What Is DUI?
Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is a serious crime in Florida with severe penalties. If you are charged with DUI, you not only have a criminal court case to deal with, but there are administrative effects as well (such as having your license suspended). Navigating the legal territory after a charge of DUI can become an extremely complex, involved process, so it is highly recommended that you hire an attorney who is experienced in this type of case to defend you. With the legal knowledge and negotiation skills possessed by a qualified attorney, you could potentially have your case dismissed, or at least reach a more favorable outcome than if you attempted to defend yourself.
What does a prosecutor have to prove in a DUI case?
Most people know that DUI stands for “Driving Under the Influence.” However, the law requires that certain procedures must be followed correctly, and a prosecutor has a strict burden to meet to prove your guilt.
In order to successfully prove the crime of Driving Under the Influence in Florida, a prosecutor must show that a person was driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle when their normal faculties were impaired.
What constitutes impairment?
What many people don’t know is that it is NOT a crime to merely “drink and drive” in the state of Florida. It is only a crime to drive when you are impaired by alcohol or drugs.
During every jury selection, I always make sure to ask the question, “Do you agree with the statement that it is not a crime to drink and drive in Florida?” If someone disagrees with me, they are normally not a good juror and I can usually get them removed from the jury. Another benefit of this method is that it makes the jury comfortable with the idea that just because someone drinks and later drives, it does NOT mean they are guilty of Driving Under the Influence.
The most common situation for a DUI begins when an individual is pulled over while driving—but this is not the only situation. It is not just illegal to drive while impaired, but to be in actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence, meaning you could be found guilty of DUI just for being behind the wheel. For example, you may be surprised to learn that even if you are just sleeping in your vehicle in a parking lot, an officer may be allowed to approach you and investigate the situation.
How does the police determine if you are impaired?
There are two primary ways in which the police may determine that you are impaired. The first method is to rely on their observations, such as
- glassy, bloodshot eyes;
- pale or clammy skin;
- slurred speech; and
- difficulty walking.
If the police have a reasonable suspicion that you are under the influence, the next step for the police will usually be to administer Field Sobriety Tests to see if you are impaired.
The second way the police may determine if you are impaired is through a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) test. A BAC test measures the amount of alcohol that is present in your blood. If you are found to be over the legal limit of 0.08 percent, then you are presumed by law to be impaired.
If you are charged with DUI, your driver’s license will also be suspended through the DHSMV, which is a separate proceeding from the court system.
The license suspension actually depends upon your response to the BAC test. If law enforcement asks you to take a BAC test, you have the right to refuse. However, if you do refuse, your license will automatically be suspended for a year (or more if you have a prior refusal) and you will receive a DUI citation. If you comply and your BAC is shown to be at .08 or higher, your license will be suspended for 6 months (if this is your first time scoring above .08) and you will still receive a DUI citation.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, here are some of the biggest things police officers look for to tell if someone is driving while impaired:
Problems Maintaining Proper Lane Position
- Weaving across lane lines
- Turning with a wide radius
- Almost striking a vehicle or other object
Speed and Braking Problems
- Stopping problems (too far, too short, too jerky)
- Accelerating or decelerating for no apparent reason
- Driving more than 10 mph under the speed limit
- Driving in the wrong lane
- Driving without headlights at night
- Incorrect use of turning signals
- Slowness or failure to respond to traffic signals
- Following too closely
- Illegal or improper lane changes
- Stopping inappropriately in response to officer
Post Stop Cues
- Difficulty exiting the vehicle
- Repeating questions or comments
- Swaying, unsteady, or balance problems
- Slurred speech
- Odor of alcoholic beverage on driver’s breath
NOTE: You may notice that speeding is not on this list. Because someone who is speeding may in fact possess quicker judgment and reflexes, speeding may not necessarily indicate impairment.