You’ve Been Charged with a Florida DUI—Now What?
Perhaps you—or someone close to you—have been pulled over and charged with a Florida DUI. You may have made a one-time error in judgment, and if no one else was hurt by your actions, then perhaps this one mistake should not be allowed to alter the course of your life. Or perhaps you truly were not driving under the influence; there are a number of studies that show a significant number of drivers are falsely accused of DUI.
Field sobriety tests and Breathalyzer tests, in particular, have a variety of problems that can result in inaccuracies, and police officer bias can play a part as well. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your DUI arrest, it is likely you are now anxious about your future and frightened of the potential penalties you could face if convicted.
Statistics Regarding Drinking and Driving
While no one advocates driving while impaired, statistically a significant number of adult drivers admit to having climbed behind the wheel after drinking at least one alcoholic beverage. In fact, a 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that in 2016, 20.7 million people over the age of 16 drove under the influence of alcohol in the past year. This same study found that men are more likely than women to drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. A 2012 government study revealed that one in 12 drivers admitted to driving under the influence at least once over the course of a year, while one in five people surveyed stated they had driven in the past year within two hours of drinking an alcoholic beverage.
These numbers exist in spite of the fact that four out of five adults consider drinking and driving a major threat to their own safety. The same study noted that, when asked how many drinks they could have before becoming too impaired to drive, forty percent stated they could drive safely after having three drinks. Interestingly, there are cases where this belief could actually be valid. Florida, like all other states, considers a driver with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or above to be legally impaired.
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Factors Involved in BAC Levels
People do, in fact, react to alcohol differently, based on a number of factors. For some people, one drink could well be too many, while those who drink on a regular basis or have other factors that impact impairment could actually function relatively normally with a BAC at or above the legal threshold. Medications, age, body weight, gender, whether the person also ate while drinking alcohol and even the amount of sleep the person got the night before can all affect the level of intoxication. For reasons experts cannot fully explain, when the 0.08 BAC standard took effect nationwide in 2000, alcohol-related traffic fatalities actually increased, after a 20-year decline. Some feel that those who had only had a couple of drinks were not actively attempting to avoid the increased number of DUI roadblocks, while this increase in roadblocks caused the seriously impaired to perhaps drive more erratically to avoid being caught. In any case, DUI roadblocks in and of themselves can also be problematic.
Taking Your Miranda Rights Seriously
No doubt about it—being pulled over on suspicion of driving while impaired is a nerve-wracking, anxiety-producing experience. It is important that you remember you are afforded certain rights, thanks to our Constitution. First and foremost, you have the right to remain silent. Yes, most all of us have seen television shows where suspects are being read their Miranda rights—then we see the television suspect proceed to talk to police when they should have certainly taken those Miranda rights much more seriously. The right to remain silent is critical, no matter whether you feel your charges are in error, or you know you probably should not have been driving after drinking.
Don’t the Police Need a Good Reason to Stop Me?
In theory, police officers do need a good excuse in the form of a probable violation to justify stopping any vehicle. In reality, most police officers can conjure up an excuse to stop any vehicle they choose, since something as innocuous as having a dirty license plate can be considered a “violation.” Even so, given a choice, most police officers will pull over vehicles with the most obvious violations including failure to use signals, running a stop light or stop sign, or exceeding the speed limit.
Further, any type of headlight, taillight, brake light or turn sign violations can be reason enough for an officer to pull you over—yet another good reason to perform regular maintenance checks on your vehicle. Driving under the posted speed limit, failing to wear a seatbelt, or signaling a turn long before you make the turn can also fall under “probable cause.”
What—Exactly—Is the Police Officer Looking For?
The National Highway Traffic Administration conducted an extensive body of research to determine what factors contribute to a police officer’s determination that a suspect is driving while under the influence. The issues associated with the actual stop include the following:
- Erratic braking
- Following too closely
- Making an overly wide turn
- Straddling the center lane marker
- Obvious weaving or swerving
- Driving more than 10 mph below the posted speed limit
- Exceeding the speed limit
- Inappropriate stopping
- Driving with no headlights
- Making an abrupt or illegal turn
- Inappropriate or slow response to traffic signals
- Using automobile signals in a way that is inconsistent with driving actions (signaling a turn left, then turning right, etc.)
- Stopping without cause in a traffic lane
- Accelerating or decelerating rapidly
Once you have been pulled over, the police officer will be looking for the following signs and symptoms of intoxication:
- Flushed face, bloodshot, red or watery eyes
- An obvious odor of alcohol on the breath
- Fumbling for driver’s license, registration, and insurance when asked to produce these documents
- Slurred speech
- Inability to comprehend questions asked by the police officer
- Obvious instability on feet when asked to exit the car or obvious staggering or swaying
- An “inappropriate” attitude toward the police officer including being combative, argumentative, or overly cheerful
- Inability to follow the police officer’s instructions
- Needing to lean against the automobile for support
There can be a number of very legitimate reasons a person may appear to be driving erratically, or may appear intoxicated, when, in fact, they are not.
Where to Turn Following DUI Charges
So…you leave a friend’s party after having a couple of drinks. You fail to come to a complete stop at a stop sign and are pulled over by a Florida police officer who suspects you of DUI and proceeds to administer field sobriety tests. You “fail” one or more of the tests and find yourself charged with a Florida DUI. This is a common, albeit very scary scenario, and one which requires immediate consultation with experienced legal counsel. Whether you were driving impaired or have been falsely accused, you will need to fully understand the charges being brought against you.
Florida DUI charges are extremely serious and can have far-reaching consequences for you, as well as for your family. Get the help you need immediately, in order to minimize the consequences for your future. One or more of the following defenses may be used by your Ayo and Iken Florida DUI attorney to help defend you against your DUI charges. Some of the defenses detailed below are pretrial defenses, while others are defenses to use at trial.
- The police officer had no valid reason for pulling you over. If there was no valid reason for the officer to pull you over, your attorney can challenge the stop, and your case may be dismissed. As an example, if the officer pulled you over for failing to maintain a single lane, other drivers must have been affected by your crossing the yellow line.
- There was no probable cause for your arrest. Even if the police officer did have a valid reason for pulling you over, he or she must also have probable cause to arrest you. As an example, suppose your eyes were bloodshot and watery, however, there was no odor of alcohol, and no other indications you were driving while impaired. In fact, you could suffer from serious allergies, which would have the same symptoms, therefore the officer must have probable cause to believe you were driving under the influence, or your attorney could challenge the arrest.
- You were arrested by an officer who did not actually witness you driving. Under Florida law, an officer cannot arrest you—absent a warrant—unless he or she actually witnessed you driving. If you were arrested without a warrant, and the officer did not witness you driving, then evidence may have been illegally gathered, and your Ayo and Iken attorney will try to have that evidence suppressed.
- You were in custody, being questioned by the police, but you were not apprised of your Miranda rights. Any time a suspect is in custody, or being interrogated, the officer must read that suspect his or her Miranda warning. If the officer garnered admissions from you regarding how many drinks you had, or whether you felt you were impaired, prior to reading you your Miranda warning, then your attorney may be able to have those statements tossed out.
- You refused the Breathalyzer test because you did not understand what the officer was telling you regarding a refusal. Police officers in the state of Florida must tell DUI suspects that their license can be suspended if they fail to submit to a lawful breath, blood or urine test. If the police officer fails to read the implied consent correctly, then evidence that you refused the breath test may be thrown out. If no breath test results exist, and the state is not allowed to mention you refused the breath test, then the case against you could be damaged to the point the state will either dismiss your charges entirely or reduce the charges to a lesser offense.
- The police officer failed to properly observe you for the required 20-minute observation period prior to having you take a breathalyzer test. The arresting officer is required to reasonably ensure you have not regurgitated anything or taken any substance by mouth for at least 20 minutes prior to taking the test. If this 20-minute observation period was not properly followed, your attorney may be able to have the results of your breath test suppressed.
- The person who administered your breath test was not properly certified and/or trained. Your attorney will determine whether the officer or other person who administered your breath test was certified and trained—if not, your attorney may be able to have the results of your breath test suppressed.
- The breathalyzer machine was not properly maintained or calibrated. Every breathalyzer machine must be inspected monthly, as well as annually. Further, any time a breathalyzer machine is moved, it must be re-inspected. If the machine was not properly calibrated or maintained, then your attorney may be able to have the results of your breath test suppressed.
- You had a temperature at the time your breath test was administered. If you had a fever at the time of your breath test, then the results of that test could be artificially high. You could also exhibit lethargy and red, watery eyes which the officer could have taken as a sign of impairment.
- You were not drunk, you were exhausted. Perhaps you had been awake for a long time, because of your work, or another reason. A person who has been awake for 24 hours can act in a similar manner to a person with a BAC of 0.10.
- You were not drinking, you were distracted or rushing somewhere. While there are definitely dangers associated with distracted driving or being in a hurry, a charge of careless driving is a far cry from a DUI. Your attorney may be able to show you were not impaired but were merely distracted or in a rush.
- You have specific medical problems which caused your erratic driving, but you were not driving under the influence. There are many medical conditions that can cause some of the same symptoms as driving while intoxicated. These include diabetes, different prescription drugs, vertigo, inner ear disorders, and narcolepsy, to name just a few. Further, an overweight person could have difficulty performing field sobriety tests, as could a very nervous person.
If you have been arrested for DUI in the state of Florida, you are facing very serious charges. Do not try to get through this alone—an experienced Ayo and Iken Florida DUI attorney can ensure you have the very best outcome possible following your charges.