Firecracker shrimp on the patio of Bahama Breeze practically requires a beer (or five), but you regret your indulgence the moment you sit yourself behind the wheel. Eh, it's a short drive and you've done it many times before, you'll be safe. You are feeling quite confident as you drive north on 41, but your buzz is killed by the unmistakable sirens of a Fort Myers police cruiser. Now what?
Everyone knows 0.08% is the limit, but DUI law is not as straightforward as you'd think. To fill you in on what comes next, FindLaw has created this guide to prepare you for your Fort Myers DUI case.
Had Anything to Drink Tonight, Sir?
Your DUI case begins with the police officer's investigation during the initial traffic stop. During the ensuing Field Sobriety Test, the officer will look for signs of intoxication and ask you to perform simple tasks requiring coordination. If you fail this test, you will likely be asked to submit to a breathalyzer test. If the test results indicate that your Blood Alcohol Content, or "BAC," is above the legal limit, or if you refuse to submit to the test, the officer can arrest you on the spot.
The exact circumstances of the stop are important in a DUI case. A common method for fighting DUI charges is to challenge the constitutionality of police's search or seizure of your person. Specifically, the Fourth Amendment limits when the police may detain you; they need to have a reasonable suspicion that you are committing a criminal offense, such as a traffic law violation, to begin the investigative detention, and they must have probable cause that you were driving under the influence to arrest you.
Any evidence gathered in violation of your constitutional guarantees may be excluded from court, which may be accomplished with a motion to suppress evidence. The bottom line is that if the initial traffic stop wasn't supported by reasonable suspicion, it is possible that all evidence discovered afterward will be prohibited from being used in court and your case will be thrown out.
Implied Consent Law
Florida driver's license holders are required by law to submit to chemical test under Florida's "implied consent" law. This law requires you to take a chemical test after being arrested for a DUI for the purpose of determining your BAC or the presence of drugs. If you refuse, your license will immediately be suspended for one year. Additionally, police may forcibly draw your blood if you were involved in an accident involving serious injury or death.
Although the punishment for refusing the test is lighter than a DUI conviction, refusal will not prevent a DUI prosecution. For example, the prosecutor could argue that you refused to submit to the test because you knew you were heavily intoxicated.
Silence is Golden
One important thing to remember during your DUI stop is that you do have the right to keep your mouth shut. Now, be polite and cooperate with the police, but volunteering information freely might be a really bad idea. Most obviously, it is generally considered unwise to admit to drinking any alcohol whatsoever; that statement could be used by the prosecutor to convince the jury that you "confessed" to your crime, even if you only admit to drinking "a couple beers." You should also probably avoid informing the officer that you are driving home from a bar.
In Florida, a DUI is defined as operating a motor vehicle while impaired with a blood alcohol content, or "BAC" of 0.08% or higher, a chemical substance, or a controlled substance. The law is even stricter for minors, as Florida's Zero Tolerance Policy punishes individuals under 21 years old for driving with a BAC of just 0.02%. However, what most people don't realize is that you can earn a DUI without any BAC evidence at all, if the cop judges that your faculties are impaired.
The penalties for drinking and driving are extremely harsh in Florida, and the more DUIs you receive, the worse the penalties become. You can expect at least eight hours in jail, 50 hours of community service, a year of probation, and up to a $500 fine. These numbers only get worse if you are arrested after an accident or injury, or with a BAC over 0.20%. If you are convicted of a second DUI within five years, or a third DUI within ten years, the mandatory minimum jail time increases to ten and thirty days, respectively.
Furthermore, Florida often requires the installation of an Ignition Interlock Device, or "IID," following a DUI conviction. The IID may be ordered for first-time DUIs with high BAC, but are always mandated after a second (or more) DUI. Expect to pay $70 for the initial installation, and approximately the same for mandatory monthly inspections.
The prosecutor may allow you to plead guilty to the reduced charge commonly called a "wet reckless." This plea agreement is more likely when your BAC is borderline illegal, there was no accident, and you have no prior DUIs. However, beware -- if you suffer any additional DUI convictions, the "wet reckless" will be considered a prior DUI.
Your driver's license will typically be suspended for 6 to 12 months after your first DUI conviction, and then five and ten years for your second and third conviction, respectively. However, you can request a special hearing with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles within ten days of your arrest to request a "hardship license." Failure to timely request a hearing will result in an automatic suspension.
If you plan on requesting a hardship license, you should enroll in an eight-hour driving class as soon as possible. The class costs $250, but may be well worth it. The DMV will require proof of enrollment before they lift the suspension. A hardship license will allow you to drive to and from work, school and church, but other travelling is left to the discretion of the officer who pulls you over.
As seen from the discussion above, a DUI case may seem simple on its face, but is actually complicated and carries potentially serious consequences. It may be a good idea to talk to a local DUI attorney if you have specific concerns or questions about your case.