If you’ve been arrested in Florida for driving under the influence, you may ask yourself, “How can a lawyer help with DUI?” You may even be tempted to plead guilty, accept the consequences, and move on with your life. That would be a huge mistake. Take a moment and recognize that a DUI conviction has a ripple effect that can impact you for the rest of your life. An experienced Florida DUI attorney can help you avoid the repercussions of a DUI conviction and minimize the damage to your finances, your way of life, and your freedom. Before taking a deep dive into the ways a Florida DUI attorney can help, it’s important to understand the road to and the consequences of a Florida DUI conviction.
Florida DUI Tests
It’s natural to make the connection between alcohol and driving under the influence, but Florida’s DUI laws encompass much more than alcohol. For example, you can be charged with a DUI if you’re driving under the influence of marijuana. Driving while impaired by prescription medications is also against the law. The same holds true for driving under the influence of illegal drugs, or a combination of drugs and alcohol.
Let’s say that Claudia took her usual prescription antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication one evening. Her friend Rosie calls her a half hour later, asking Claudia to meet her at a nearby bar. Claudia only has two glasses of wine, but gets stopped on the way home. The police officer administers a series of field sobriety tests and determines that she is physically impaired. Claudia can be arrested for DUI even though her blood alcohol level isn’t at or over the .08 limit.
The federal National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has recognized three field sobriety tests as being reliable indicators of impaired driving:
Walk and Turn Test: Claudia is instructed by the officer to walk heel-to-toe for nine steps along an imaginary line, and then to pivot and walk another nine steps heel-to-toe. If the officer sees that Claudia puts her arms out to steady herself, takes fewer than nine steps, or doesn’t line her heel up with the toe of her other foot, they may suspect that Claudia is impaired.
While Claudia doesn’t have the knowledge or experience to challenge the officer’s suspicions in court, her Florida DUI defense attorney does. Her attorney can, for example, call into question the officer’s qualifications in performing the test. Her lawyer might cite the NHTSA’s findings that the test is only accurate 68 percent of the time. The attorney may point out that it was actually the uneven roadway, Claudia’s high heels, or a hidden disability that compromised the test results.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test: Claudia is told by the police officer to hold her head still and follow his pen with her eyes. The officer moves the pen to the left and to the right. The officer is watching to see if Claudia’s eyes jump around. If so, the officer will suspect that she is driving while impaired.
When Claudia hires a Florida DUI defense lawyer, they can challenge the accuracy of the horizonal gaze nystagmus test. For example, Claudia’s attorney might point to a neurological condition or other medical condition that either causes nystagmus or that can confound the results of the test. Alternately, they may point out that, although the NHTSA has claimed that the test is valid, the agency published findings that it had only a 77 percent accuracy rate.
One-Leg Stand Test: Claudia is told by the police officer to do three tasks simultaneously: hold her foot parallel to and six inches above the ground, look at her foot, and count. When Claudia puts her foot down, hops, or holds her arms out, the officer interprets it as impairment.
Claudia’s Florida DUI defense attorney is able to challenge the validity of the one-leg stand test by asserting that it is only 65 percent accurate, that the officer didn’t accurately administer or time the test, or that the results are invalid because of the officer’s movements.
In addition to or in lieu of field sobriety tests, law enforcement officers can request that Claudia take a breathalyzer test, a blood test, or a urine test. Florida law states that, simply by having a driver’s license, a person consents to being tested for alcohol and other substances. If Claudia refuses any of the tests, she risks having her license suspended for a year. If she is stopped in the future and refuses a second time, her license can be suspended for 18 months.
Even if the results of Claudia’s test point to her being under the influence, Claudia’s Florida DUI defense attorney can offer counterarguments. For example, her attorney may assert that:
- The portable breathalyzer used is unreliable
- The breathalyzer wasn’t properly calibrated
- The officer wasn’t properly trained in using a breathalyzer
- The breathalyzer delivered a false reading due to Claudia having recently used mouthwash or hand sanitizer, or having residual mouth alcohol
- Claudia has a medical condition – like diabetes or GERD – that inflated breath test results
- Claudia’s blood test sample wasn’t stored properly, causing fermentation that produced alcohol
- Claudia’s blood test sample was contaminated
- The substance found in Claudia’s urine sample doesn’t prove when the substance was consumed
In the scenario outlined, Claudia was on the way home from her meet-up with Rosie. But let’s say that Claudia wasn’t yet on the road or had already arrived home and was in her driveway. In Florida, you don’t have to actually be driving in order to be charged with DUI. You simply have to be in physical control of the vehicle. This can mean, for example, being parked with the motor running or sitting behind the wheel with the keys in the ignition. DUI can also be charged even if you’re behind the wheel and the vehicle’s engine is warm.
DUI Penalties in Florida
Those convicted of driving under the influence in Florida face severe penalties. For a first conviction, you face up to six months in jail and between $500 and $1,000 in fines. In addition, if you’re able to retain a restricted or permanent driver’s license, you’re required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in every vehicle you own, co-own, lease, or regularly drive. The IID is a breathalyzer, and in order for the vehicle to start, you need to blow into the IID. You also need to blow into it periodically while you’re on the road. You’re required to keep the IID for a minimum of six months.
Florida DUIs are considered priorable, which means that previous convictions are taken into consideration when doling out penalties for subsequent DUIs. For a second DUI conviction, you can be sentenced to up to nine months in jail and between $1,000 and $2,000 in fines. If you retain your license, your IIDs must remain in place for at least a year.
In keeping with the premise of penalties increasing with subsequent convictions, the consequences of a third DUI within ten years of a prior conviction are severe. You are automatically charged with a third-degree felony, and if convicted, you face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. If you are not in prison and have a driver’s license, then you’re required to install an IID for a minimum of two years.
If the third DUI takes place more than ten years after the previous DUI, then you face a maximum jail sentence of one year and a fine between $2,000 and $5,000. You’re also required to install an IID for two years. Fourth and subsequent DUIs are charged as third-degree felonies. Each carries a maximum term of five years in prison and a minimum fine of $2,000.
It’s important to note that prior DUI convictions in other states count when it comes to charging and sentencing you for a DUI in Florida. For example, if you were convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New York, then your first conviction in Florida is deemed a second conviction.
How a Lawyer Can Help with Your DUI Charge
If you’ve been charged with driving under the influence, then you need a Florida DUI defense attorney at your side in order to successfully navigate the court system. One of your DUI attorney’s first tasks is to challenge the charges against you. The hypothetical case involving Claudia outlines several ways that her attorney can push back against the test results put forward by the prosecution. But your Florida DUI defense attorney digs even deeper by reviewing the police report, witness statements, and the charges against you.
Your attorney understands the nuances of the law and the machinations of the Florida criminal justice system. They know, for example, that there’s a presumption that you weren’t under the influence if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is .05 or less. They understand that, if your BAC is over .05 but under .08, the prosecutor needs additional evidence to prove that you were impaired. Finally, they know that a prosecutor often believes that a BAC of .08 or higher is a slam dunk for a DUI conviction.
Your attorney possesses another pivotal piece of information: the prosecutor’s office doesn’t have the resources to take every case to trial. They count on one of two things: those who are accused will simply plead guilty of the crime charged, or that the prosecutor can cut a deal that will quickly resolve the case.
That deal is called a plea bargain. If the case against you is solid and the prosecutor won’t drop the charges, your Florida DUI defense attorney can likely negotiate a favorable plea agreement on your behalf. For example, they may be able to negotiate your DUI charge down to a reckless driving charge. If it’s your first offense, they may be able to convince the prosecutor to agree to a pre-trial diversion program. The diversion program typically requires you to perform 20 hours of community service, complete a DUI education course, participate in a victim impact panel, and install an IID. Once you have successfully completed these requirements, your charges will be dropped to reckless driving and you will serve 12 months of informal probation. If you’re facing a first-time DUI offense, retaining a Florida DUI defense attorney is the surest way to put that incident behind you and move forward with your life.
Not all DUI cases are that straightforward. Perhaps it’s your third or fourth DUI. Maybe there was a child or pet in the car when you were pulled over. It could be that you were in an accident and someone was injured or killed. You may have been involved in a hit and run accident while driving under the influence, and someone died as a result. If so, you are likely facing first-degree felony charges. If convicted, you can spend up to 30 years in prison and be fined up to $10,000.
The bottom line? Whether your DUI case is straightforward or complex, you need an attorney with a proven track record of having cases dismissed, charges reduced, and achieving acquittals at trial. You need Meltzer & Bell. Having Meltzer & Bell by your side can mean the difference between financial freedom and financial ruin. You can choose to live your life on your terms rather than spend time behind bars. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by calling Meltzer & Bell today for a free, confidential case evaluation.