Arrested for a DUI?
When a person is arrested for a DUI, they will be held for 8 hours before release, or until they are no longer under the influence. After that time has passed, a person is permitted to leave jail, often on their own recognizance (O.R.)—in other words, without having to pay to leave jail on bond. When released O.R., a person is simply trusted to return to court for any assigned court dates. If no one was injured in the incident, like during a crash, an O.R. release is very typical for DUI arrests.
DUI First Time Offenders
In Palm Beach County, first time DUI offenders are often treated more favorably than repeat offenders. Exceptions are for cases in which there was a high breath reading, the driver had a child in the car, and where there was a vehicle crash.
First time offenders could benefit from a reduction in charge from DUI to reckless driving and avoid a driver's license suspension. Like DUI, reckless driving is also a criminal misdemeanor charge, but can have less long term effect on car insurance rates and will not count as a prior DUI offense in the future.
The first time offender DUI program in Palm Beach County has several eligibility conditions, including but not limited to: no vehicle crash, no minor children or animals involved, no prior diversion programs, valid driver's license at the time of arrest, and no felony charges or drug charges along with the DUI. The program is intended to be entered at the first court date. A prosecutor may reject a person from the first time offender program for other reasons as well.
If you have a great DUI case, you may choose not to participate in the first-time offender program. Rather, you may want to fight your case so you do not have to plead guilty to any charges. Consulting with an experience DUI attorney will ensure that you make the best decision about whether to enter the first offender program or instead challenge the evidence against you in court.
The first-time offender DUI program is not without its difficulties, including alcohol monitoring like the ignition interlock device, which can prove costly, embarrassing, and inconvenient. There are other options for alcohol monitoring , but this one is generally the most accurate, meaning it is unlikely to cause problematic false positives for alcohol use.
The device costs around $200 to install, $80-90 per month to maintain, and around $200 to have removed from your vehicle. I have heard from clients that it is very difficult to use if you drive a car with a manual transmission. Also, clients tell me if can cause problems with their car's computer. Driving with the device on your car requires planning ahead because the device does not always work properly and you may not be able to drive exactly when you want.
The ignition interlock device is required for convictions where the driver's breath reading is above .15%--even for a first time DUI. This is nearly twice the legal limit, but I hear from clients who exceed this limit that their high breath reading surprised them.
The first time offender program also requires you to report to probation after entering your plea to reckless driving. This means probation fees of $50 per month, travel restrictions, random drug testing, and notifying your employer that you are on probation.
Strength of your DUI Defense
Even if you qualify for a first offender DUI program, it may be in your best interest to challenge the evidence against you in court instead. This may include the filing of pretrial motions and preparing for a trial in which the prosecutor tries to prove to a jury or judge that you are indeed guilty of DUI. If you refused to take a breath-alcohol test or give a urine sample, there may be no evidence of your blood alcohol level. The strength of your defense may then depend on whether you completed the field sobriety exercises and how well you performed, your overall appearance and demeanor on any videos taken by police, and how well you were driving at the time of the traffic stop.
In my opinion, the best DUI case is one in which (1) the driver refuses to give a breath sample, (2) the driver refuses or declines to do the field sobriety exercises, and (3) the driver declines to answer any questions asked by the police officer. In these cases, there is very little for the State to use against the driver in attempting to prosecute. This is because without a breath reading, a DUI prosecution is based on the driver's behavior. The less behavior there is to observe, the less evidence there will be to support DUI conviction.
Even where the driver may not feel impaired when they are pulled over, participating fully in the DUI investigation often helps to support a DUI prosecution. This is because (1) the field sobriety exercises are difficult for the average person to perform; (2) the officer may purposefully give the instructions in a confusing way; and (3) the driver is naturally nervous from being pulled over by the police and may not perform well, regardless of whether they are legally too intoxicated to drive.
Penalties for DUI in Florida
1st DUI Offense
- Misdemeanor conviction for DUI
- Fine of $500 to $1000
- Maximum jail sentence of 6 months
- 10 day vehicle immobilization (boot)
- Driver license revoked for at least 6 months
- If blood or breath-alcohol level of .08 or higher, ignition interlock for at least 6 months
2nd DUI Offense (See my blog post on 2nd DUIs for more information)
- Misdemeanor conviction for DUI
- Fine of $1000 to $4000
- Maximum jail sentence of 9 or 12 months, depending on breath results
- 30-day vehicle immobilization (boot)
- Driver license revoked for a period determined by breath results and length of time between 1st and 2nd conviction
- Ignition interlock device on vehicle for at least 1 year
- If less than 5 years since last DUI conviction:
- Minimum 10 days in jail
- Driver's license revoked for 5 years or more
3rd DUI Offense
- felony conviction for DUI
- Maximum 5 years in prison
- Ignition interlock device on vehicle for at least 2 years
- If within 10 years of prior DUI conviction:
- Minimum 30 days in jail
- 90 day vehicle immobilization (boot)
- Maximum $5,000 fine
- Driver license revoked for 10 years
- If more than 10 years after prior DUI conviction:
- Maximum jail sentence of 12 months
- Fine of $2,000 to $5,000
- Driver's license revoked for 5 years
4th or Subsequent DUI Conviction
- Felony conviction for DUI
- Maximum 5 years in prison
- Fine of $2,000 to $5,000
- Driver license revoked permanently
Refusal to take Breath-Alcohol Test in Florida
A person who refuses to submit to a breath-alcohol test in Florida faces a one year driver's license suspension, regardless of the outcome of their DUI case. If that person ever refuses to take a breath-alcohol test again in the future, that person can be prosecuted for a misdemeanor and faces up to one year in jail. Refusing a second or subsequent time will also result in a driver's license suspension for 18 months rather than one year. Prosecutors typically seek harsh penalties of at least several months in jail for a second or subsequent refusal—often a harsher penalty than the person would face for having simply done poorly on the breath-alcohol test. If a person was seriously injured or killed during a DUI accident, under some circumstances, blood may be drawn without the driver's consent in order to obtain a blood-alcohol reading.
Formal Review Hearing
Within 10 days of your DUI arrest, you must decide how to handle the option for an administrative hearing with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to determine whether your license has been properly suspended due to arrest for DUI. If you have no DUI priors you can enroll in DUI school right away, waive the hearing, and apply for a business-purposes-only driver license in order to avoid having any time without a valid driver license pending the outcome of your DUI case. If you are ultimately convicted of DUI, you will have your license suspended at that time. Consulting with a lawyer can help you decide whether electing to have the formal review hearing is in your best interest based on the facts of your case and your individual circumstances.
I have defended many DUI cases during my career, resulting in many acquittals as well as many favorable plea resolutions for her clients. I have tried 26 DUI cases before a jury or judge, including charges for driving under the influence of drugs and DUI Manslaughter. I have also represented hundreds of clients charged with driving under suspended license (DUS) and no valid driver license.