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Experienced Defense Attorneys for Drunk Driving Offenses in Florida

Experienced Defense Attorneys for Drunk Driving Offenses in Florida

If you’ve been arrested (and possibly charged) with a Florida DUI offense, then you may be feeling overwhelmed and anxious.  This is perfectly reasonable, as a DUI conviction can lead to severe criminal and civil penalties that could have a significant impact on your overall life trajectory.

Given the stakes, it is important to consult an experienced Florida DUI defense lawyer as soon as possible for guidance.  Here at Fowler Law Group, our Sarasota and Bradenton DUI attorneys have helped numerous DUI defendants avoid criminal liability, particularly in cases where law enforcement was overzealous and lacked sufficient proof of misconduct.

Understanding the Potential Defenses to a DUI Charge

There are a variety of effective defenses that can be employed to fight a DUI charge.  These defenses include, but are not limited to:

    • The law enforcement officers did not establish the necessary “reasonable suspicion” to engage in a legitimate police stop.
    • The law enforcement officers did not establish “probable cause” of intoxication necessary to perform the arrest.
    • You were not actually in control of the vehicle (i.e., you got into your car to search for a personal item but were not actually intending to start and drive the car anywhere).
    • You were not actually intoxicated.
    • The DUI tests were improperly performed, inaccurate, or otherwise unreliable.

Let’s take a closer look at how to attack the DUI tests that were administered.

Police Alcohol Tests May Be Unreliable

Testing is a critical issue in DUI prosecutions.

If you can show that the DUI test the law enforcement officers used (to establish probable cause) in making their arrest was inaccurate or otherwise unreliable, and therefore could not form the legal basis for an arrest, then you may be able to have the DUI charges dismissed.

Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are tests administered on-site (i.e., at the “crime” scene) to determine whether the driver is intoxicated.  In Florida, there are a few standardized FSTs administered by law enforcement officers:

  • The horizontal gaze test (i.e., tracking the law enforcement officer’s finger with your eye);
  • The walk-and-turn test (i.e., walking in a straight line and turning, all while counting out loud and maintaining balance, and starting-stopping at the officer’s discretion); and
  • The one-legged balance test (i.e., standing on one leg and maintaining balance while counting out loud.)

FSTs have been criticized for decades, and for good reason.

FSTs are not particularly reliable tests of intoxication, given that there are a number of confounding factors — an individual may simply have a poor sense of motor balance (perhaps due to a medical condition), which has nothing to do with consumption of alcohol.  Some individuals simply have trouble with divided attention tasks, like FSTs, whether intoxicated or not.  It is not hard to imagine that many drivers would struggle to balance on one leg and count out loud, even when completely sober.

Chemical Tests

Chemical tests for DUI include the following:

  • Breath (e.g. breathalyzer)
  • Urine
  • Blood

Though chemical tests are sometimes perceived to be relatively more reliable than FSTs, they are not necessarily reliable in absolute terms.  Testing may be conducted improperly, causing errors.  False positives are not uncommon — for example, there are individuals who have alcohol content in their blood due to a medical condition, and it has nothing to do with actual liquor consumption.

Breathalyzer tests are perhaps the most notorious of the chemical tests and are the most commonly implemented in real-world scenarios — law enforcement officers frequently conduct breathalyzer tests (at checkpoints and otherwise) to establish probable cause to make a DUI arrest.

There are a number of problems with breathalyzer tests.  First, it is quite common for law enforcement officers to perform the test incorrectly — often due to their failure to properly calibrate the breathalyzer prior to testing.  Second, breathalyzers may not be up-to-date and therefore might not be accurate.  Breathalyzers have a limited shelf life, and if the breathalyzer was used after its intended “expiration date,” then the results can almost certainly be challenged for inaccuracy.

Refusing a Florida DUI Test — Is that a Good Choice? 

In Florida, field sobriety tests are voluntary — you do not have to submit to an FST, though there are real consequences for refusal. Namely, your refusal to submit to an FST could be used as evidence against you in court.  As such, in many cases, it is better to submit to an FST and subsequently challenge the findings than to refuse testing outright.

Chemical tests are different.  Florida is an implied consent state with respect to DUI chemical tests (breath, urine, blood).  Essentially, when you obtained your driver’s license, the law says that you consented to submit to a DUI chemical test.  Refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test could lead to the suspension of your license and potentially even criminal charges.

How a Florida DUI Defense Lawyer Help

Lawyers are fundamental to success in fighting a DUI.

An experienced DUI defense attorney has litigated numerous DUI claims and understands the strategies typically engaged by prosecutors, giving them the insight necessary to go on the offensive and seek an early resolution (i.e., showing that the test results were not definitive, thus forcing the prosecutors to drop the charges).  In cases where you were actually intoxicated, a skilled attorney can argue persuasively on your behalf to minimize the penalties and therefore limit the negative impact on your life.

When Can You Be Charged with DUI in Florida?

Florida law imposes severe penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol. But, did you know that you don’t actually have to show signs of impairment to face a DUI conviction? Did you know that you don’t even have to be driving in order to be guilty of DUI?

Florida’s DUI statute establishes several different drunk driving offenses. The main ways that you can face a DUI charge are:

  • Driving “under the influence of alcoholic beverages . . . when affected to the extent that [your] normal faculties are impaired;” or,
  • Driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or above.

Importantly, either of these is sufficient to establish guilt for DUI in Florida. If you are showing signs of impairment, then you can be charged and convicted regardless of your BAC. Likewise, even if you are not showing signs of impairment, you can be charged and convicted simply because your BAC is 0.08 percent or above.

While driving under the influence is one way to face a DUI charge, you can also be charged with DUI if you are “in actual physical control of a vehicle.” This means that you do not have to be driving in order to be found guilty of DUI. If you are found in the driver’s seat with the key, this could be enough to support a DUI charge under Florida law. Additionally, Florida’s DUI law makes no distinction between public and private property, so you can face a DUI charge whether you are driving downtown or you are parked in someone’s driveway.

When Can You Be Charged with Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUI-Drugs)?

Florida’s DUI laws apply equally to cases involving alcohol and drug impairment. Drug and alcohol cases are prosecuted under the same law—Section 316.193 of the Florida Statutes in most cases. The law applies to all types of prescription, over-the-counter and illegal drugs, including (but not limited to):

  • Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Hydrocodone
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamine
  • Opioid medications

Florida’s DUI law does not establish specific levels of intoxication for these and other drugs. In other words, there is no replacement for the BAC test in DUI-drug cases. However, blood and urine samples can still be used to show that a person had drugs in his or her system; and, in many cases, building an effective defense will involve our Venice DUI lawyers challenging the validity of the test results obtained.

DUI Charges Against Commercial Drivers in Florida

If you have a commercial driver’s license (CDL), then special rules apply to you under Florida law. When driving a commercial vehicle, you cannot have a BAC of 0.04 percent or above. If your BAC exceeds this threshold, then you can be charged with DUI—and this is true regardless of whether you are showing any signs of impairment.

But, that is not the only special rule that applies. When you have a CDL, getting a DUI can result in the loss of your commercial driver’s license, and thus the loss of your livelihood. This is true whether (i) you are convicted of DUI while driving your personal vehicle, or (ii) you are convicted of DUI (including a DUI with a BAC of 0.04 percent) while driving a commercial vehicle.

Under Section 322.61 of the Florida Statutes, a DUI conviction automatically results in the suspension of your CDL for one year. However, if you transport hazardous materials, then your CDL will be suspended for three years. In either case, the suspension of your CDL is in addition to any other penalties imposed for your DUI conviction.

When Can Florida Police Stop You for DUI?

In Florida, a police officer can stop you for DUI if he or she has “reasonable suspicion” that you are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. There are various factors that can establish reasonable suspicion, although an anonymous tip from a concerned citizen generally is not enough. Some examples of factors that may establish reasonable suspicion for a DUI stop include:

  • Drifting out of your lane
  • Braking or accelerating suddenly without a valid explanation
  • Driving well below the speed limit
  • Driving at night without lights
  • Running a red light or stop sign
  • Making wide turns
  • Straddling the center line
  • Nearly causing an accident
  • Driving on the shoulder
  • Drinking in the driver’s seat

Additionally, if the police stop you for another reason (i.e. because you were speeding), then they are free to determine that you were also driving drunk or high. In fact, in many cases the police will discover that a driver is impaired after making a stop on the road or highway. 

However, the police cannot stop you based on your race or sex, and there are constitutional limits on when the police can search your vehicle for an open container. As a result, following a DUI arrest, it is extremely important to relay all of the details of your traffic stop to one of our Manatee County DUI lawyers.

Are DUI Checkpoints Legal in Florida?

DUI checkpoints are legal in Florida, but they are subject to specific rules and requirements. If you were arrested for DUI at a police checkpoint, our lawyers will carefully review the processes and procedures involved in order to determine whether your arrest was legal under Florida law.

For example, one concern with DUI checkpoints is that they will be used to racially profile drivers. In order to prevent this, Florida law requires that a predetermined number of vehicles be stopped at random, while the police must also stop anyone who shows signs of impairment or other illegal activity. Other requirements for Florida DUI checkpoints include:

  • The police must post the date and location of scheduled DUI checkpoints in advance;
  • The police must place signs warning that a DUI checkpoint is ahead;
  • The checkpoint must be operated “reasonably” (i.e. it must not significantly impair the flow of traffic);
  • The checkpoint must be operated in a safe and well-lit location; and,
  • Drivers must not be delayed any longer than necessary.

Contact Fowler Law Group for a Free Consultation

DUI advocacy is ultimately a matter of building a persuasive defense by “poking holes” in the prosecution’s arguments.

Here at Fowler Law Group, our Florida attorneys have decades of experience working with those who have been charged with a DUI.  We are keen litigators who understand the challenges facing defendants, from severe penalties to the social and career ramifications of a criminal conviction — as such, we are committed to investing sufficient time and attention towards each client to ensure they receive thorough, personalized legal representation.

Ready to speak to a skilled DUI defense lawyer at Fowler Law Group?

Call us at 941-404-8909 or send us a message online to schedule a free and confidential consultation today.

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