$35 Million Settlement verdict for Man Involved in DUI Fatality

The complex DUI case involving a man from the South Florida is an example of the often unforeseen penalties of being convicted of DUI in this state. Thomas Cypress has just been given a $35 million judgement to compensate the family of two people killed by him when driving under the influence of alcohol in 2009.

Cypress had been tested for blood alcohol level after his arrest and was found to have been driving with three times the state legal limit for alcohol of 0.08%. The settlement amount is in two parts, awarded in separate judgments as a part of a wrongful death claim against him. 5 of the 35 million dollars was awarded for punitive damages, normally only awarded when willful negligence has been demonstrated.

In this case, the defendant had little going for him that would help to exonerate him from the DUI offense. It was one of those examples of a situation in which he would have probably been better off just not drinking and driving. The full details of the case are symptomatic of just what might be in store if someone is arrested for a repeat DUI offense and when somebody is seriously injured or killed as a result of their driving.

Cypress had veered across the center line on the Tamiami Trail in February 2009, and crashed head on straight into the sedan belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Kirkpatrick, who were visiting the state from Maryland. He was apparently driving on a suspended license – the result of an earlier DUI conviction. In fact, this was the third time that Cypress had been arrested for DUI and he pleaded guilty to this offense, despite having a high profile lawyer to help him through the court proceedings.

Florida has very strict rules for anyone convicted for DUI and, in some situations like the one here, this does seem to be justified. However, there are often situations in which DUI arrests are made with invalid evidence, or evidence which is marginal. Sobriety tests, for instance, which are the sort of tests made when someone is first pulled over by a police officer, can be very subjective and can also be intimidating and lead to behavior which can be interpreted in the wrong way. Chemical tests for alcohol are not always completely accurate and tests by breathalyzer, for instance, are notorious for yielding inaccurate results.

Whether this is your first DUI arrest or if you have been convicted for DUI at some time in the past you will certainly need an aggressive and determined Tampa DUI lawyer to help you plan your defense. DUI convictions can result in harsh penalties. Thomas Cypress is serving 12 years in jail for his crime, in addition to the recent court judgment that he pays the huge compensation amount to the adult children of the two people he killed. It often comes as a surprise to those who are arrested of DUI to learn that they can spend time in jail, even for a first offense. This is unusual, unless someone is seriously injured, but remains a possibility.

DUI is normally a misdemeanor, unless it is a repeat offense or somebody has been seriously inured, but this still means a criminal conviction. DUI convictions will also result in a fine, points on the driver license, suspension of the license for a minimum period and possible compulsory attendance at DUI school. These are penalties meted out by the criminal court. If somebody has been injured, then a personal injury claim may also be made, or a wrongful death claim, if somebody has died as a result of proven negligence.

The penalties may seem overwhelming for anyone who has been arrested for DUI for the first time, but they are not automatic as a result of an arrest. With the help of an experienced DUI defense attorney, a DUI charge can be dismissed if proof of DUI is not convincing. In other circumstances, the penalties may be reduced as the result of a systematic and skillful defense.

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What you should know about field sobriety tests

If you are driving and are stopped on suspicion of being drunk, you will probably be asked to take field sobriety tests. These are exercises which are used by law enforcers to find out if a driver is under the influence (DUI) and is not able to drive safely. When you are stopped, these tests are important, as the law enforcer will decide from the results whether to arrest you.

You won’t have too much time to think about your situation as the tests will take place at the site where you were stopped. These tests are usually videotaped so that they can be used as evidence in court.

You do not have to take the sobriety tests

You do not have to take these tests when asked. It may seem easier to agree than refuse. This is what the law enforcer wants you to do. Once you have taken these tests, it is far more difficult to defend yourself. If you are in this situation, you should think before agreeing. That is your legal right.

What will happen in the tests?

The tests try to find out if you can walk properly, think clearly, see clearly and speak clearly.

The first test will ask you to follow an object as the officer waves it in front of your face, like a pen or a finger. In the second test, the officer will ask you to stand on one leg and in the third test you will be asked to walk and then turn. The final test is a speaking test and you may be asked to say some of the letters of the alphabet.

How Does the Law Enforcer Decide if You Are Drunk?

In Florida, each officer has been trained how to give out and assess the sobriety tests. While watching you perform the tests, the officer will decide if you are following his or her instructions and also how you perform in the tests.

If you are unable to focus your eyes on the moving object, you fall over or stumble when asked to stand on one leg and turn around and you can’t be heard clearly when saying the alphabet then the officer will at this point decide that you are DUI.

By taking the sobriety tests you have now given the arresting officer not only the chance to arrest you, but the opportunity along with the State Attorney, the chance to prove that you were DUI.

A decision made if you were DUI can be decided only from the results of your sobriety tests. This is not very accurate, as the tests are not scientific. That means they cannot be measured exactly. Your lawyer might be able to argue in your favor if your weight or age has had an effect on your sobriety test results. You may have an injury that has some affect on your movement or you may be more tired than usual due to a longer than normal day at work. There are also other factors that might work in your favor, which could be related to conditions underfoot, the weather at the time, the amount of light available to see and understand the officer’s instructions.

If you have been arrested for DUI and you think that the sobriety tests were not reliable for any of the reasons given above, you should tell your lawyer, so he or she can argue in your defense.

How your health can affect a BAC test

If you have been arrested on a charge of driving under the influence (DUI), your health can have a big effect on the outcome of the tests taken to see if you are drunk. You could even be charged for DUI because of a pre existing health problem you had, or medicines you were taking at the time you were arrested and not because you had been drinking. You shouldn’t give in to these sorts of errors. You need the help of a DUI lawyer to fight the charges against you and clear your name.

Your health can affect everything about the way law enforcement offices decide if you are DUI. This can start as soon as you are pulled over by a police officer. If you are pulled over on suspicion of DUI, the police officer will ask you to complete a set of physical tests called field sobriety tests. Before this happens, he or she may also smell your breath and look at the state of your eyes. You could be giving off an odor which the officer thinks is alcohol, when in fact it has been caused by medicine you have taken, like cough medicine or a health condition like diabetes. You may perform badly on the sobriety tests simply because of ill health, tiredness or nervousness. If you think your health could affect these tests it is better to refuse to do them and explain why when you do.

If the police officer takes you back to a police station you will be asked to take a blood alcohol content (BAC) test. There are different types, but the most common one used in Florida is the breath test. There are many well known errors with all of these chemical tests, which have nothing to do with your health. But if you have an existing health problem, it could exaggerate your BAC reading, or put you over the legal limit of 0.08%, even if you had not drunk any alcohol at all. If you have a health problem, or have been taking drugs or medicine that could affect the result you should point this out at the time the test is taken.

The main problem with the breath and blood tests is that they don’t actually measure alcohol directly at all, but measure anything that is chemically similar. That means you could be breathing out something that has been caused by an illness or a solvent for a medicine and the test machine would not know the difference.

Drugs for heart disease, cholesterol, blood thinning as well as cough medicines can all mimic or produce higher than normal BAC readings.

Anything that causes you to release stomach acid into your mouth like GERD, heartburn, burping, belching or regurgitation can also cause a false reading as the breathalyzer cannot tell the difference between this and alcohol that has come from drinking. 20% of U.S. drivers are diabetics and when their glucose levels are low, they can release chemicals in their mouth (ketones) which cause a high BAC reading.

Don’t expect the law enforcement in Florida to take much notice of you, if you tell them of any health or medical issues. They are determined to get a conviction, as it raises their profile. You will need to have a solid defense against any DUI charge if you are to get off.

A good DUI lawyer knows how health issues can lead to you being falsely charged for DUI and will be able to use this to your advantage. He or she can successfully fight your case in court and get your DUI charge dropped, or at least reduced or minimized. A DUI conviction might haunt you for the rest of your life. Fight your charge with a DUI lawyer.

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.

Child Endangerment Laws in Florida and DUI

DUI is taken very seriously in Florida, but one of the most dangerous and serious offenses involves children. Children have limited power and are often unable to make decisions when it comes to their safety. As a result, they are dependent on those who care for them to protect them from any possible dangers. Florida takes a strong stand on child endangerment and has several laws in place with regards to the safety of children while they are in a vehicle. These laws provide protection for children so that they can be safe when on Florida’s roads and highways. Particular emphasis is placed on drivers who are DUI while carrying children.

Any driver who drives while under the influence with a child in the car is committing a criminal offense. This covers both the use of drugs and alcohol. Under Florida law, a criminal offense such as this is punishable by at least a nine month jail sentence and a $1,000 fine if it is a first offense and if the child has not reached the age of 18. If a second offense is committed, the fine could well reach $2,000 and a year in jail. In the situation of a third time offender, the penalty could be up to 12 months in jail and a fine reaching $5,000 once convicted.

Whatever offense you have committed, it is compulsory for an ignition interlocking device to be fitted to the vehicle, if a child is likely to be a passenger. This measures any alcohol that may be present in the breath and prevents you from starting the engine.

If you have been stopped for DUI by a Tampa law enforcement officer then you will have to be prepared for the consequences. However, you still have the same rights as any DUI defendant and that is defending your charge. There might be a number of reasons why the charge is not accurate, which could include:

  • Wrong interpretation of Field Sobriety Tests
  • Incorrect reading on blood or breath tests
  • The arresting officer not following Florida’s statute of limitations.

If the above events occur, then with the help of a Tampa DUI lawyer, you can attempt to get your charge dismissed or lessen the penalty. The fact that a child is involved does not mean that you are automatically guilty of DUI. It has to be proven beyond doubt in a court of law. You must not allow yourself to be intimidated if you think that your charge of DUI is not correct. Neither you nor your child will benefit if you are charged and penalized for something that you did not do. A DUI lawyer will ensure that all the evidence presented is correct before any conviction is delivered in court.