Your Fort Lauderdale DUI Case: The Basics

Driving home from latest concert at Fat Cat's when suddenly police sirens and lights flash in your rearview mirror. Many of even the most law-abiding citizens have been through the painful experience of a DUI checkpoint or traffic stop, and possibly even arrested, so here is a guide to your Ft. Lauderdale DUI case.

The Stop

If a Ft. Lauderdale police officer pulls you over under the suspicion of drinking and driving, the officer will likely begin administering a Field Sobriety Test. The officer will observe you for signs of alcohol use and ask you to perform simple tasks requiring coordination. If you fail this test, you will likely be asked to submit to a breathalyzer test. If the test results indicate that your Blood Alcohol Content, or "BAC," is 0.08 or above, or if you refuse to submit to the test, the officer can arrest you on the spot.

Florida has a "Zero Tolerance Law" for drivers under the age of 21. A driver under 21 years old can receive a DUI for having a BAC of just 0.02, which is typically equal to a single alcoholic beverage.

Implied Consent Law

Florida driver's license holders are required by law to submit to chemical test under Florida's "implied consent" law. This law requires you to take a chemical test after being arrested for a DUI for the purpose of determining your BAC or the presence of drugs. If you refuse, your license will immediately be suspended for one year. Additionally, the police may be able to forcibly draw blood if you were involved in an accident involving serious injury or death.

Although the punishment for refusing the test is lighter than a DUI conviction, refusal will not prevent a DUI prosecution. For example, the prosecutor could argue that you refused to submit to the test because you knew you were heavily intoxicated.

Booking and Bail

The next likely stop will be the "drunk tank" at the local police station. Sooner or later you will be given an opportunity to make a phone call, which you may want to use to call an attorney or someone who can post bail. Your bail will likely be set to between $200 and $500, of which you will be required to pay 10% after obtaining a bail bond.

You will probably remain incarcerated for at least eight hours after your arrest, until the police determine that you are no longer impaired and your BAC is below 0.05.

Arraignment

After your arrest you will receive notice of an arraignment date at the Broward County Courthouse. An arraignment is a formal reading of the criminal charges against you, and your opportunity to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The judge will call your case and ask if you have an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney the court may refer you to the Broward County Public Defender's office.

License Suspension

Your driver's license will typically be suspended for 6 to 12 months after your first DUI conviction, and then five and ten years for your second and third conviction, respectively. However, you can request a special hearing with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles within ten days of your arrest to request a "hardship" license. Failure to timely request a hearing will result in an automatic suspension.

If you plan on requesting a hardship license, you should enroll in an eight-hour driving class as soon as possible. The class costs $250, but may be well worth it. The DMV will require proof of enrollment before they lift the suspension.

A hardship license will allow you to drive to and from work, school and church, but other traveling is left to the discretion of the officer who pulls you over.

Plea Bargaining

Sometimes the prosecutor will allow you to plead guilty to the reduced charge of reckless driving involving alcohol, commonly referred to as a "wet reckless." A plea bargain of wet reckless could be appropriate if your BAC is borderline illegal, there was no accident, and you have no prior DUIs. However if you suffer a subsequent drunk driving conviction, the "wet reckless" is usually considered a prior DUI conviction.

Motion to Suppress Evidence

The most common motion filed in a DWI case is a "Motion to Suppress Evidence," which, if successful, prevents the state from using challenged evidence against you in court. Issues commonly raised in a Motion to Suppress are whether the police officer had reasonable suspicion to stop your vehicle and whether the officer had probable cause to arrest you. If the evidence against you was gathered in a manner inconsistent with the Constitution, that evidence will be excluded and your charges could be dismissed.

Potential Sentences

The penalties for DUI are intentionally steep, and your exact sentence depends on the specific details of your case. Typically, being arrested with a BAC over 0.20, with a minor passenger in the vehicle, or after an accident will lead to higher fines and jail time.

A typical sentence for a first DUI includes up to a $1,000 fine, 50 hours of community service and vehicle impoundment for 10 days. Florida has a five-year "look-back" period for second DUI convictions, and a ten-year period for subsequent convictions. This refers to how far back in time the law will look for prior DUI convictions. Every subsequent conviction results in larger fines, plus longer vehicle impoundment and mandatory minimum jail sentences: 10 days for the second DUI, 30 days for the third or greater. A third DUI within 10 years can be charged as a felony.

Furthermore, Florida often requires the installation of an Ignition Interlock Device, or "IID," following a DUI conviction. he IID could be ordered for first-time DUI offenders with high BAC, but are always mandated after a second (or more) DUI. Expect to pay $70 for the initial installation, and approximately the same for mandatory monthly inspections.

Now that you have an idea of what's ahead, you may want to explore FindLaw's section on DUI law.

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