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.

How to Find the Best Tampa DUI Defense Lawyer

If you have been charged with DUI in Tampa, then it has probably already sunk in that the consequences of being convicted could be very serious for you. There is the certainty that you will have a criminal record, you will be fined, could face jail time, have your license suspended, have to find time for DUI school and community service. The list goes on and on. The reasons for hiring a Tampa DUI lawyer are obvious. You are given ten days from the date of your arrest if you want to fight your license suspension to apply for a formal review and it would be a good idea to have chosen a lawyer before that date. The question is how to choose a top lawyer to represent you. Any search on the internet will reveal hundreds of lawyers in every city in Florida.

Word of Mouth Reference

If you know someone who has already had a DUI charge, they may be able to recommend a DUI lawyer if they had a satisfactory experience.

Use the County Courthouse

Visit the county courthouse in the county you were arrested in rather than the county you live in. Ask one of the court bailiffs or clerks who they would recommend if they had to defend themselves against a DUI charge and have the best chance of winning. This is a good test of the reputation of a top DUI lawyer in Tampa.

Avoid Generalists

Once you have narrowed down the number of DUI attorneys, check out exactly what experience they have had and their specialism. There are DUI lawyers and DUI lawyers. Some specialize in DUI defense and others are general criminal defense lawyers. Those lawyers who specialize in DUI are most likely to have had more experience and understand the laws better as well as the approach needed to get you off a DUI charge.

Look for Experience and Skills

There are many lawyers who might use your case as a learning experience. This is fair enough, but if you are paying a lawyer’s fee, you want the best you can get for the money, right? Older lawyers will, on the whole, have more experience than younger ones. You might also check out whether they have been speakers at DUI seminars, have contributed to DUI law and how many staff are employed at their firm. A busy lawyer who is operating on his or her own may not have the time to do sufficient research and leg work when it comes to investigating a DUI charge. Top lawyers tend to have legal staff that do excellent work preparing cases and leave the lawyer to concentrate on what he or she does best.

Watch Out For Promises that Cannot be Realized

Some lawyers may tend to overstate their capabilities and say they can get your case dismissed before they have even looked at your particular circumstances. No lawyer can do that. Avoid those who promise more than they can deliver.

How Much Can You Afford?

Hiring a DUI lawyer is an expensive business. It becomes worthwhile when you add up the possible financial consequences of doing nothing, pleading guilty or defending yourself. If this leads so conviction, then you may end up losing far more than the cost of a good DUI lawyer in the long run. However, you do need to ask what the fee structure is and run a budget. Criminal defense does not allow for contingency fees, so you are responsible for paying your legal fees outright.

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.