense is proven by the LEO’s observation of impairment, or by the driver’s unlawful blood alcohol or breath alcohol level of .08 or higher. Regardless of how the DUI is proven, the convictions are the same.
Florida DUI Fines
Each DUI carries a fine to the state. Fines increase based on the number of prior convictions, as well as if the driver has a blood/breath alcohol that is over double the legal limit of .08. A first conviction has fines ranging from $500 to $2,000, second convictions fines are from $1,000 to $4,000, third conviction fines are from $2,000 to over $5,000, and fourth and subsequent convictions fines are no less than $2,000, and can increase to more than $6,000.
Community Service & Probation
First-time offenders are court ordered to complete 50 hours of community service. Offenders are given the option to pay $10 for each hour of community service required instead of completing the hours. A first DUI conviction also may carry a probation period that may not exceed 1 year.
It’s the court’s decision on how to sentence may be served, and may call for an inpatient treatment program in lieu of imprisonment. Imprisonment increases with subsequent convictions, as well as if the driver had a blood/breath alcohol level that is over double the legal limit. A first convictions sentencing will be no longer than 9 months. A second conviction will carry a sentence no longer than 1 year. If the second conviction comes within 5 years of the first, a mandatory 10-day sentence must be served, with 48 consecutive hours of confinement. A third conviction carried a 30-day mandatory sentence if within 10 years of first conviction.
Impoundment or Immobilization of Vehicle
A DUI also calls for the impoundment of the vehicle that was operated by the convicted driver. A first conviction calls for a 10-day impoundment, while a second conviction calls for 30 days, and a third for a whopping 90 days.
Drivers who are found guilty will be detained until their BAC is under .05, they are no longer under the influence, or if 8 hours have elapsed from the time the person was arrested.
Criminal Charges from a DUI Conviction
Often times, a DUI may come with a criminal charge. If property damage or personal injury occurs, the driver may be found guilty of a First Degree Misdemeanor. If the driver is a repeat offender or causes an accident with serious bodily harm, they may be charged with a Third Degree Felony.
DUI Manslaughter is the most severe type of charge that a driver may face stemming from a DUI-related accident. A DUI Manslaughter conviction, as well as a vehicular homicide charge, can lead to 15-30 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
Driver’s License Suspensions & Hardship Licenses
Every DUI comes with a driver license revocation period. A first conviction carried a minimum 180-day suspension, a second carries a 5-year suspension, and a third carried a 10-year minimum suspension. Offenses after a 3rd time result in permanent driving privilege revocation. Some drivers found guilty of a DUI may be eligible for a hardship reinstatement after a specified waiting period.
What to Do During a DUI Traffic Stop
If you get behind the wheel of an automobile after having a few drinks, the risk of being stopped by a LEO for suspicion of a DUI is amplified significantly.
When Can an Officer Make a DUI Stop?
Officers are watching vehicles on the roadways for the slightest deviation from normal operation and will execute a stop if they witness driving behavior such as extremely slow driving, drifting between lane markers, nearly hitting other vehicles or objects, or making an illegal turn.
What’s the Difference between Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause?
The officer only needs to establish reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop but will need to meet the higher standard of probable cause before making a DUI arrest. With DUIs, probable cause is established through the use of field sobriety testing and/or breath tests.
“License and Registration, Please”
Once the police vehicle is behind you with their lights on, pull slowly to the side of the road and use your signals. Keep both hands on the wheel, and if it’s dark, turn the overhead light on in your vehicle. When the officer asks for your license and registration, don’t quickly lunge for it. Rather, inform the officer where it’s located and let them know you are going to reach for it. Small steps like this ensure the officer’s safety and may cut some of the tension during the traffic stop. Remain polite during the interaction, but be conscious of the questions that the officer may ask you. Often times, the questions are designed to make the driver self-incriminate themselves, leading to an easy case in court to find you guilty.
What to Do When an Officer Asks You to Exit the Vehicle
During the stop, an officer may ask the driver to exit the vehicle to perform a field sobriety test. These highly unscientific tests are rarely, if ever, “passed” by the driver. All that the test is designed to do is to give the LEO the opportunity to make observations that the driver is intoxicated to add to their report. It’s important to not argue or be rude to the officer, but in the majority of traffic stops for a DUI, it’s best to refuse to perform the test. A refusal will most likely lead to a license suspension, but it also creates a more defendable case for your attorney.
Should I Take a Breathalyzer or a Blood Test?
Officers may also bring out a hand-held breathalyzer test to request the driver to take. Similar to the field sobriety test, the driver may refuse to perform this test on the road, but it will lead to an automatic license suspension. Under Florida Statute 316.1923, you are given the right to request an independent blood test. Blood tests actually test for blood alcohol level, while a breathalyzer is only testing the amount of alcohol on your breath. When blood is drawn for a test, it can be preserved for later independent testing, while a breath cannot. A blood test provides your attorney with additional supporting facts to help beat your DUI charge.
Arrested for a DUI, Know Your Rights
At this point, the driver will most likely be taken into custody and brought to a police station where they’ll be required to take a chemical test. The chemical tests can be performed with a blood draw or a breath test. It’s recommended that drivers elect to take the breath test, as the results are more unreliable than a blood test. Refusal to take the chemical test while in custody can result in an additional charge of resisting arrest.
It’s important to note that throughout the entirety of the DUI traffic stop, the driver maintains the right to remain silent, and the right to an attorney. Aside from providing the LEO with your name address and driving paperwork, you are not required to answer any additional questions that may self-incriminate. Many law enforcement officers will utilize scare tactics during a DUI stop, and will also try to obtain consent to search the vehicle. Items in plain sight such as open or empty containers, drug paraphernalia, or firearms will constitute a legal search of the vehicle.
What Happens Next?
Following release from detainment, it’s important to write down, in as much detail, your version of the entire traffic stop. From the first moment the lights started flashing until your release, each detailed step allows your DUI attorney to determine the best defense for your case. Your DUI attorney will help you navigate the complex administrative procedures that follow a DUI, as well as help determine the benefits and consequences of accepting a plea bargain. Demon Lawyers provide drivers who have received a DUI with a free consultation to go over your case and will provide the driver with costs of representation, as well as a general idea of how the DUI case may play out.