Understanding Florida DUI Law
When a person operates a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs in Florida, they commit the crime of driving under the influence (DUI). The standard by which the police measure a person’s level of intoxication by alcohol is referred to as the blood alcohol content (BAC) percentage. In Florida—and every other state in the U.S.—the legal limit is a BAC of .08 percent; if a person is found operating a motor vehicle while at or above that amount, then they can be charged and convicted of DUI. A person’s BAC is usually measured in one of three ways: by analyzing a breath, blood, or urine sample. While a DUI suspect would be within their rights to refuse to consent to these tests, doing so could result in additional consequences and penalties, including a mandatory driver’s license suspension. Results from a breath, blood, or urine test are considered valid evidence in court.
In Florida, a DUI conviction is considered a first-degree misdemeanor. In addition to the financial consequences and penalties associated with DUI convictions, choosing to drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol can lead to catastrophic events, including fatal car accidents. While most people with a clear and sober mind understand the dangers of driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol, the difficulty arises from the fact that once a person is intoxicated, their judgment is compromised, and they may feel as though operating a motor vehicle would pose no threat of harm to themselves or others on the road.
Anyone who faces a charge of DUI in Florida should consult the guidance of an experienced attorney. Oftentimes, a first offender of DUI may be able to have their charge reduced to a reckless driving charge, which would help them to avoid a number of perilous consequences associated with DUI convictions.
Can A DUI Ever Be Charged As A Felony In Florida?
The only way in which a first-time DUI in Florida can be charged as a felony is if it can be shown that aggravating factors exist. If they do, then the DUI will be considered a felony DUI (also referred to as aggravated DUI and/or extreme DUI). A DUI can be elevated to a felony DUI in any state, but the factors that qualify as aggravating differ from state to state. The following is a list of aggravating factors in Florida:
- Having minor children in the vehicle when stopped for DUI
- Receiving a DUI while in a school zone
- Receiving a DUI while on a suspended or revoked driver’s license
- Past DUI convictions (whether received in Florida or in other states)
- Causing an accident while driving under the influence, and as a result, killing or significantly harming another individual
- Reckless driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which includes running traffic signals, driving in the wrong lane, and breaking the speed limit by 30 or more miles per hour
- Having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.16 percent or higher (twice the legal limit or higher)
At What Point Is An Officer Justified In Conducting A DUI Arrest?
In most cases, an officer cannot conduct an arrest for a misdemeanor unless they witnessed the arrestee commit the crime; this is not true for DUI cases that involve accidents. For example, if an officer were to arrive to the scene of an accident and find evidence that one of the individuals was operating their vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, then they would be justified in conducting an arrest—despite the fact that they did not witness the individual sitting in the vehicle, operating the vehicle, or causing the accident. If, however, an officer were to come into contact with an individual who was reported to have been driving while impaired but was no longer in control of the vehicle and was not involved in an accident, then the officer would be unable to justify a DUI arrest.
This law is complicated by the fact that in some cases, it may be unclear as to whether or not a “crash” actually occurred. For instance, if there is no physical damage to the vehicles and no one appears injured, then the officer may be unable to claim with confidence that a crash occurred. This is an important detail to determine, since it is the occurrence of a crash or accident that would justify a DUI arrest. Florida case law has determined that in order for an event to qualify as a crash in the context of a DUI case, injuries and damage to vehicles do not have to be present; a collision between a vehicle and another object or person is all that is needed in order to qualify an event as a crash.
What Are The Consequences Of DUI Convictions In Florida?
A felony DUI conviction can result in numerous consequences, including but not limited to the following:
- Fines of up to $5,000
- Up to five years in prison
- Up to five years of probation
- Permanent loss of driver’s license
- 90-day vehicle impoundment
- Mandatory enrollment in DUI school and/or alcohol or drug treatment program
- Community service requirements
- Mandatory minimum sentence of 10 days in jail for a second DUI within five years of the first
- Mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days in jail for a third DUI within 10 years of the first two
- Mandatory minimum sentence of four years in prison for a DUI related to a fatal injury
Anyone who has been charged with a DUI should waste no time in consulting with an attorney who specializes in DUI defense. One of the many reasons to act quickly in obtaining representation is that the right attorney may be able to fight against the driver’s license suspension, but they will only be able to do so within the first 10 days of a DUI arrest. Depending on the circumstances of a particular charge, a seasoned attorney will be able to identify and execute the best defense strategy, thereby increasing a defendant’s chances of maintaining a clean record and moving forward with their life.