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Tampa DUI Defense Attorney

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.

DUIs in Florida

There are a few possible ways that you may be charged with a DUI in the state of Florida. They are:

  • Having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of over 0.08% or higher for drivers over the age of 21
  • Having a BAC of 0.04% or higher for drivers of commercial vehicles
  • Having a BAC of 0.02% or higher for underage drivers
  • A driver’s faculties being impaired by alcohol or another substance, regardless of the driver’s BAC

DUI Consequences in Florida

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:

  • Fines
  • A suspended license
  • Probation
  • Mandatory treatment programs
  • Jail time

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:

  • A criminal record will appear on background checks and potentially hinder employment opportunities.
  • The criminal record may also hurt your possibility of being accepted into a university.
  • It can be difficult to obtain credit with a DUI on your criminal record.
  • It may also be challenging to find housing with a criminal record.
  • A lack of driving privileges can make things like traveling to and from school or even just getting groceries a much more challenging prospect.
  • A DUI can also have a social effect, and the stigma can lead to difficulties in personal relationships.

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.

First DUI Offense

A first DUI offense is an unclassified misdemeanor charge with the following penalties:

  • With a BAC of .08 or greater – A maximum $1000 fine and a maximum of 6 months of jail time
  • With a BAC of .15 or greater – A maximum $2000 fine and a maximum of 9 months of jail time
  • With a minor under 18 in the vehicle – A maximum $2000 fine and a maximum of 9 months of jail time

Second DUI Offense

A second DUI offense is an unclassified misdemeanor charge with the following penalties:

  • With a BAC of .08 or greater – A maximum $2000 fine and a maximum of 9 months of jail time
  • With a BAC of .15 or greater – A maximum $4000 fine and a maximum of 1 year of jail time

Third DUI Offense (More Than Ten Years After a Prior Offense)

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.

Third DUI Offense (Within Ten Years of a Prior Offense)

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.

Fourth or More DUI Offense

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.

Underage DUI Offense

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:

  • A minimum fine of $500 and a maximum of $1000
  • A maximum of six months in jail
  • 50 hours of community service
  • Probation
  • Vehicle impoundment
  • A driver’s license suspension for up to one year

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.

DUI With Property Damage Offense

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.

DUI With Serious Bodily Injury Offense

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 defendant was the one in physical control of the vehicle at the time of the injury.
  • The defendant was under the influence at the time of the crash, whether it was determined through a BAC test or because their ability to control the vehicle was impaired by alcohol or drugs.
  • The defendant either caused or was part of the cause of the accident that led to the serious bodily injury.

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:

  • Be life-threatening.
  • Put the injured at significant risk of dying.
  • Create a strong risk of disfigurement.
  • Cause a serious risk of the injured possibly having an impaired or lost function of either an organ or a body part.

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 Offense

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:

  1. The defendant was operating the motor vehicle or in control of it at the time of the incident in question. Being in control does not necessarily mean driving. If the defendant is in the driver’s seat, and the vehicle is running, this qualifies as being in control of the vehicle.
  2. The defendant must be shown to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This could be a BAC over 0.08%. It could also be that they lacked the ability to operate the vehicle sufficiently because of the substance.
  3. The defendant, while committing a DUI, must be shown to have caused, either directly or indirectly, the death of another person.

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:

  • Probation
  • License suspension
  • Community service
  • The driver’s vehicle being impounded

DUI Manslaughter Involving a Driver Who Failed to Render Aid Offense

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.

Adjudication Withheld

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:

  • Completion of an alcohol or drug abuse education course mandated by the court
  • Random drug and alcohol testing
  • License suspension or revocation
  • Community service
  • Alcohol or drug abuse treatment
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device for a period of time

Defending Against DUI Charges in Tampa, FL

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:

  • Affirmative Defenses – In these cases, you actually admit to the DUI. However, you make the case that the legal consequences of the unlawful conduct should be waived because of the circumstances surrounding your behavior.
  • Negating an Element – These defenses don’t admit guilt but attempt to cast reasonable doubt on the elements of the prosecution’s case. To prove a DUI, the prosecution must prove three elements:
    • That you were in control of the vehicle, whether driving or otherwise
    • That, while in control, you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol
    • That the influence that you were under impaired you to the point where you could not safely operate the vehicle

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.

Affirmative Defenses

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:

  • Entrapment – This is a very challenging defense to prove, though, in certain circumstances, it may be the right option. This defense argues that a law enforcement officer coaxed you to commit a crime that you wouldn’t otherwise have done. This usually applies to some sort of sting operation and typically is used with narcotics sales. Law enforcement doesn’t often operate sting operations for drunk drivers, although it has occurred before.
  • Involuntary Intoxication – This defense asserts that you did not knowingly and intentionally ingest something that would lead to your impairment. This does not mean something like not being aware of how the drinks you were having would affect you. This defense is more effective in the case of someone having their drink drugged with something like the date rape drug, which can cause people to be unaware of what’s happening to them.
  • Necessity – This defense argues that you essentially had no plan to drive under the influence, but extraordinary circumstances led you to have to do it. This can be a very tough idea for juries to accept and typically requires a significant emergency. An emergency can be a natural disaster or man-made, but it needs to be something that imminently threatens yourself or others with bodily harm or death. Your ride home being canceled is not going to work. In some cases, something like a medical emergency, escaping domestic violence, or fearing for the safety of your children may be enough to persuade a jury. However, even that may not be enough in every circumstance. That’s why this particular defense is not often used.
  • Duress – This is another rarely used defense. When you claim to have done something under duress, you are saying that you did something that you had no plans to do, but because someone was threatening you or someone close to you with imminent danger, you had to do it. To argue duress, your lawyer will need to prove two points:
  1. Someone threatened to harm or kill you or someone very close to you (a child, for instance) if you didn’t commit the crime.
  2. The individual making the threat would have been able to carry out their threat immediately if you didn’t comply.

Defenses That Negate an Element

As a reminder, these are defenses that attempt to give the jury doubt about one of the three elements that the prosecution must prove:

  1. You were in control of the vehicle.
  2. You were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  3. Your normal facilities were impaired as a result of the intoxication.

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:

  • Wheel Witness – The state must be able to prove that you were the one behind the wheel of the car. If you were pulled over alone and given a DUI, this defense is unlikely to have much value. However, the officer may sometimes arrive after an accident has occurred, and if everyone is out of the vehicles, there are a number of factors that may not lead to the state being able to prove who was behind the wheel. Without solid evidence, the prosecution can’t prove the first element of their case. Some of the factors leading to confusion around who was the driver include:
    • No one admits to being behind the wheel.
    • Multiple people claim to have been behind the wheel.
    • No one has the car keys.
    • Everyone has left the scene of the accident.
  • Actual Physical Control – Rather than call this “driving,” the element of “actual physical control” gives the state the ability to arrest someone who has passed out or decided to sleep in the front seat, with the keys in the ignition, and charge them with a DUI. Were the driver to wake up, they could start the car and drive. This counts as “actual physical control.” A defense against this would be if you were sleeping in the front seat of the car and the keys were in another part of the vehicle, like the glove box. Another possibility would be if you were sleeping in the back seat.
  • Inoperability – This is another rarely used defense because the circumstances must align just right, but there are times when it is an appropriate defense. This argument claims that you couldn’t have had actual physical control of the vehicle if you wanted to because the vehicle wasn’t functional. Of course, for this defense to work, you have to be able to show that the vehicle was inoperable prior to your arrival on the scene. For instance, perhaps your vehicle was run into by a garbage truck and you arrived on the scene drunk. In this case, if the vehicle was undrivable, you have an inoperable vehicle defense against DUI charges.

Suppression Defense

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:

  • Challenging the Traffic Stop – A police officer must first have a good reason for pulling you over. If an officer doesn’t first have a good reason to pull you over, then it’s possible that anything discovered after the act may be thrown out of the trial. This is probably the most frequently used defense against DUI charges. There are a few reasons why a stop may not have been justified, including:
    • You had not committed a traffic violation despite a claim that you had.
    • You were accused of having faulty equipment, but it was actually working properly.
    • There wasn’t probable cause to suspect that you had been drinking.
    • The officer claimed that any information obtained would be thrown out, but it was being used against you instead.
  • Accident Report PrivilegeFlorida law creates a tricky conundrum concerning the Fifth Amendment. You have a Constitutional right against self-incrimination. However, Florida requires that you remain at the scene of an accident and exchange insurance information with the other driver. If you tell the officer, while he is investigating the accident, that you had been drinking, then that would be self-incriminating. Therefore, to comply with the Fifth Amendment, anything used during an accident investigation cannot be used against you. An officer must make it clear that they are opening a criminal investigation against you.

Trial Arguments

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:

  • Blood Test Results – There are a number of ways in which a blood test can be contaminated, and that alone can be used to cast some doubt on the validity of the test. However, another question that can be put before the jury is whether an officer has the right to take something as personal as blood from someone.
  • Breath Test Results – Challenging the results of breath tests can be complicated, but a good lawyer can make a strong case for the issue before a jury. Breath tests can be challenged on several levels, including:
    • If the proper protocol was followed
    • If the machine has been properly inspected and maintained
    • Challenging whether the machine itself violates due process
  • Field Sobriety Exercises – These tests, which often seem silly rather than serious, are considered to be a good determinant of whether a person is sober. There is, though, a fair bit of research and literature to suggest that these tests may not be as reliable as the prosecution would claim.

We Can Help Fight Your DUI Charges in Tampa, FL

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.



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