Understanding Florida DUI Laws: The Roles an Attorney Plays in Navigating the Legal Landscape
Florida’s aggressive approach to combat impaired driving paid dividends in 2022, as state law enforcement agencies arrested over 44,000 motorists for driving under the influence (DUI), a 30% increase over the nearly 34,000 DUI arrests recorded in 2021. Of those arrested, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ Uniform Traffic Citation reporting, 23,546 were convicted of DUI, while almost 9,000 remain pending in the court system. While only 156 of those arrested secured an acquittal at trial, over 11,000 had their charges dismissed, reduced, or otherwise resolved without a conviction and the harsh penalties that come with a DUI.
It’s unknown how many of those facing DUI in court secured the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. However, Tallahassee’s Cowhey + Ward Attorneys at Law believes a significant portion of those who favorably avoided a conviction did so with the help of a lawyer. With a detailed working knowledge of Florida’s DUI laws and legal procedures, a competent DUI defense attorney can help navigate their clients toward a favorable resolution. On the other hand, those lacking legal representation in their DUI cases are at a distinct disadvantage.
Florida DUI Law Basics
Florida’s primary DUI law is codified under Statute 316.193, though some other statutes support or otherwise intersect with the primary law. For example, Statute 316.1934 regulates impairment testing methods and other legalities in assessing whether someone should be presumed too impaired to drive.
Statute 316.193 defines DUI as anyone driving or in “actual physical control of a vehicle” who:
- Is “under the influence of alcoholic beverages [and/or substances and drugs subject to government regulation], when affected to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired.”
- Has a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood.
- Has a breath-alcohol level of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.
At this juncture, you should probably know that it’s more difficult for prosecutors to secure a conviction with the first DUI definition than the other two. Absent blood or breath test results, prosecutors are much more reliant on using subjective evidence to prove impairment. With blood or breath testing results, merely exceeding the 0.08 threshold is technically all the proof needed to secure a conviction. Statute 316.1934 specifically allows readings between 0.05 and 0.08 to be entered into evidence of impairment, but the court is directed to presume that the accused was not driving impaired absent other supporting evidence.
DUI in Florida is a misdemeanor offense in most cases but can be elevated to a felony with third-time and subsequent convictions or if a DUI offender seriously injures or kills someone while driving. Even when charged as a first-time misdemeanor, the penalties are severe and can include:
- Minimum $500 fine; maximum $1,000.
- Up to six months in jail.
- Up to one year probation.
- Fifty hours of community service.
- Controlled substance evaluation and potential enrollment in mandatory substance abuse education course and treatment.
- Six-to-12-month driver’s license suspension.
- Impounding or Immobilizing a vehicle for 10 days.
Aggravating factors—such as excessive blood alcohol concentrations or having a minor in the vehicle—and subsequent convictions carry higher fines, longer potential jail terms, and longer license suspensions. A subsequent conviction also requires drivers to accept mandatory one-year installation and costs of an ignition interlock device as part of their license restoration.
The Multiple Roles Played by Your DUI Defense Attorney
When you hire a Florida DUI defense attorney, you get the services of an advocate, educator, legal strategist, negotiator, and litigator. For most people, getting charged with a DUI is overwhelming, and the ensuing legal procedures seem confusing. As your advocate, your DUI lawyer will work to protect your rights and ensure your fair and just treatment by the legal system. The sooner you secure the services of a defense lawyer, the more effective they can be in their advocacy. For example, your lawyer will likely encourage you to invoke your right to keep silent if you’ve been able to consult with them early during the arrest process.
As an educator, your DUI lawyer will explain the charges and their associated penalties to you in easy-to-understand terms. They can describe how the case might wind its way through the legal system, detail relevant legal options, and assess best- and worst-case scenarios depending on how the case progresses.
The most effective DUI attorneys excel at developing robust defense strategies. Your defense lawyer should carefully analyze every element relevant to the case, including:
- Your narrative of events before, during, and after the arrest.
- Police narrative about the charges.
- Evidence, including police reports, field sobriety testing, breathalyzer results, and witness statements.
In examining these elements, your lawyer will seek to identify any evidentiary flaws, overall case weakness, or identify potential procedural errors of police violation of your rights. Based on their investigation, your lawyer will develop an appropriate defense strategy, whether to use as leverage to pursue reduced or withdrawn charges from prosecutors or during trial.
Depending on case details, your DUI attorney may feel that negotiating with prosecutors for reduced charges or alternative sentencing may be the best option for a favorable outcome. In an absolute best-case scenario, your defense lawyer may have uncovered enough flaws with the case to scuttle it during negotiations. Whatever the situation, a skilled attorney is adept at negotiating with prosecutors to secure the best outcome possible.
If the case proceeds to trial, your DUI attorney becomes your litigator. In this role, your lawyer’s courtroom skills at disputing evidence, cross-examining witnesses, presenting counterevidence, and arguing legal points become crucial. Even if your lawyer failed to convince prosecutors that their case was weak during negotiations, they may be able to expose a fatal flaw during trial.
Consult with Cowhey + Ward for Expertise in DUI Defense
The criminal defense DUI attorneys at Cowhey + Ward strive to secure the best possible outcome for their clients, whether through negotiations with prosecutors or in court. Depending on the evidence and case details, your Cowhey + Ward lawyer will push for dropped or reduced charges as warranted or seek a negotiated agreement with the prosecution to mitigate penalties. To learn how Cowhey + Ward can help strategize an effective DUI defense, contact our Tallahassee-based office today at (850) 222-1000.