An Introduction to Criminal Liability for Drunk Driving
In Florida, as in other states, many persons who would not otherwise consider themselves to be “criminals” — in the sense that they are not the sort who would engage in intentionally wrongful behavior — are exposed to potential criminal liability by virtue of a DUI (driving while under the influence
The Statutory DefinitionPursuant to section 316.193 of the Florida Statutes, if you drink-and-drive, you can be found guilty of a DUI and thereby subjected to criminal punishment if you were:
1) Driving or in actual physical control of the vehicle while in the state of Florida; and
2) Under the influence of alcoholic beverages such that the alcohol impaired your normal faculties; or
3) Your blood-alcohol (BAC) or breath-alcohol level exceeded the 0.08 state maximum.
It's worth noting, however, that if you were pulled over by law enforcement officers and given various DUI tests, the results of those tests may be not be accurate and may not properly represent your impairment level at the time. If you can show that the testing was unreliable and could have led to a "false positive" assessment of impairment, then the DUI charge may be dismissed.
Felony Qualification and PenaltiesYour DUI may result in a felony conviction under the following circumstances:
1) The DUI results in serious injury or death;
2) You cause only minor injuries to the victim, but do not stop to provide assistance; or
3) It is the third DUI offense.
Felony convictions generally lead to harsher, more significant criminal penalties than misdemeanor convictions. These penalties may include imprisonment, criminal fines, and mandatory placement of an ignition interlock device on the vehicle for a period of up to two years.
If your DUI does not qualify as a felony, then it will be deemed a misdemeanor.
Misdemeanor PenaltiesA misdemeanor conviction -- such as a DUI that did not result in serious injury -- generally leads to lighter penalties and sentencing than a felony conviction, but the penalties may still be quite significant.
Pursuant to the Florida DUI statute, misdemeanor convictions may be penalized as follows:
o By a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 6 months' imprisonment in county jail for the first misdemeanor conviction. The court may choose to place an ignition interlock device on all vehicles routinely used or owned/leased by the convicted person for up to 6 months. The cost of installation will be paid for by the convicted person. The DUI vehicle may also be impounded for a period of 10 days.
o By a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 9 months' imprisonment in a county jail for the second misdemeanor conviction. Additionally, upon a second misdemeanor conviction, the court will place an ignition interlock device on all vehicles routinely used or owned/leased by the convicted person for up to a year. The cost of installation will be paid for by the convicted person. The DUI vehicle may also be impounded for a period of 30 days.
DefensesThere are several ways to defend against a DUI charge, but some of the most effective arguments rely on a showing that the DUI tests conducted by law enforcement officers were unreliable or otherwise inaccurate and that you were not actually impaired.
Even tests that seem "objective" at first glance are riddled with accuracy and false-positive concerns, such as breathalyzer tests (breathalyzer tests can pick up natural alcohol on the breath that is unrelated to any imbibed alcoholic beverages and does not affect actual impairment). Walk-and-turn tests (where the tested driver has to walk in a straight line and turn) are famously unreliable, and may be affected by factors completely unrelated to intoxication, such as natural gait issues, balance issues, nerve damage, age, fatigue, and various other factors.