The Tampa, Florida DUI court process

Most people rarely drink and drive deliberately. It usually happens without prior thought. Many drivers think that they can still safely drive, even if their BAC is .08 or over, but the law in Florida does not agree. An arrest can take place without warning and many of those confronted do not know what to do, or what their entitlements are.

Once arrested and DUI has been confirmed, then a minimum of 8 hours has to be spent in a police cell. Before a release can take place, you must post a bond or “Release on Own Recognizance” (ROR). The bond is completed by providing your own money at the jail (as a money order or in cash). This amount is returned as long when you attend all court appearances when required.

If you cannot raise this amount, then you can use a bail bondsman. This is a little cheaper to begin with as you only have to pay 10% to the bail bondsman, who will then pay the full amount on your behalf. A guarantor may be required if using this method. An ROR can be granted by the Judge as long as he or she feels sure that you will not miss any court appearances. There is no bond attached to an ROR

If you fail to attend a court appearance, a warrant will be issued for your arrest.

First Court Appearance

No time is wasted with the first appearance as it takes place within 24 hours of arrest. You must attend this hearing if you have been kept in jail. At this hearing the Judge will read out your charges, check the affidavit (signed statement) which will determine if you have been justifiably charged, tell you that you may have an attorney, and finally decide on the terms of your release, whether through a bond or ROR.

Arraignment

When placed under arrest for DUI, or any other criminal charge related to traffic, you will have been issued with a court hearing date. This is referred to as an arraignment. You must appear at this hearing where you will enter a plea and report to the Court regarding your use of an attorney. If you do not have enough money for an attorney, the Court will take on the job of appointing a Public Defender while at the arraignment. If you do not have an attorney, or your appointed one has failed to appear and file a plea of “Not Guilty” on your behalf, you must go to this hearing.

The judge at the arraignment reads out your charges and you may be asked to enter a plea. You have three options:

  • Guilty
  • Not Guilty
  • No Contest.

It is not a good idea to plead “No Contest” or “Guilty” at an arraignment. You have a right to a trial, so you should take that option.

Notice of Appearance

Your DUI attorney will file for you a “Notice of Appearance”. This document lets the Judge, Prosecutor and the Clerk’s office know that you have an attorney to represent you. A Not Guilty written plea will be filed by your attorney. This gives you the right to a trial if the case cannot be settled beforehand.

A “Demand for Discovery” will be filed by your attorney as well. This means the Prosecutor must give your Attorney certain information, including Police reports, any available evidence and witnesses.

The Discovery Process

The Prosecutor has to respond to your attorney’s “Demand for Discovery”. Your attorney will evaluate the information and, if allowed to do so, will timetable a deposition of the witnesses provided by the prosecution. This means witnesses must take a sworn testimony at the court reporter’s office in the presence of the prosecutor and your attorney. Your attorney will view any video or audio tapes provided by the prosecutor.

As you have the right to remain silent, the prosecutor can’t demand a deposition from you, but the prosecutor may wish for a deposition from your witnesses.

Pretrial Hearing

The pretrial hearing will occur a few weeks after the arraignment. This hearing allows the Judge to decide if the case can be settled. Your presence is normally requested at the pretrial hearing.

If you decide to settle your case by altering your plea at the pretrial hearing, a sentence will then be imposed by the Judge.

Trial

If you decide to have a trial, then preparation will be required. Your attorney will review all evidence and testimonies. Most criminal charges will be settled by jury. When this happens, the Judge will decide on the law side and the jury will determine if you are guilty or innocent.

The dates for pretrial motions and the trial will be decided by the judge.

Preliminary Hearing

At this hearing, the presiding judge will decide whether the prosecution has enough convincing evidence to allow a jury to return a verdict.

Plea Bargaining

This involves settling with the prosecution. This method is discouraged in cases of DUI and, in some states, is not even permitted. This is because legislators think DUI is so serious that it is inappropriate plea bargain.

Your attorney can sometimes reach a settlement with the prosecution to reduce a charge to a lesser one. There might be a possibility of reaching a compromise by pleading guilty to a DUI charge in the hope that the prosecutor will recommend a lesser sentence than if the case was heard at a trial.

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The Consequences of BAC levels on a Tampa DUI Sentence

Studies indicate that every drink consumed elevates the blood alcohol level (BAC) by 0.05% and as the maximum allowable level for a driver in Florida is 0.08, then unless you really think that the drink you are likely to consume is not going to exceed the limit, then you are best to stay out of your car if you intend to drink.

DUI is a serious offense in Florida and other states as well. The State’s drunk driving laws do not allow drivers to drive any type of vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) which exceeds 0.08% or more. The 0.08% BAC limit is a standard measurement that is used throughout the country for the “impaired” driver. The limit is significantly lower for commercial vehicles at 0.04% and drops even further for those under the age of 21 to 0.02%.

The strict laws for DUI in Florida mean when you do end up drinking and driving, you are taking a risk with your freedom and your finances, which could affect your future as well. If you do get caught, you will need a DUI lawyer to assist you to handle the court process and ensure that the evidence provided is sufficient to convict you.

Penalties for DUI

When convicted for drunk driving for the first time in Florida a possible penalty could be up to 6 months in a jail. If a person who was a minor was traveling in the vehicle as well when the test took place, or if the driver’s BAC was 0.15 or more, the driver could be sent to jail for up to 9 months and be fined up to $2,000. A suspension of the driver’s license for 6 months is a penalty as well. You will be required to undertake 50 hours of community work or, as a substitute, pay $10 for each hour of community work required. Completing DUI school is a requirement as well.

If convicted a second time in Florida, a 9 month jail sentence could be imposed and a longer period, up to 12 months, if a minor was in the vehicle at the time, or if the BAC is or exceeds 0.15.

If a second conviction takes place 5 years after the first, it is mandatory for the driver to remain in jail for 10 days. 2 days has to be consecutive. The vehicle will be impounded for 30 days unless the family related to the driver has no other form of transport. A fine up to $2,000 dollars will be imposed, too. A BAC higher than 0.15 and a minor in the vehicle as well will incur a fine up to $4,000. If this has been taken within 5 years of the second offense, the drivers license will be suspended for up to 5 years. Attending DUI school is required if the court makes that decision.

A third drunk driving conviction means up to 12 months in jail, serving a minimum of 30 days and a fine up to $5,000. The vehicle will be removed for 90 days. If the BAC was more than 0.15, or a minor was traveling in the vehicle, a minimum of $4,000 will be paid as a fine and the driver license will be suspended for 10 years.

In 2010, Florida lowered penalties for repeat DUI offenders who had been caught four times. These requirements now include a 10-year driving free period with no driving allowed in that time as long as there is no manslaughter in the charge. The defendant is required to take part in alcohol treatment for six months after the return of the license.

As DUI sentences are accumulative and have such an effect on your finances and ability to move around and keep a job, you are best using an experienced DUI lawyer to assess your situation. It is possible that your charge can be reduced or even thrown out if the lawyer is able to find inconsistencies or inaccuracies n the way you were arrested or charged.

How trustworthy are the Intoxilyzer results in Florida?

An Intoxilyzer is a device used by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to test for blood alcohol content (BAC) for anybody who has been arrested for being drunk while driving (DUI). The Intoxilyzer 8000 is the most common breathalyzer used in Florida as well as many other parts of the United States. It is not the only device used to test for BAC, however, as there is also a blood test. If you have been arrested for DUI in Tampa and have been asked to have a blood alcohol test, then you can choose to take a blood test or a breath test.

The Intoxilyzer 8000 has been a controversial device in most states. In some states, it is no longer used because of its potential inaccuracies. It is quite possible that many people have been convicted of DUI because of false readings obtained by the Intoxilyzer 8000. If you have blown into a breathalyzer in Florida and the police have convicted you because your BAC reading was above 0.08, the legal blood alcohol limit, then your DUI attorney may be able to contest the charge, due to potential inaccuracies.

There are a number of concerns with the Intoxilyzer 8000 which makes it far from foolproof as a device for measuring blood alcohol levels.

These concerns can be summarized as:

  • inadequate level of training used by the operator
  • the procedure for use not being followed correctly
  • interference by radio controlled devices in the vicinity
  • inadequate cleanliness of the device
  • calibration of the device being faulty
  • defective Intoxilyzers being used and not remedied sufficiently
  • pre existing health condition of the accused interfering with results
  • medications used by the accused interfering with the results.

The Intoxilyzer 8000 has had more than its fair share of criticisms and the FDLE has been attempting to address some of the complaints by an examination of its existing machines. All Intoxilyzers are supposed to be notified to the United States Federal Department of Transport (USDOT) for conformity before being used, or after any modification. The manufacturer of the Intoxilyzer 8000, CMI, has apparently had to modify the device over 17 times since the original release date in 2002, but 16 of these 17 modifications have not been verified for conformity and therefore could still be potentially defective. Not every jurisdiction in Florida is therefore necessarily using devices that have been verified for conformity for existing inaccuracies.

The situation has been complicated by the fact that the use of results from the Intoxilyzer 8000 may not be valid in some individual counties within Florida. In November 2012, for instance, Judge Carr of Collier County declared that he would not allow the use of results from the device to be used in evidence in his court, because it was not sufficiently accurate and could allow an innocent person to be convicted. He did so after an examination of the information relating to the lack of conformity that the machines had received from the USDOT since manufacture.

If you are arrested for DUI, you will need to consent to taking a blood alcohol test at the police station or face possible criminal charges under Florida’s implied consent rules. You should do this even if you refused a field sobriety test or roadside breath test when asked to do so by a police officer when they stopped your car. However, if you have had a breath test and it has shown a reading of greater than 0.08 your BAC reading can be challenged with the help of an experienced DUI attorney in Tampa.

DUI in Tampa with an Out of State Licence

Florida has very strict rules for DUI. If you are arrested from out of state, the rules used, and your legal rights, may be different from your own home state. Many DUI arrests take place in Florida of those who hold out of state licenses.

What Happens if you are Arrested for DUI in Florida?

In the state of Florida, a DUI charge related to out of state licenses is dealt with in a certain way. This is because the state is a member of two interstate agreements which regulate the way information on convictions for DUI are shared.

What is the Driver License Compact (DLC)?

The DLC is shared by 43 of the lower 48 states, operating under the slogan “One Driver, One License, One Record.” Its aim is to ensure there is some consistency when each state handles state traffic violations. The member states of the interstate compact are required to exchange information with each other concerning the arrest of a non resident and the issuing of citations.

This exchange means that the defendant’s home state will treat any offense in Florida as if it had taken place at home, which includes all penalties including the suspension of a driving license and points that are added to a driver’s license. That means if you are arrested for DUI in Florida or any other state that is not your own, your home driving record will be taken into consideration when you try to defend your DUI. Also, your home state will record any DUI offense you committed out of state and the penalties imposed on you and your license.

The Non-Resident Violator Compact (NRVC)       

The NRVC is shared by 44 states, of which Florida is a member state. It was introduced in the 1970s and helps to process citations that have taken place interstate. For example, if a driver is cited out of their own state, and they make the choice to shun the ticket, the driver’s home state will be informed and will be expected to act accordingly. Not all citations are covered by the NRVC and the emphasis is placed on moving citations.

In order for a driver’s state to penalize a driver for an out-of-state offense, the driver’s state must have the equivalent statute to the state where the DUI or other driving offense took place. If the driver’s state does not have the statute and is not a member of the NRVC, no action can be taken.

All states and Washington D.C. are members of the Non-Resident Violator Compact, except for Michigan, Wisconsin, California, Montana, Oregon and Alaska.

Other Watch Dogs for Interstate Drivers

The National Driver Register (NDR) is another way different states can check on the status of drivers. Its database provides information about any drivers whose licenses have been suspended, revoked, and have committed a traffic violation such as DUI which is serious and resulted in a conviction. It is the job of state motor vehicle agencies to provide the NDR with all names of drivers who have received a conviction for traffic violation which is considered serious. If you move interstate and you apply for a driver’s license, then your name will be checked on the NDR file. If the NDR has received a report about a driver, then the state may refuse to grant a license.

If you have lost your license in another state due to DUI then it will be difficult to obtain one interstate if the NDR records are kept up to date and the state is a member of DLC.

Helping Non-Residents with a Tampa DUI Arrest

When a driver is arrested in Florida, the case will be dealt within the state, so the driver will need to get an attorney to act on their behalf. It is necessary to choose one who has good working knowledge of DLC and NRVC and understands that an interstate driver has the right to be defended as well as a Florida driver. The sharing of interstate driver conviction information means how you are treated out of your own state is important. For an interstate driver, being caught for DUI is particularly difficult as the driver will have no family near at hand for support. An experienced and knowledgeable DUI attorney is essential to ensure you maintain your legal rights.

Disadvantages of Using a Public Defender for a DUI Case

In Florida, DUI and DWI are serious charges and can be life changing once convicted. Having to explain your absence from work to your employer and the burden you place on your family will put a great deal of stress on all concerned.

A DUI / DWI charge may not turn out as you might expect, so it is essential to have a lawyer to help to defend you against it, if arrested. A good lawyer may even get your charges dropped if the evidence is found to be insufficient. However, there are some people who still think that DUI is not serious enough to warrant paying for an attorney. Everyone is legally entitled to representation in court, so if the money is not available, then a defendant can opt for a public defender to settle the case. This option is a free service, so those without the cash can still get some support when faced with the DUI charge. However, the income threshold to qualify for a public defender is kept deliberately low to offset the great demand for them.

Advantages of Using a Public Defender

The main advantage of a public defender is that at least a defendant does not have to take on the difficult task of self defense. The court system in Florida can be intimidating and it is necessary to ensure your rights are upheld. A public defender will do that for you. There is a lot more pressure imposed on public defenders as they are in constant demand. They are often overworked and do not receive the same economic returns as a private attorney. However, a public defender can still get good results, even though the time spent with each defendant may be limited.

 Public Defender or a Private Attorney?

A public defender may have his or her heart in the right place when representing a client, but as well as the pay being small relative to a private attorney, the caseloads are higher too. Many public attorneys are expected to handle up to 200 cases at one time, which leave little time for individual clients. To make things more difficult, the cases are not just DUI, but may include a much wider range of crimes. This means that handling rape, murder and drug possession cases, as well as DUI, limits experience in one area. Engaging the services of a private attorney who specializes in DUI is then a far better choice.

Disadvantages of a Public Defender

There are some disadvantages of using a public defender, including time allocation to a client, the inability for the client to make their own choice on a suitable person and the length of time it takes to complete the case.

Often, the allocated public defender only gets to see the client just before each court appearance, and briefly talks to the client while reviewing the case. This gives little time to work out the crucial points surrounding the case and the defense to pursue. Time only really allows for the public defender to ask the client to enter a plea, so to avoid the case going to trial. Preparing a trial case is often too time consuming for an overworked public defender. However, a trial is a defendant’s chance to assert their legal rights and ensure that all the crucial facts surrounding the case are revealed and presented. A private attorney is only too happy to go to trial, as the pay incentive is greater.

You don’t get the chance to choose your public defender and you have no right to refuse some one who you think might not work in your best interests.

The chances of getting an early resolution of your case are far less with a public defender, as DUI is not necessarily a priority. Your case may be subject to constant delays while you wait for your defender to find time for you.

In the end, a good private attorney in a DUI case will spend more time with you, will try to get any jail time reduced, will negotiate license suspensions and fines and this will all be done in a timely manner. A public defender will do the job that he or she is paid to do and will not have the time or inclination to go that extra mile for you as a client.