Driving under the influence is a serious criminal charge in Florida and throughout the United States. While most people are knowledgeable about the tragic accidents that drunk drivers often cause, information about how a DUI charge can impact your life is harder to come by.
It’s hard to avoid the message that drinking and driving don’t mix or that DUI car crashes take thousands of lives each year. However, anyone who is accused of drinking and driving stands to learn a lot about Florida DUI laws and how a DUI charge will negatively affect their life.
If you’re arrested and charged with DUI, you’re encouraged to seek out experienced counsel from a West Palm Beach DUI lawyer. Below are the top five facts you need to understand about a criminal DUI charge in Florida.
#1: You Can Get a DUI with Less Than a 0.08% BAC
The “legal limit” may be 0.08% in all states but Utah, but you can still be charged with a DUI if your BAC is lower than that. A BAC of 0.08% can result in a per se DUI charge, meaning that there is no other evidence necessary to prove you were impaired behind the wheel. If your BAC was below 0.08% but you were showing signs of impairment, the investigating officers may still have probable cause to arrest you.
Additionally, all states have a Zero Tolerance law that establishes criminal consequences for drivers younger than 21 who drive with any detectable amount of alcohol in their system. So, if you’re 19 with a BAC of 0.02%, you can be arrested, charged, and even convicted of DUI if you lack a strong defense. Drivers who are under the influence of substances besides alcohol—and have no detectable BAC—may also be charged with DUI if their drug use prevents them from driving safely.
Overall, prosecuting cases of DUI with a BAC of less than 0.08% may be more difficult, but it’s not impossible for this charge to result in a conviction.
#2: You Can Be Charged with DUI If You Were Asleep in Your Car
Many people are surprised to learn that it is possible to be convicted of DUI without actually driving a car. Statute 316.193 of the 2020 Florida Statutes states:
“A person is guilty of the offense of driving under the influence and is subject to punishment…if the person is driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle within this state and:
- The person is under the influence of alcoholic beverages, any chemical substance set forth in s. 877.111, or any substance controlled under chapter 893, when affected to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired;
- The person has a blood-alcohol level of 0.08% or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood; or
- The person has a breath-alcohol level of 0.08% or more grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.”
Per this statute, a person who decides to “sleep off” their intoxication in their vehicle may still be charged and convicted, even if their car keys aren’t within reach.
#3: In Some Cases, a Third DUI Is a Misdemeanor
In Florida, a third DUI charge within 10 years of a previous DUI may result in a third-degree felony; however, a third DUI that occurs more than 10 years after the second may result in a jail term of not more than 12 months, which means it’s a misdemeanor offense. Even so, you may face harsher penalties upon conviction due to your DUI record. This is just one of dozens of reasons why it’s important to get a competent DUI lawyer on your side.
#4: You May Legally Refuse Field Sobriety Tests
Field sobriety tests are the non-chemical tests police officers may subject you to in establishing reasonable suspicion that you are under the influence before they can legally arrest you. Your performance in a field sobriety test—such as the horizontal gaze nystagmus—can affirm the officer’s suspicion that you are intoxicated. If you “fail” these tests, the officer may place you under arrest and take you to the nearest police station to perform a breathalyzer test.
Although you cannot refuse a breath test without consequences, it is your right to avoid performing field sobriety tests. If you don’t do them, it may be more challenging for the state to prove that the officer had probable cause to arrest you; however, other evidence of your impairment prior to your traffic stop may be available. An attorney who has resolved hundreds of DUI cases will know what to look for when investigating the circumstances surrounding your arrest.
#5: Jail Is Possible for Your First DUI, But May Be Avoided
One of the most immediate concerns for people who are facing a DUI charge is knowing whether or not they can go to jail for their first DUI conviction. In Florida, a first DUI is a misdemeanor offense that may carry the following penalties:
- A $500 to $1,000 fine
- Jail time for up to six months
Although jail time is definitely possible, many people who are charged with a DUI for the very first time don’t spend any time in jail. This is much more likely for anyone who has no criminal record and no aggravating factors for their DUI, such as having children in the car at the time of the arrest or a BAC of more than 0.15%. In many cases, people facing charges for a first DUI may be sentenced to:
- Community service
- DUI school
- A substance abuse program
- A suspended license
Additionally, some people may be ordered to install an ignition interlock device; yet, this is up to a judge’s discretion and is not a common punishment for a first DUI.
Who to Turn to for a Knowledgeable DUI Defense in West Palm Beach
If you’re looking at DUI charges in West Palm Beach or surrounding areas, you’ll want to quickly learn as much as you can about your options for defense, what a realistic outcome might look like, and what’s at stake if you’re convicted.
Attorney Brian P. Gabriel of The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel has defended individuals charged with DUI for more than 30 years. He focuses his legal practice on DUI defense and has become a leader in the fight against the use of breath test results as evidence in the state of Florida. Throughout his career, he has challenged all types of alcohol charges with passion and a unique approach to each individual case. Call (561) 622-5575 for a free consultation or complete a contact form.