You’re enjoying a quiet night driving in your vehicle, when suddenly red and blue lights flash in your rearview mirror. You hear sirens and realize it’s time to pull over. While these situations can seem intimidating at first, it’s helpful to know what you’re dealing with, so please read our helpful Fort Lauderdale DUI guide.
Being Stopped on the Road
After being pulled over, a Ft. Lauderdale police officer will in most cases administer a Field Sobriety Test to help them determine whether you’re driving under the influence of alcohol. These tests are usually performed by you at the request of the officer, while he or she observes whether or not you’re able to perform simple tasks of coordination. If the test fails, the officer can request that you submit to a breathalyzer test. These tests are intended to provide an indication of your “Blood Alcohol Content”, or “BAC”, and can result in an immediate arrest if the results are 0.08 or greater. The officer may also arrest you if you refuse to submit to the test.
As a result of Florida’s “Zero Tolerance Law” for drivers below the age of 21, even a BAC reading as low as 0.02 can result in a DUI arrest. Often, these levels are reached after just one drink, or even if the subject doesn’t feel very intoxicated.
Understanding Florida’s Implied Consent Law
Due to Florida’s “implied consent” law, licensed Florida drivers are obligated to submit to a chemical test. This means that after an officer has arrested you for DUI, you must take a chemical test or face immediate suspension of your license for one year. Also, in cases where an accident, injury, or death have occurred, the police may forcibly draw blood from you.
While the consequences of refusing a breathalyzer test are not as severe as a DUI conviction itself, this is no guarantee that DUI charges will not be pursued regardless. In these cases, the prosecutor could argue that you avoided a DUI test simply because you knew you were highly intoxicated.
Being Booked In and Bailing Out
After being arrested, the next location you are likely to visit is the Ft. Lauderdale jail. Here, you may have the opportunity to make a phone call to contact you attorney or someone who can help you post bail. Bail for this offense is generally set between $200 and $500, of which you are required to pay 10% after receiving your bail bond.
Once you’ve arrived at jail, you are likely to remain incarcerated for up to eight hours, or until the police have determined that you are no longer intoxicated and that your BAC has returned to below 0.05.
The Arraignment Process
After going through the process of being arrested, booked, and released, you’ll be given a date for your arraignment hearing. At this hearing, the criminal charges that you face will be formally read and you’ll be required to enter a plea of either “guilty” or “not guilty”. The judge will ask whether or not you have an attorney, and one may be appointed to you by the Broward County Public Defender’s office if you’re not able to afford one.
Having Your License Suspended
If convicted for DUI in Fort Lauderdale, you can typically expect your license to be suspended from 6 to 12 months, with second and third-time DUI offenses bringing five-year and ten-year suspensions. An option is available to request a special hearing with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles after your arrest in order to request a “hardship” license. However, if the request is not made in a timely manner, it will produce an automatic suspension.
Those seeking a hardship license are advised to take an 8-hour driving class immediately. The cost of the class is $250.00, which for some can be considered money well-spent. The local DMV will request proof of your enrollment in the class prior to lifting your suspension.
Hardship licenses allow the individual to drive to their place of work, school, or church, leaving other traveling rights up to the description of the officer who apprehends you.
Striking a Plea Bargain
If circumstances allow, the prosecutor may make an offer, called a “plea bargain” to have you enter a guilty plea in return for a lesser charge. This is often preferred as it can secure a lesser sentence. DUI charges can often be dropped to a “wet reckless”, or a reckless driving charge where alcohol was involved. Most commonly, these plea bargains are made in situations where there wasn’t an accident, and your BAC level was right at or close to the illegal limit. Also, there should be no history of DUIs on record, and further convictions for drunk driving will usually make the reckless driving charge appear as a past DUI in the eyes of a judge and the court.
Motion to Suppress Evidence
In some cases involving the suspicion of drunk driving, the evidence gathered was not done so in a proper way according to low and procedure. In these cases, if it can be determined there was not sufficient probable cause to make an arrest, evidence may be challenged through a “Motion to Suppress Evidence”. This may even lead to charges being dropped altogether.
The Sentencing Process: What to Expect
As with any legal matter, the terms of your sentence will in large part be a decided based upon the unique details of your individual case. Your BAC level at the time can play a large role in this, and having a reading that is greater than 0.20, or having minor passengers in the vehicle can result in more jail time or higher fines, among other things. The judge will also look to see whether or not an accident was involved.
Generally, first-time DUI offences can incur a $1,000 fine, 50 hours of community service, and having your car impounded for 10 days. Regarding how long the conviction will impact any future and subsequent DUI convictions, Florida has a 5-year “look-back” period for second DUI convictions and a 10-year “look-back” period for any further convictions. This number relates to how long the court systems will look back at prior DUI arrests and convictions when determining future cases. For this reason, any further convictions will result in greater fines, a longer period of having the vehicle impounded, and longer mandatory minimum jail sentences. These include 10 days for a second DUI, 30 days for a third or greater, and a third DUI within 10 years can also be changed as a felony.
In addition, Florida will usually require the installation of an “IID”, or “Ignition Interlock Device” after a conviction for a DUI. It’s possible that this can be required for first-time DUI offenders with a high BAC reading, however, it is always mandatory after a second (or further) conviction. This is accompanied by a $70 fee for the initial installation, and about the same charge each month for mandatory inspections.
If you have been involved with a DUI conviction in Sothern Florida and want to be certain of your rights and legal options, we urge you to get in touch with us today for the legal assistance you’re looking for.