After a DUI arrest, a person's driver license is very much in jeopardy. What happens to your driver license varies depending on your case and circumstances. The status of your driver license will also change depending on whether you are ultimately found guilty of DUI. Even you are found NOT GUILTY of DUI by a jury, you may still face consequences for your driver license set forth by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Immediate Driver License Consequences After a DUI Arrest
Your license will only last 10 days after your DUI arrest. The DUI citation itself acts as a 10-day driving permit which allows you to drive with no restrictions for those 10 days only.
Florida law requires a driver license suspension for anyone who either (1) is driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle while having an unlawful blood alcohol or breath alcohol level (.08 or higher) or (2) refuses to give a breath alcohol sample or a urine test. (Police routinely request a urine test after a driver gives a breath sample under .08 to see if there is any other evidence of DUI related to drugs.) These are the only ways probable cause can be established to arrest a person for DUI.
Within 10 days of a DUI arrest to contest the suspension of your driver license. By doing so, you request a hearing at the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. You do not have to bring a lawyer for such a hearing, but it is certainly a good idea to have one. A person without a lawyer would have little chance of winning their hearing.
There are a few issues that can be challenged at these hearings to convince the hearing officer that your license cannot legally be suspended. For example, if the arresting police officer lacked probable cause for DUI when making the arrest, this would invalidate the license suspension. Another example is, in the case of a breath or urine refusal, where the officer improperly explained to the driver the law of implied consent and therefore the driver did not understand the consequences of refusing to give a sample. A third example would be where the driver made a genuine effort to give a breath or urine sample but was unable to because of a medical issue (most commonly lung or prostate problems).
Challenging the driver license suspension in some cases is a good idea. If the driver wins the hearing, they will get their full license back. Next, the outcome of of the driver's criminal case will determine what happens to their driver license.
How to Decide Whether to Request an Administrative Review Hearing
There are many considerations when deciding whether to waive the right to an administrative review hearing. If you waive your right to a formal review hearing, you can apply to continue to drive for business purposes only, meaning for work and other limited necessities. That is, if you do not have any prior DUI convictions and you have not refused the breath test in the past. (Fla. Stat. 322.271(2)(a)).
If you are a first-time DUI offender, it is most likely in your best interest to waive your right to a formal review hearing and apply for an immediate business-purpose driver license. If you lose the formal review hearing, you have to serve what is called a "hard suspension" before being eligible to apply for a business-purposes only license. That "hard suspension" is 30 days if you gave a breath-alcohol reading over .08, and 90 days if you refused to give a breath sample. After that "hard suspension" period, a first-time DUI offender is eligible to apply for a business purposes driver license.
However, if you have prior DUI convictions or breath refusals, you have nothing to lose by requesting a formal administrative review hearing. You cannot legally be granted an immediate business-purpose license, so there is no benefit to waiving your right to a formal review hearing. (Fla. Stat. 322.271(7)). If you win the hearing, you get your full license privileges reinstated, and if you lose, you have to serve the same "hard suspension" time as if you waived the hearing before being eligible to apply for a business purposes driver license.
If Found You Are Found Not Guilty of DUI
You may face a driver license suspension in Florida even if you are ultimately found Not Guilty of DUI. This is because refusing to take the breath-alcohol or urine test causes a suspension of your driver license for one year, regardless of whether you were actually driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. By driving in Florida, you have agreed to take breath-alcohol or urine test when asked by a police officer to do so. (Assuming that officer has probable cause to believe you were driving under the influence). (Fla. Stat. 316.1932).
Refusing to take the breath-alcohol test causes a driver license suspension of one year if it was your first time refusing to take a breath test, and 18 months for a subsequent refusal to take the breath test--even if you are NOT GUILTY of DUI. You also have to take DUI school to get your license reinstated at the end of that suspension period.
The majority of DUI acquittals (where a jury finds the driver not guilty) are in cases where the driver refused to take the breath test. However, if somehow a person who blows over the .08 legal limit is found not guilty at trial, the suspension caused by the breath results over .08 is invalidated and the driver gets their full license back. (Fla. Stat. 322.2615(16)). This is most likely to occur if the breath-alcohol reading is very close to .08. For example, where there is a breath reading of .085 or .09, it is certainly reasonable for a jury to doubt the veracity of the test results and find the driver not guilty. And, of course, if the driver's defense is that they were in fact not person in the driver's seat, their breath-alcohol reading does not matter to a jury who is persuaded that defense.
If Found Guilty of DUI
When a person either pleads guilty to DUI or is found guilty of DUI after a trial, their license is suspended. The penalties for DUI vary greatly depending on the circumstances of each case. However, the length of the driver license suspension is often negotiable. For instance, a prosecutor may seek a five-year driver license suspension on a second DUI. In some cases, that can be negotiated down to two, three, or four years.
If you are considering requesting an administrative review hearing, you should also consider how likely you are to eventually enter a guilty plea to DUI. This is because once you enter a guilty plea, you will experience a new suspension of your driver license anyway.
As complicated as these various possibilities are, it is essential to consult with a criminal defense lawyer who can help guide you in making these decisions.