Should you ever find yourself in the position of being arrested on DUI charges in the state of Florida, you are likely to experience a wide range of emotions. If you have never been in trouble with the law before, you may be frightened and confused about what you are subjected to following your arrest. You may be very anxious about your future, and possibly even angry if you feel you were not driving under the influence and were unfairly targeted. The DUI laws in the state of Florida are not the strictest in the nation, however, several DUI laws have been implemented over the past decade which toughens the penalties for Florida DUI convictions.
Should the DUI Laws in Florida Be Even Stricter?
In fact, in 2008, Florida enacted a law requiring drivers with a first-time DUI conviction, who tested higher than 0.15 BAC or greater, to install an Ignition Interlock device on their vehicle. Since more than 20,000 DUI offenders were re-arrested for driving on a suspended license in 2010, some residents and lawmakers feel the laws must be even stricter. With more than 54,000 DUI arrests made annually in the Sunshine State, only about half of those end in a DUI conviction. Further, despite the consequences of refusing a chemical test in the state, about 40 percent of the state’s residents do just that when stopped. What this means to Florida residents, is that law enforcement may be over-zealous when looking for impaired drivers, and state prosecutors want to ensure anyone charged with the crime is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The Consequences of a DUI
Obviously, no one is in favor of having impaired drivers on the road. There are, however, drivers who are not irresponsible regarding driving under the influence, yet still find themselves facing the serious consequences of DUI charges. Every state in the U.S. has set the same limit for blood/breath alcohol content at 0.08 percent. For those who test at a higher BAC than 0.15 percent, for those who were driving under the influence with a minor in the vehicle or for those whose impairment caused an accident, injury, or fatality, the penalties associated with DUI will be enhanced. As you can see, the consequences—both short and long-term—are very serious. If you have been charged with a Florida DUI, it is crucial you speak to an experienced Ayo and Iken DUI attorney as soon as possible in order to increase your chances of a positive outcome. There are any number of issues that can be challenged, and you will also have to deal with your Administrative Review hearing, in order to stand a chance of retaining your driver’s license.
To recognize the importance of keeping your driver’s license, remember that most Americans spend huge amounts of time in their vehicles. We drive to and from work, to school, we take the kids to school and pick them up, we run a multitude of errands, visit our friends and family, go to church and take our families on vacation. If your driver’s license is suddenly gone, imagine how you would manage all these activities with no transportation, dependent on friends and family to get you and your family to all the places you need to be.
What are the Differences between DUI and DWI in the State of Florida?
In Florida, DUI stands for driving under the influence, while DWI stands for driving while intoxicated. In some states, DWI is specifically related to the consumption of alcohol, while DUI encompasses either alcohol or drugs, prescribed or illegal, any of which result in a driver who is too impaired to drive. If, for example, you over-medicated yourself with Nyquil to the point it could be shown you were impaired while you were driving, then you could conceivably be charged with a Florida DUI. The same is true of painkillers, sleep medication or any prescription medication or over-the-counter medication which affects your ability to drive safely.
In Florida, the legal term is DUI, although many people still use the terms DUI and DWI interchangeably. DUI laws apply to those driving a vehicle and even riding a bicycle. Those who are driving a boat while impaired would be charged with BUI. Whatever you call it, there are serious penalties associated with driving while impaired. In order to show you were impaired, the state is responsible for proving you were in control of the vehicle and were impaired. Field sobriety tests, Breathalyzers and blood tests are most commonly used to determine impairment, although the police officer’s observations are pertinent to the issue.
What Being in Control of a Vehicle Really Means
In order to be convicted of a DUI in Florida, it must be shown you were in control of your vehicle. Actual physical control is an extremely important element, meaning you must have “constructive possession” of the key to your vehicle. In other words, the key must be in close enough proximity that it could be easily accessed. In most cases, you must be in the driver’s seat, or at least very close to it, and it must be shown the vehicle is actually operable. As an example, while your car may generally be operable, a dead battery or a flat tire could render it inoperable. While this sounds straightforward enough, there have been Florida cases of people being arrested for DUI while they were outside their vehicles. The courts held that, due to the lack of anyone else in proximity to the vehicle, circumstantial evidence was sufficient to prove actual physical control. Despite this, most juries are reluctant to convict someone of DUI when all indications are that the person was attempting to safely “sleep it off,” in a parked car.
Criminal Penalties You May Face for a First-Time DUI Conviction
A conviction for a first-time DUI offense in the state of Florida could cost you as much as $1,000, up to six months in jail, the possibility of losing your driver’s license for up to six months, and fifty hours of community service. If you have no significant prior criminal history, as a first-time offender you could receive less: a $500 fine, probation for up to a year, a license suspension for six months, and possibly a six-month jail sentence. You could also be ordered to attend drunk driving school, attend a drug and alcohol program, and be sentenced to community service.
Second and third DUI convictions bring much harsher sentences, with fines as high as $4,000, a mandatory ten days in jail, and the potential for up to twelve months in jail. For subsequent DUI convictions, you could have your driver’s license suspended for as long as 5-10 years. Should you refuse a chemical test, you will lose your license for a period of a year, no matter if you are convicted of DUI or not. Fourth and subsequent DUI convictions in the state of Florida are third-degree felonies and could result in your being labeled a habitual offender.
Further Consequences of a DUI Conviction
In addition to the criminal penalties, you can lose many personal freedoms, following a DUI conviction. You could be unable to obtain a passport or purchase a firearm after such a conviction, unable to obtain a professional license, rent a home or work with children. Obtaining a government student loan for higher education could be extremely difficult, and obtaining employment can also become problematic, or even impossible. Your auto insurance premiums are likely to increase to the point it becomes unaffordable, or your insurance may be cancelled altogether.
Challenges to Your DUI Charges
There are a number of challenges your Ayo and Iken DUI attorney may use in your case, depending on the circumstances. Perhaps the officer did not actually have reasonable suspicion to pull you over in the first case or had no probable cause that you violated the law in some manner. Of course, it does not take an enormous amount to constitute probable cause. A police officer may say you were driving erratically, however, the term “erratic” is a fairly subjective one. There may be questions as to whether you were properly Mirandized at the time of your arrest.
Perhaps the police officer failed to administer your breath test as prescribed, or the Breathalyzer machine was not properly calibrated. It may come to light that the lab mishandled your blood or breath specimens or there were problems with the blood draw itself. Florida Statute 316.1933 addresses the issue of whether an officer has the right to use reasonable force to take a suspect’s blood following an accident. Even if the officer did have the right to take your blood, there may be other issues associated with the manner in which the blood was taken.
Your DMV Administrative Review Hearing
After being charged with a Florida DUI, you have only ten days to request a DMV Administrative Review Hearing. Should you prevail at this hearing, you will be allowed to keep your license. The request must be made in writing, and the request will include all your information, a statement as to the date of suspension, and the county where you received notice of suspension. No extensions are granted for those who miss the ten-day window. Aside from potentially getting your license reinstated, the Administrative Review Hearing provides a good chance to hear all the evidence the state has against you, therefore giving you a better chance at your criminal trial. Challenging your suspension gives you an extra 42 days of a temporary driving permit, for business purposes only. If you fail to request your Administrative Review Hearing, your license will be suspended on the 11th day.
Will I Qualify for a Hardship License?
One type of hardship license is reserved only for business purposes, while the other is for employment purposes. A business hardship license allows you to drive to and from work, do any driving necessary to your work, drive for educational or medical purposes, and drive to and from church. An employment hardship license only allows you to drive to and from work. In order to qualify for a hardship license, you must serve at least 90 days of your suspension prior to eligibility. If you refused to submit to a chemical test two or more times, you are not eligible for a hardship license at all.
You must provide proof of enrollment in a DUI school to the Administrative Review, and if approved, you must take the approval to the DMV. If you were referred to a court-mandated drug and alcohol program, the program must be completed prior to applying for a hardship license. You will be required to pay an administrative fee when applying for a hardship license, as well as a reinstatement fee, and a license fee. You will also be required to take the driving examination and show proof of auto insurance.
Getting Your Driver’s License Reinstated Following a DUI Conviction
Once your period of revocation has ended, the process for having your license reinstated is similar to that of obtaining a hardship license. You must provide proof of DUI school completion or enrollment and must complete the course within 90 days of your reinstatement or risk further cancellation of your license. If you were referred for drug and alcohol treatment, you must complete the program prior to reinstatement. Just as for a hardship license, you must take the driving test, pay license, suspension, reinstatement, and administrative fees, and show you have current auto insurance coverage. Some people think they can simply go to another state and get their driver’s license once they have had a license suspension, however, DMV offices from state to state are very connected via computer. If you apply for a driver’s license in another state, the computer will automatically pull up the block placed on your license by the state of Florida.
Should you decide to simply continue to drive with your suspended Florida license, you should know that a first or second offense of driving with a suspended license is punishable by jail time up to sixty days, and fines as high as $500. If you are found to be driving for a third time following your license suspension, you could be charged with a felony, sentenced to a prison term as long as five years, and be forced to pay fines as high as $5,000. As you can see, even a first-time DUI conviction in the state of Florida is a very serious matter, and one you should give your full attention to.