Driving Under the Influence charges are easy to avoid with responsible behavior, self-awareness, (and even Uber!) and driving a vehicle while impaired is obviously a foolish and dangerous thing to do. That being said, let’s face it, we all make bad judgments at times.
In today’s world, driving is a near necessity and alcohol is readily available - and many of us who drive cars and drink alcohol have probably done both at the same time, and thus have been at risk of becoming one of the 50,000 drivers arrested in Florida for DUI. If you are someone who finds himself or herself in this situation, there are some things you should know.
At the risk of being simplistic, in Florida most DUI’s can be proven in one of two ways. First, a driver may be illegally driving under the influence if it can be proven his normal faculties were impaired – that is, his ability to walk, talk, judge distances etc. Notice that the Florida definition of DUI does not include words like drunk, or even intoxicated. Technically, a driver may DUI if alcohol (or any other designated substance) has caused him to do anything less well than he would do normally. Obviously, that can set the bar pretty low. Slurred speech and hiccups, for example, have doubtless resulted in thousands of arrests over the years.
The other way a DUI in Florida can be proven that a driver’s blood alcohol level (BAC) was at or over the legal limit at the time he was driving (0.08). This is proven using breathalyzer machines, or sometimes blood tests.
Either way, DUI is an eminently defensible allegation, and potential defenses are almost endless. An experience DUI lawyer can point out that most DUI arrests involve nothing more than subjective opinions of very human law enforcement officers, who are often insufficiently trained, and equipped with fancy-sounding but faulty gizmos. Edward Panzica has been defending DUI for 30 years and will provide a strong and aggressive defense against DUIs in Pinellas, Pasco, or Hillsborough county.
A first-time conviction for a DUI can result in a fine that may range from $500 to $2,000, depending on the blood alcohol content (BAC). Fines are only the beginning of the expense, unfortunately. Most courts will also levy substantial additional court costs, investigative costs, and other fees. Convictions for DUI also call for mandatory completion of DUI school; at least 50 hours of community service; alcohol evaluations with possible treatment; and a car impound for 10 days for more.
Perhaps most significantly, DUIs come with mandatory license suspension/ revocations for anywhere from 6 months to a year. Most of these penalties increase substantially with subsequent convictions. Under Florida law, a 4th or subsequent DUI may be charged as a felony, and be punishable by up to five years in state prison and result in a permanent revocation of your driver’s license.
A DUI arrest does not automatically equate to a conviction. Doubtless, some cases are much harder to defend than others. Some DUI defendants face daunting evidence of bad driving, high breath or blood tests, and horrible videos. Some defendants are arrested with scant evidence of any of those things. Every case, however, is potentially defensible. The following are some things to be considered before pleading guilty or no contest to a DUI charge:
Was it a bad stop?
Many traffic stops occur only after a law enforcement officer observes a purported traffic violation. If the officer’s suspicions are reasonable, the stop may be admissible. Cops can make mistakes, however, and if it can be shown the traffic stop was based on a mistake, it is possible that the stop, and all evidence that was obtained after the stop, can be suppressed, or thrown out of court. For example, if an officer makes a stop based on a belief the driver was driving 25 MPH in a 20 MPH zone, the stop may be bad if it can be proven the speed limit in the area was actually 30 MPH.
Was the Driver in Actual Physical Control of the Vehicle?
There are times when there is some confusion about who was driving when the DUI allegedly occurred – particularly when there is an accident scene and the officer “pieces together” who the driver was. There are even some cases where there is a lack of evidence the car was drivable; or there may be a time-lag between the bad driving and vehicle control. Putting the defendant “behind the wheel” is sometimes a more difficult task for a prosecutor than one may think.
Field Sobriety Tests are subject to attack:
Most DUIs involve an officer putting the driver through a series of tests (one-leg stand, walk-the-line, recite alphabet, etc.) These tests are not particularly scientific, and are based on nothing more than an opinion. It’s doubtful the officer knows anything about the driver’s capability to perform tests at any time. The same goes for the officer’s observations. Virtually every DUI arrest involves an allegation of bloodshot eyes, unsteady gait, and odor of alcohol. This does not account for the many reasons a person might have red eyes, or a disability, and even the alcohol “odor” is easily attacked. (Did you know diabetes can cause an alcohol-type odor?)
Faulty Breath Tests
Breathalyzer machines are just gizmos, and although the results may be admissible, they are subject to suppression if it can be shown the operator failed to follow a very strict protocol of procedure and if the machine itself was improperly maintained. Did the officer correctly observed the driver before he gave the test? Was there mouth alcohol present when the test was given? Was the machine properly calibrated? Did the officer improperly state the implied consent law?
These are just a few of the many things to consider before you evaluate what course you should take if you are charged with a DUI. It is wise to consult an experienced DUI lawyer who has defended cases in Pinellas, Pasco, or Hillsborough County.