The risks of drunk driving, both to oneself and others on the road, are substantial. That’s why the state takes charges seriously and convictions are paired with serious consequences. If you’re charged with a DUI in Tampa, FL, then you want to ensure that you take every possible avenue available to you to avoid conviction. Contrary to popular belief, there are, in fact, many ways of challenging a DUI. However, to understand what strategies may be optimal in your situation, you’ll want to work with a lawyer who’s skilled and adept at seeing the opportunities for defending your case.
At Jeff Marshall Law, we are dedicated to aggressively defending our clients. We can explore every avenue of defense for your DUI case, then pursue a full defense or seek to negotiate lower charges, depending on what may be possible with your case. We understand the passion and intensity with which you would defend yourself, and we seek to defend you with that same level of commitment.
There are a few possible ways that you may be charged with a DUI in the state of Florida. They are:
In Florida, any DUI is considered a criminal offense rather than a traffic offense, which is how some states treat some DUI offenses. This means that a DUI can have particularly serious consequences. The legal charges can be significant, and penalties can include:
However, it’s worth acknowledging that there are also many consequences that extend beyond the legal realm, particularly because of things like a criminal record and a suspended license. Some of these extralegal consequences of a DUI conviction include:
These consequences of a DUI conviction are, of course, in addition to and persist long after the legal consequences. The specific requirements for a DUI conviction will depend upon the nature of the offense. Things like if and how many prior offenses the convicted had, how high their BAC was, and if there were any injuries associated with the offense all are factors in determining the penalty.
In all cases, though, anyone convicted of a DUI must go through a certified DUI program. The program includes a substance abuse course, monthly reporting probation, and even a psychological evaluation. It’s possible that the program may require the convicted individual to participate in some form of substance abuse treatment. If that happens, part of the DUI penalty is that the convicted individual must follow any treatment, evaluation, and testing that is a part of the treatment program they are referred to.
A first DUI offense is an unclassified misdemeanor charge with the following penalties:
A second DUI offense is an unclassified misdemeanor charge with the following penalties:
A third DUI offense that occurs more than ten years after the most recent offense is an unclassified misdemeanor charge that results in a maximum $5000 fine and a maximum of one year in jail.
If someone receives a third DUI within ten years of a conviction for the second DUI, that third DUI will be charged as a third-degree felony. A felony is more likely to result in jail time as a misdemeanor. This charge carries a maximum $5000 fine and a maximum of 5 years in jail.
A fourth DUI offense and any beyond that will also be treated as third-degree felonies. They will all carry maximum fines of $5000 and maximum jail sentences of 5 years.
An underage DUI offense occurs when the driver is under the age of 21 and has a BAC of over 0.02%. It also can be charged if the police officer feels that the driver was driving in a way that demonstrated a driving ability that was disrupted by the substance. The penalties for a first underage DUI are:
If a BAC test registers over 0.02%, then there is an automatic six-month license suspension. Refusal to submit to a breath test is an automatic 18-month license suspension. If the BAC was between 0.05% and 0.079%, the driver will have to pass a substance abuse course and evaluation before their license can be restored from suspension.
Any DUI that involves property damage, no matter how minimal the value of the property involved, is charged as a first-degree misdemeanor. The property damage could be a car accident with another car or one that damages stationary property, like someone’s mailbox or a parked car. These cases are punishable by a fine of up to $1000 and up to one year in jail. The penalty will also include a license suspension that will last at least six months but not more than twelve. The exception to this is if the convicted driver has any prior DUI convictions within the past five years. If that is the case, the driver will have a minimum of a one-year-long driver’s license suspension.
A DUI with property damages may be subject to enhanced penalties if the driver’s BAC was at 0.15% or higher. There may also be enhanced penalties if a minor was present in the vehicle. In the case of a BAC of 0.15% or above, there will be an additional fine of between $1000 and $2000. There will also be an imposed six to twelve months of a mandatory ignition interlock device in the vehicle. If the DUI involved a minor being in the vehicle, there will be an additional fine of between $1000 and $2000.
A DUI that involves serious bodily injury or substantial property damage could be charged as a third-degree felony. The injury can be to anyone, including occupants of the driver’s vehicle, even if they are family members. To prove this kind of case in court, the prosecution must persuade a jury of three elements:
The jury must be persuaded that all three elements are proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Additionally, the prosecution must demonstrate that the injuries in question constitute “serious bodily injuries.” For an injury to fall in that category, it must have at least one of a few possible characteristics:
This kind of DUI is a third-degree felony. The penalties could include a maximum fine of $5000, a maximum jail time of five years, and a maximum of five years probation. If the judge is persuaded by the prosecutor that the injuries sustained in this case are “severe,” then the minimum jail time will be four years and three months. In addition to these penalties, the convicted driver may be required to make restitution to the victim of the accident. This could involve compensation for things like damage to the vehicle or medical expenses.
DUI manslaughter charges may be brought when a driver meets the qualifications of a DUI and there is a death related to the actions of the driver. To meet these qualifications, there are three basic elements that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt:
DUI manslaughter is a second-degree felony. It carries a minimum sentence of four years and a maximum of fifteen, along with a maximum fine of $10,000. It could also be penalized with:
In Florida, it is illegal to flee the scene of an accident without giving contact and insurance information to the other driver. More importantly, while Florida law does not require anyone to perform an act of heroism, it does require drivers who are involved in an accident to render whatever aid they can to anyone who is injured. In the case of DUI manslaughter, if the prosecution can prove that the drunk driver fled the scene, then the penalties may increase significantly. The felony would be bumped up to the first degree and, in addition to all the other punishments that come with a standard DUI manslaughter, the potential jail time penalty increases to a maximum of 30 years.
In some cases, primarily those involving first-time DUI offenses, it may be possible that the judge will rule to have adjudication withheld. There will typically be some level of requirements to satisfy the withholding of adjudication. The requirements may be similar to some of what could be penalized if the driver is convicted of a misdemeanor DUI. However, in this case, satisfying the requirements can mean having a DUI kept off the driver’s criminal record. This could be the difference in things like finding employment, housing, or being accepted to a university. Some of the possible requirements include:
In a criminal trial, through which DUI charges are resolved, it’s important to remember that the burden of proof belongs to the prosecution. That means that they must prove to the judge and jury the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. For defense against criminal charges, including a DUI, this means that there is no duty to prove innocence. What is necessary is to find a way to cast doubt in the minds of the jury. Arguing innocence may be the means by which this can be accomplished, but all that is necessary is to create a reasonable doubt around the validity and completeness of the prosecution’s case.
The first hope in a criminal case is always to get the trial dismissed outright before the case gets to trial. This may be done through things like challenging the validity of certain evidence and questioning procedural issues before the trial begins. If enough of these kinds of motions are approved before the trial even begins, then it is possible that the judge may dismiss the case or the prosecution can be forced to withdraw the charges because of a lack of evidence. However, this is often not possible. In that case, there may be a possibility of pleading down to a lesser charge. If that’s not an option, or not something you want to consider, then it will be necessary to mount a defense in court.
Many people believe that it’s not really possible to argue against a DUI, particularly when there is a blood test or breath test showing a BAC that exceeds the legal limit. Quite the contrary is true. For a skilled, thoughtful lawyer, there are a variety of defenses that may be an option. Generally, these defenses fall into two categories:
To get a conviction, the prosecution must persuade the jury that all three elements are, beyond a reasonable doubt, true. This means that a defense against a DUI needs to only persuade the jury that they should have reasonable doubt about one of the three elements. The more elements that doubt can be cast on, and the more significant the flaws that can be exposed, the better the odds of getting a “not guilty” verdict.
As a reminder, affirmative defenses admit having driven in a typically illegal fashion under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but they explain that mitigating circumstances mean that a guilty verdict still should not be rendered. Affirmative defenses include:
As a reminder, these are defenses that attempt to give the jury doubt about one of the three elements that the prosecution must prove:
There are an endless number of tactics that might be used to this end, depending upon the nature of the case. Some of the more common ones include:
Another category of defenses, and perhaps the most common tactic in DUI cases, is not so much of a direct challenge but more of a side attack. It involves filing a “Motion to Suppress.” The purpose of this motion is to prevent certain evidence from being allowed into the trial. However, there must be some sort of legal reason for making this request. This is referred to as “grounds.” The grounds, in effect, tell the court that either the officer made some kind of error during the investigation of your DUI or that the evidence is unreliable. Either way, if true, the evidence should be disqualified from being used in the case. Some of the most common grounds in support of a motion to suppress include:
Another defensive strategy related to evidence is to challenge the validity of it at trial. This is usable in situations where the evidence may still be brought to trial, as it cannot be suppressed. However, your attorney may be able to put doubt into the minds of the jury about how reliable that evidence is. More specifically, this typically relates to the tests that were used to determine blood alcohol levels. These defenses include challenging:
A DUI conviction can have serious consequences. With each subsequent conviction, the consequences become even more severe. With so much on the line, it’s important that you work with someone who understands the details of defending against a DUI. When you work with Jeff Marshall Law, your defense can be crafted by a team that understands the full scope of DUI charges and the defenses against those charges. We can investigate every possible defense and aggressively seek a favorable outcome for you. If you’re facing DUI charges in Tampa, FL, contact us without delay.