Saturday, May 24, 2014

Navigating the DUI Minefield in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa & Surrounding Areas

In DUI cases, there are typically two proceedings that a person needs to be aware of: an administrative proceeding, and a criminal proceeding.  The administrative case proceeds through the Department of Motor Vehicles and involves the suspension of a person’s license (potentially) for a set period of time.  The criminal case proceeds through the court system and, where a plea of guilty or no contest is tendered, or where a person is found guilty by a judge or jury, involves the imposition of fines and court costs, a period of probation, the possibility of jail (or prison) time, and a host of other conditions that are prescribed by state statute.  

                              The Administrative Proceeding

Upon arresting a person for DUI, the officer will usually confiscate the person’s license, and issue a citation for the offense.  The citation acts as an unrestricted driver’s license for ten days following the arrest.  During that ten-day window, the person must request a hearing with the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Once the proper paperwork has been received, the Department will issue the person a permit to drive until after the hearing is held.  Hearings are usually set within 30 to 45 days.   With a permit, the person may drive only for work, church medical, or educational purposes, or to maintain a livelihood.   

If a hearing is not requested within ten days of the arrest, the person’s license is suspended on the 11th day. 

How long a person’s driver’s license is administratively suspended depends on two factors: (1) whether the person submitted to a breath (or blood) test; or (2) whether the person refused the requested test. The period of suspension can range from six months (with a thirty hard suspension period and hardship license eligibility thereafter) to 18 months (with no hardship license eligibility).

If the person’s attorney is able to get the administrative suspension set aside, then the person’s driving privileges are reinstated.  If the attorney is unsuccessful at the administrative hearing, then the license suspension goes into effect after the person’s permit expires.  The period of suspension is as set forth above.

In July of 2013, there was a change in the law related to administrative license suspensions in Florida. For arrests occurring on or after the effective date, a first time DUI offender can waive a formal review hearing and obtain a hardship or business purpose only license for the period of suspension.  For most people, this is a very viable option but should be discussed with a qualified DUI defense attorney before the decision to waive is ultimately made.

The Criminal Proceeding

To prove the crime of DUI, the state must prove the following two elements beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) the defendant drove or was in actual physical control of a vehicle; and (2) while driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle, the defendant was under the influence of an alcoholic beverage to the extent that his or her normal faculties were impaired, or had a blood alcohol level of .08 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. 

Most DUI offenses are charged by citation.  Once the arresting officer files the citation with the clerk of court, the person is formally charged and prosecution has commenced.   Upon receiving and docketing the citation, the clerk will set the case for an arraignment and a notice will be mailed to the defendant.

DUI is an enhanceable offense, which means the more prior convictions a person has, the more severe the penalties become.  Another factor in sentencing is whether the person’s breath or blood alcohol level exceeded .15 in the pending case.  Depending on the number of priors (and when) the case may be prosecuted as a felony.

In misdemeanor DUI cases, the maximum period of probation is twelve months.  Maximum jail sentences range from 180 days to one year depending on the number of priors.  In all instances, the person’s driver’s license will be suspended by the court, he or she will be required to attend DUI School, undergo and alcohol evaluation, complete treatment if recommended, and will be subject to a vehicle impoundment.  For a first offense, fifty hours of community service is required.  Depending on the number of priors, and the blood alcohol level, the installation of an ignition interlock device may also be required.  If prosecuted as a felony, the person is facing up to five years in prison and many of the above listed sanctions will also apply.  It should be noted that any license suspension in the criminal proceeding is separate from, and in addition to, the administrative license suspension.

A qualified DUI defense attorney can help a person navigate this often complex and confusing process.  Also, the attorney will meticulously review the evidence to determine the existence of any possible defenses including, but not limited to:  (1) whether there any witnesses who actually saw the defendant driving or in actual physical control of the vehicle; (2) whether the officer had the requisite reasonable suspicion to conduct a traffic stop; (3) whether the officer had probable cause to make an arrest; (4) whether the person was properly instructed on the field sobriety exercise; (5) whether the person’s purported signs of impairment can be attributed to something other than ingestion of alcohol or drugs; (6) whether the person was read his or her Miranda warnings; (7) whether implied consent warnings were read; (8) whether the breath test machine was functioning properly; (9) if a blood draw was done, whether proper procedures were complied with; and/or (10) if the person requested an independent blood test, whether proper procedures were complied with. 

Also, the person may elect to exercise his or her right to a jury trial.  If fount not guilty, the person will not have a conviction on his or her record and, if he or she had been subject to an administrative suspension, that suspension will be reversed.  If you have been arrested for a DUI, time is of the essence; you should consult with an experienced Tampa Bay area DUI defense attorney as soon as possible.

For more information, see our article on HG.Org: St. Petersburg DUI Attorney.


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