Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

SMRL Law Firm serving Sarasota County, Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch, North Port, Venice, & throughout the state of Florida

An arrest for driving under the influence (DUI) can be a frightening and humiliating experience. However, the arrest itself is only the start of a potentially long process with far-reaching consequences that could include the loss of your license, fines, and jail time.

Under Florida law, you only have 10 days to request a hearing following your arrest, and you can only fight the charge if a hearing is set. That is why it is crucial to contact our experienced DUI attorneys at 941-365-7171 as quickly as possible. We welcome clients from Sarasota, Bradenton and surrounding Florida communities. 

What Is a DUI?

What legally constitutes a DUI can vary from state to state. In Florida, you're considered to be driving under the influence if you have a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher. However, even if your blood alcohol content is under .08, you can still be arrested at the officer's discretion. A urine test or observation of impaired driving can be grounds for a DUI charge.

It's important to note that while some states have penalties for both DUI and DWI (driving while intoxicated), and these two terms are often used interchangeably, Florida law does not contain the term DWI.

What Happens During a DUI Stop

An officer might stop you for any number of reasons, including:

  • Reckless driving
  • Driving without headlights
  • Driving too slow
  • Swerving
  • Speeding
  • Wide turns
  • Automobile accident

If an officer suspects you of driving while impaired, he'll check for signs such as inability to follow orders, disorientation, swaying or staggering, bloodshot eyes, or slurred speech. If he thinks that you are drunk or otherwise impaired after stopping you, he'll likely ask you to perform a field sobriety test.

A field sobriety test is designed to mimic conditions while driving. The brain needs to perform many functions at once while driving, such as checking mirrors, watching the road and other drivers, and reacting to situations. A field sobriety exercise will ask you to perform multiple tasks at once to gauge your level of sobriety. These may include:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN): Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking motion of the eyes often caused by alcohol or drugs. During an HGN exercise, the officer will have you follow an object with your eyes without moving your head. The HGN test can be problematic, though, because officers need to be specially trained in its execution. Plus, nystagmus can occur from non-substance abuse related causes such as neurological issues.
     
  • Walk and Turn: The "walk and turn" test involves testing concentration and balance abilities by having the subject take a certain number of heel-to-toe steps in a straight line, then turn while keeping one foot on the line and walk back in the same manner. The subject will be counting the steps aloud the whole time.
  • One Leg Stand: The subject will be required to stand on one foot while counting. The officer will be watching for how many times the subject needs to put their foot down, whether they need to use their arms for balance, and if they can count correctly.
     
  • Finger to Nose: This test involves having the driver tilt their head back, close their eyes, and touch their nose with whichever hand the officer specifies.

What Should You Do If Pulled Over?

If you are pulled over because a police officer notices something strange or erratic about your driving, there are steps you should follow to try to create the best outcome.

  • Pull over and stay in the car. Make sure you pull over safely and carefully, using your turn signal. Once stopped, stay in the car and rest your hands on the wheel so the officer can see them. If it's dark, turn on your dome lights.
     
  • Follow instructions and be polite. The police officer has the power in this situation, so it's in your best interests to be very polite and courteous, and follow any instructions the officer gives in a calm and reasonable manner.
     
  • Don't give away information. Being polite doesn't mean offering up information. If the officer asks you if you've been drinking or how many drinks you've had, don't answer. You may think that refusing to answer is an admission of guilt, but it's better not to say anything that may be a disadvantage to you later.
     
  • You are not legally obligated to perform a field sobriety test. You may still be arrested on suspicion of DUI and taken back to the station to perform a breathalyzer test, but you have the right to refuse a field sobriety test. However, refusing a breathalyzer test can result in a license suspension for 12 months.

Establishing a Case for DUI

Many different elements go into establishing a DUI case. First, the reason the officer pulled you over. The beginning of any DUI defense case is challenging why the officer stopped you in the first place, since there are many reasons to be pulled over that have nothing to do with driving under the influence.drunk driving criminal charges

Next, the results of the field sobriety test. You do not legally need to consent to perform these tests, and they may not be good indicators of sobriety level. Field sobriety tests have a false positive rate of around 20%, meaning that a completely sober person may fail the test around 20% of the time.

Finally, the results of the breathalyzer, urine, or blood tests. You may refuse to take these tests as well, although it may automatically result in a suspension of your license and could be used against you in court.

A wild card is if you were arrested at a DUI checkpoint. The legality of a checkpoint can be questionable, and an experienced DUI lawyer will explore this issue to ensure that the rules and regulations were followed.

License Suspension in DUI Cases

Driving in Florida is a privilege, not a right, and this privilege can be taken away at any time. Your license may be suspended if you are arrested for DUI and refuse to take a breathalyzer test, and it may also be suspended if you blow over .08 on the breathalyzer.

If you blow under .08 but the arresting officer thinks that you were driving while impaired, your license may still be suspended. Driving while under the influence of drugs rather than alcohol is also cause for a DUI conviction.

  • Suspension for BAC Over .08: If your blood alcohol content is over .08 and it is a first time offense, the suspension is 6 months. If it is your second offense, the suspension increases to 12 months, unless it is your second DUI within 5 years. If this is the case, the suspension will be 18 months.
     
  • Suspension for Refusal of Testing: If you refuse a breath, urine, or blood test on your first DUI, your license can be suspended for 12 months. If it's your second DUI, it will be 18 months.

Formal Review of License Suspension

Within the 10 days following your arrest, an application for a formal review hearing must be submitted to preserve your right to challenge the suspension of your driving privilege. This is an important part of our representation of our clients. We will file the paperwork on your behalf and have a formal review hearing scheduled to challenge your suspension.

If the suspension is overturned, your driving privilege is reinstated. If it is not overturned, at the expiration of your temporary driving permit/BPO, you will begin a period of "hard time" during which you cannot drive for any reason. The length of this "hard time" varies as follows:

  • Breath Test Above .08: 30 days
  • Refusal of Breath, Blood, or Urine Test: 90 days
  • Second Refusal: Remainder of 18 month suspension, plus you are not eligible for a BPO or temporary license

Temporary Driving Permit or BPO

While your hearing is pending, a temporary driving permit will be issued so you can continue to drive for business purposes. This is called a Business Purpose Only (BPO) license, and it enables you to drive for:

  • Work
  • School
  • Religious observation
  • Medical treatment

With this license, you cannot drive for any recreational purpose. If you are caught doing so, you will face jail time if convicted.

You must petition the Bureau of Administrative Reviews and sign up for DUI school in order to be eligible for an additional temporary driving permit. This temporary driving permit will last until either the administrative suspension expires or until you are suspended by the court as part of a DUI sentence. If the court suspends your driving privilege as part of a DUI sentence, you may obtain another temporary driving permit if you have completed DUI school and are otherwise eligible.

If it is your first time facing suspension for DUI, you can waive your right to a formal review of your suspension in exchange for immediately obtaining a BPO license without any "hard time". To be eligible for this waiver, you must sign up for a DUI driving school and furnish proof at the time of application for the waiver.

Out of State Driver's License

If you are a visitor to the State of Florida and are charged with a DUI, your right to a business purpose license is limited. An out of state license holder will not be eligible for a hardship license if the administrative suspension from the DHSMV is sustained. This makes the challenge to an administrative suspension for a person with a license from another state that much more important.

Today, most states participate in the National Driver’s Registry, and a suspension while on vacation in Florida for DUI will likely follow you home. The only place to challenge your suspension will be Florida, and you need an experienced DUI attorney on your side to do everything possible to save your driving privilege.

Consequences of a DUI

For a first-time DUI conviction, a fine will be imposed between $500 and $1,000 plus court costs. If you were accompanied in the vehicle by a person under the age of 18, or if your blood or breath alcohol level was .15 or higher, your fine is increased to between $1,000 and $2,000 plus court costs. The following penalties can also apply:what are dui consequences sarasota

  • Six months in jail
  • DUI school
  • 10-day vehicle impoundment
  • Revocation of your driver’s license for six to twelve months
  • 50 hours of community service
  • One year of probation

The varying penalties for a second, third or fourth DUI charge are increasingly severe and can ultimately result in imprisonment for up to five years and the permanent revocation of your license. Because the stakes are so high, it is important to work with a skilled drinking and driving lawyer.

Drinking and Driving Under 21 Years Old

When a person under the legal drinking age is suspected of driving while having consumed any alcoholic beverage, the State of Florida has a zero tolerance policy. If a person is found to have a blood alcohol level of .02, is under the age of 21 and was in actual physical control of a motor vehicle, the State of Florida will suspend the driving privilege of that person for 6 months.

While this is not a criminal charge of DUI, a violation of the .02 laws results in administrative action against the driver by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. The suspension can be challenged and the DHSMV will hold a hearing to determine whether the suspension will be sustained or overturned.

It is vital that the request to have this hearing is made within 10 days of receiving the notice of suspension. A driver under the age of 21 may be charged with a DUI. The officer has the discretion to proceed with a .02 violation or with a criminal charge of DUI. If you are facing a .02 violation, call our office in Sarasota to discuss.

Schedule Your DUI Consultation

If you have been arrested for DUI and need legal assistance, don't hesitate to contact Syprett, Meshad, Resnick, Lieb, Dumbaugh, Jones, Krotec & Westheimer today at 941-365-7171 for a free consultation. We have years of experience defending DUI cases, and we will help you navigate complex DUI laws. We serve the Sarasota, Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch, North Port, and Venice areas of Florida. 

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