In South Florida, far too many are injured or killed in DUI-related traffic crashes. What makes these injuries and deaths especially heartbreaking is that almost all of them could have been avoided. In Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Broward County, rideshare services, taxicabs, and limos are abundant and available 24 hours a day every day. Of course, if you make a bad judgment and you are arrested for driving under the influence in South Florida – or if you are wrongly accused and innocent – take your case to an experienced West Palm Beach DUI defense attorney immediately.

Under Florida law, driving under the influence is proved by impairment of normal faculties or by a breath or blood alcohol content (BAC) level at or above 0.08 percent. The potential consequences of a misdemeanor first-offense DUI conviction in Florida are many. An enhanced penalty will apply if the convicted motorist had a high blood alcohol content level of 0.15 percent or higher at the time of the arrest, had a minor under age 18 as a passenger at the time of the arrest, or was in a collision that involved injuries or property damage.

WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL PENALTIES FOR A MISDEMEANOR FIRST-OFFENSE DUI CONVICTION IN FLORIDA?

Every driving under the influence case is different, and any specific sentence for a misdemeanor first-offense DUI conviction will be based on the details of the incident and the history of the defendant. Florida judges have wide discretion in DUI cases. At the court’s discretion, a sentence may be served in a residential alcoholism or drug abuse treatment program, with the time credited toward the term of incarceration.

Listed here are the penalties that Florida may impose for a misdemeanor first-offense DUI conviction:

  • Jail: No minimum jail time is required, but up to six months in jail is possible. If the penalty is enhanced, no jail time is required, but up to nine months in jail is possible. If the driver caused one or more catastrophic injuries or fatalities, a longer jail sentence – up to five years – may be ordered.
  • Fines: The fine is not lower than $500 and not more than $1,000. If the penalty is enhanced, the fine is not lower than $1,000 and not more than $2,000.
  • License Suspension: The license suspension period is 180 days to one year.
  • Ignition Interlock Device: Installation of an IID is not required, but may be imposed at a judge’s discretion, unless the penalty is enhanced, in which case IID installation will be required.
  • Community Service: A mandatory 50 hours of community service is required or an additional fine of $10 for each hour of community service required but not served.
  • Probation: The total period of probation and incarceration may not exceed one year.
  • Vehicle impoundment. Drivers convicted of a misdemeanor first-offense DUI will usually have their personal vehicles impounded or immobilized for a ten-day period that cannot overlap with any days the driver serves behind bars for the DUI conviction.

ARE THERE ADDITIONAL “ADMINISTRATIVE” PENALTIES?

In most misdemeanor first-offense DUI cases, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will administratively suspend, for six months, the license of a motorist who is arrested for driving with a BAC level at or above 0.08 percent. Drivers who refuse to submit to chemical testing in violation of Florida’s “implied consent” laws will face an administrative driver’s license suspension of one year. Also in most cases, the administrative suspension will be enforced even if the defendant is not eventually convicted in a criminal court of driving under the influence.

Someone whose Florida driver’s license has been suspended for a DUI arrest or conviction may be able to obtain what the state calls a “hardship” license – a driver’s license that is legal only for driving to work, school, medical appointments, and worship services. A driver whose license is administratively suspended for having a BAC level at 0.08 percent or higher usually qualifies for a hardship license after the first thirty days of the license suspension. Drivers who refused to submit to a blood or breath test will not qualify for a hardship license until after the first ninety days of the license suspension period.

IF YOU FACE A FLORIDA DUI CHARGE, WHERE SHOULD YOU TURN?

According to statistics from the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles, in 2011, more than 55,000 DUI citations were issued in this state, but only 33,625 of those citations resulted in DUI convictions. Roughly forty percent of those accused of DUI were either acquitted, had charges dismissed, or pled guilty to or were found guilty of a lesser charge like reckless driving. Experienced DUI attorneys frequently prevail on behalf of their clients in this state.

Of course, it’s possible to win at a trial and be found not guilty, but because anyone can be chosen for jury duty, you and your attorney have no way to know what will happen at a trial. To avoid that risk, your lawyer may recommend directly negotiating with the prosecutor. Even when the evidence against you is overwhelming, a good DUI attorney can almost always find something that will help your case.

A DUI charge can be reduced or dismissed if breathalyzer results can be successfully challenged, if the arresting officer’s testimony is inconsistent or suspect, or if your traffic stop or arrest violated your constitutional rights. Floridians, in particular, should be aware that alcohol intoxication is not the only type of impairment governed by the state’s DUI laws. If you are impaired while driving because you are under the influence of any drug or substance – legal or not – you can be charged with driving under the influence.

Medicines that impair driving skills include popularly-prescribed drugs like Dolophine, Vicodin, Demerol, and Oxycontin, but almost any medicine that you are prescribed or that you buy over-the-counter can impair your physical reflexes, mental processes, and reaction times. Never drive or operate machinery when using these medications, and never combine your medications with drugs like alcohol or marijuana – especially if you intend to drive.

West Palm Beach DUI defense attorney Rick Hutchinson summarizes what happens after a first DUI arrest: “I would say that after a first offense DUI arrest a person needs to be very careful on how they proceed as there are some potentially serious penalties and repercussions as well as a wide range of outcomes from jail time to a lesser charge of reckless to an outright dismissal depending on factors from how you were stopped, whether there was an accident, whether you gave a breath sample as well as a number of other variables, etc. All options need to be reviewed and discussed with a competent attorney prior to making any decision.”

It’s the job of an experienced DUI lawyer to achieve the best possible results for clients, and DUI attorneys are frequently able to do that in Florida. If the evidence against you is powerful and the state can prove its case against you beyond a reasonable doubt, a good DUI defense lawyer will still fight on your behalf for reduced or alternative sentencing. Of course, all of this legal trouble can be avoided when drivers heed one suggestion, the same one they’ve heard many times before: Don’t Drink and Drive.