The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately one-third of the traffic deaths in the United States involve a drunk driver. Although a recent study showed that DUI deaths were down across the state, in Florida, there were 5,125 alcohol-related crashes in 2017. St. Petersburg is the most dangerous city in the Tampa-St. Petersburg metropolitan area, with 4.63 DUI deaths per 100,000 residents.
A DUI conviction can impact many parts of your life, including your freedom and your right to drive. If you are facing a DUI charge, you need an experienced St. Petersburg DUI defense attorney by your side.
What Does a DUI in Florida Mean for You?
Some states use the terms DUI and DWI (driving while impaired) interchangeably, but in Florida, the charge is known as DUI, and it stands for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Under Florida law, you can be charged with a DUI if you drove or were in physical control of a vehicle while impaired by alcohol, or some other medical or controlled substance. To convict you of the charge, the prosecution must provide evidence that you were impaired, or that your blood-alcohol level was more than 0.08, which means that at least 0.08 percent of your blood sample was alcohol.
What Happens When You Are Charged with a DUI?
Especially if this is your first DUI charge, the legal proceedings may be confusing and stressful. Legal procedures may include:
- Booking and bail
- Preliminary hearing
- Pre-trial motions
- Plea bargains
Penalties for a DUI Conviction in Florida
DUI laws vary from state to state. You may think that a first time DUI is not a big deal, but the consequences can be serious. In Florida, first and second DUI offenses are usually charged as a misdemeanor. Subsequent offenses within ten years, or a DUI that involves an injury or death, are charged as a felony. These offenses may carry a penalty of a 15-year prison sentence and up to a $10,000 fine.
The punishment for a first DUI offense is:
- 180 to 365 days of license revocation
- Prison time of up to six months, or up to nine months for a high blood-alcohol concentration (BAC)
- A $500 to $1,000 fine, or $1,000 to $2,000 for a high BAC
- Car impounded for ten days
- 50 hours of community service or $10 per hour of community service paid with fines
If a driver receives their second DUI in five years, they will:
- Lose their license for up to five years
- Spend nine months or less in prison or 12 months or less for a high BAC
- Pay $1,000 to $2,000 in fines or $2,000 to $4,000 in fines for a high BAC
- Have their car impounded for 30 days
If it has been more than five years since their previous DUI, the penalties are less severe. Generally, the driver will only lose their license for 180 days or less and will spend up to ten days in prison.
A third DUI in Florida is considered a third-degree felony. The driver will:
- Have their license suspended for ten years and will not be eligible for a hardship license for two years
- Spend between one month and 12 months in prison
- Have their vehicle impounded for 90 days
- Be subject to higher fines, ranging from $2,000 to $5,000, with a minimum of $4,000 for a high BAC
Fourth and Subsequent Offenses
Drivers who are convicted of a fourth DUI in Florida are not eligible for a license for the rest of their lives and have their car impounded for 90 days. The minimum fine is $2,000. They may spend up to five years in prison. Beyond the fourth offense, fines increase at the judge’s discretion.
Other Possible Penalties
- The judge may order the driver to attend DUI school, recommended counseling, and/or alcohol treatment. The judge may also order the driver to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle.
- If the driver is under age 21, the consequences are more serious. Florida has a Zero Tolerance Law for drivers under 21. Therefore, if the driver’s BAC is .02 or higher, their license is automatically suspended for six months.
- A driver who has a minor in the car or who has a high BAC may face more severe penalties.
- Florida requires an SR-22 document for drivers who have had a DUI, which increases the cost of insurance.
In addition to court-imposed penalties, DUIs come with long-term consequences. A DUI shows up on background checks and can impact opportunities like jobs, education, child custody, commercial driver licenses, security clearances, and immigration proceedings.
Possible DUI Defenses
If you are accused of a DUI, your attorney will explore the possible defenses given the circumstances of your case. Possible challenges to a DUI charge may include:
- The reason for the stop. Why did the police pull your vehicle over? The officer must have probable cause that you committed a traffic violation or committed a criminal offense. If, for example, the police stopped you because of an anonymous tip by another driver, that may not be sufficient to support probable cause for the stop.
- Did the police read you your Miranda rights when they were legally required to? In the case of roadside DUI stops, the police may not be required to read Miranda rights until they formally arrest you. If you are arrested, however, the officer must read you your Miranda rights. Otherwise, your attorney may move to suppress any statements you made during questioning.
- What were the surface conditions when you took your sobriety test? Were they clean and level? Slippery or uneven conditions may affect your test results.
- Are there other factors that may have affected your balance or stability, such as injuries or medications you were taking?
- Were you drinking or had you consumed any other substances before the arrest?
- Did the police officer observe you for at least 20 minutes before administering a sobriety test?
Are You Charged With a DUI?
Whether this is your first offense or you have previous convictions, a DUI charge is serious. Consult an experienced DUI defense attorney as soon as possible. For more information or to schedule a free consultation, contact us online or call the Khonsari Law Group at (727) 269-5300.