Each state has laws regarding driving under the influence (sometimes called "Drunk Driving"). Depending on the state, driving under the influence -also called "DUI"- is a crime, while in other states, the act may be classified as a traffic offense. Depite the differences in the DUI law among the states, certain legal concepts within DUI law are shared in prosecuting and defending against the criminal charge of DUI. DUI is a very serious crime. Operating a motor vehicle after consuming alcohol or chemical substances results in the operation of potentiall dangerous machinery while one's normal faculties and abilities to walk, talk, see, judge distances, and make quick and accurate judgment are seriously impaired. Criminal and civil penalties for driving under the influence can be harsh and often include punishments involving:
Loss or suspension of driver's license
Substance-abuse treatment and counseling
Victim Awareness Counseling
Vehicle impoundment, immobilization, or forfeiture
Jail or prison time (depending on whether the offense involves a misdemeanor or felony)
A Criminal charge on your criminal history that can never be sealed or expunged
Restrictive probationary requirements, including ignition interlock devices
Restricted Business Purpose Only Licenses
Occasionally, additional civil lawsuits for damages due to negligence, even wrongful death.
In addition to the potential criminal sanctions for a DUI conviction, the negative consequences for just being arrested for DUI can produce lifelong unwanted collateral harm in the form of negative stigma about one's character and judgment, as well as negative effects upon one's job, professional career, and licensure.
If you have been stopped for, arrested for, or charged with DUI, it is in your best interest to discuss your rights and legal options as soon as possible with an attorney who has experience handling DUI cases. The laws concerning driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances are complex and having a skilled and knowledgeable lawyer can make a difference in the outcome of one's DUI case.
Terms and Elements of Drunk Driving
The offense of drunk driving has a variety of names among the states, including:
Driving under the influence (DUI)
Driving while intoxicated (DWI)
Operating under the influence (OUI)
Operating while intoxicated (OWI)
Driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII)
Driving while under the influence (DWUI)
In Florida, the language of the DUI statute, Florida Statute Section 316.193, requires the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant was driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle within Florida and (a) was under the influence of alcoholic beverages, any chemical substance set forth in Florida Statutes Section 877.111, or any substance controlled under Florida Statutes Section 893, when affected to the extent that the person's normal faculties are impaired; or (b) has a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood; or (c) has a breath-alcohol level of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.
Although the statute appears to be plain and simple, the case law on drunk-driving cases show that DUI cases can be some of the most legally and factually complex criminal cases in criminal defense practice. Additionall, the complexity of DUI law in Florida is magnified because each DUI case in Florida proceeds in two cases, not just one. One case is the criminal case heard before the a judge in the criminal courts. The second case is administrative in which the case is heard before an administrative hearing officer within the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Having experienced counsel in a DUI case matters. Contact attorney Paul Courtright today.
Proving the Driving Requirement
The requirement of driving or being in actual physical control of a vehicle implies that the driver must have some degree of control over the vehicle. Sometimes a conviction or acquittal depends not just on whether the defendant was driving the vehicle, but rather whether the defendant had actual physical control over the key to the vehicle in the ignition while the defendant was asleep or passed out behind the wheel. Questions like "What if he or she was just sitting behind the wheel of a car but it was off?" or "What if the defendant was sleeping in the vehicle?" or "What if the keys were in the defendant's pocket and not in the ignition?" or "What if that car was out of gas and could not be started?" or "What if the vehicle was idling?" or "What if the vehicle was being towed?" Although the facts of each case vary greatly, the basic staring point is that it is not necessary for the driver to be actually driving the vehicle in order to be convicted of DUI. There are several cases in which the driver was convicted of DUI while passed out behind the driver's wheel in the car all because the key was in the ignition of the car and the car was running.
Most people understand that the laws concerning DUI require the driving or actual physical control over a car, truck, or van in order to be convicted of DUI. However, the DUI laws in Florida are expansive, including a wide range of other defined "Vehicles" under Florida Statutes 316.003 (75). The expansive definition of "Vehicle" has made it possible for people to be charged and convicted of DUI while operating a wide range of vehicles including but not limited to motorboats and personal watercraft like jet skis (called "BUI"), semi-tractor trucks, mopeds, motorized bicycles, motorcycles, mini-bikes, motorized dirt bikes, snowmobiles, golf carts, bicycles, and ATVs. If the Vehicle can be driven on the roadways or navigable waters of Florida, odds are pretty high one can be charged with driving under the influence.
Proof of Intoxication
In Florida, the implied-consent laws create the legal presumption that if a person takes the privilege of driving, he or she expressly consents to submitting to state-administered chemical testing of their breath or blood to determine his or her BAC. If the driver refuses to take the required breath or blood alcohol test, the driver's license is typically administratively revoked or suspended for a period of time. Depending on whether it is a first or subsequent DUI, the driver may or may not qualify for a hardship license to drive while the criminal and administrative DUI case is pending.
In Florida, a person with a blood-alcohol concentration ("BAC") over .08 is presumed to be legally intoxicated. One way the prosecutor proves the driver's BAC and impairment or intoxication is through the scientific testing of the amount of alcohol in the body by analyzing a breath or blood sample taken either at the jail for breath, or at the hospital for a blood sample. For blood samples, the blood draw must be done at the request of the law enforcement officer by qualified medical personnel, such as a doctor, nurse or EMT.
Alcohol breath tests are administered by law enforcement officers or personnel with specific state certification to administer such breath tests. In Florida, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement ("FDLE") issues such certifications and creates certain administrative rules that certify and approve the use of certain breath acohol testing devices to be exclusively used by Florida law enforcement agencies. Having the required certification from FDLE is key to having an admissible breath sample to prove impairment through the breath alcohol test sample given by one arrested for DUI.
Defendants may challenge the breath or blood test results by showing irregularities in the certification, administration of the test, or problems with the breath testing equipment. A lawyer may be able to obtain exclusion of the original breath test results from the case or even dismissal of the case entirely depending on whether the irregularities taint the evidence.
Other evidence used by prosecutors to prove impairment include drivers' statements, witness and police observations of behavior and driving patterns and circumstantial evidence. Some of this evidence is acquired when the police administer standard field sobriety exercises ("FSEs") at the scene of the traffic stop. The most common field sobriety exercises include:
Reciting the alphabet
The purpose of the FSEs is to provide the police officer or deputy with information about whether there is good legal cause to believe that the driver's normal faculties and judgment are impaired by either alcohol or a chemical substance. Some of these exercises may be an attempt to unlawfully induce the driver to speak. Some of these exercises may require the police officer conducting the FSE to have such specialized training that the officer is registered as a Drug Recognition Expert ("DRE"). The more FSEs performed by the driver at the traffic stop, the more potential evidence is acquired by the officer that may be used against the driver in a DUI case. Depending on the qualifications of the law enforecement officer, what FSEs were given, and how the FSEs were given, the defendant driver may have an issue that is suppressable, or may have compromised their defense. The only way to make sure the FSEs haven't compromised your defense is to consult with a lawyer. Contact attorney Paul Courtright today.
Driving is a privilege that today has become a virtual necessity in the United States. Having the driver's license makes it possible for one to have a job, to socialize, to travel, and do virtually everything needed in order to have a productive life. A conviction for DUI can severely curb your freedoms, liberties, property right, and bring your life to a painfully abrupt stop. If you have been arrested or have been charged with DUI, you need a lawyer who will fight for you and help protect your interests. Contact attorney Paul Courtright today.
The Law Office of Paul Courtright, P.A. 465 Maitland Avenue Altamonte Springs, Florida 32701 Tel: (407) 830-8001 Fax: (407) 830-8004 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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