Your Tampa DUI Case: The Basics

You finally got a babysitter and you and your husband had a long overdue date night at The Refinery. It was delicious. Who knew brussel sprouts could taste good? The beer menu had so many great choices that you both had to sample several different craft brews. By the time you had finished dessert, you both felt reconnected, happy and, frankly, a little drunk. You decided, however, that your husband was ok to drive. Bad call. He was swerving quite a bit as he adjusted the radio. He had barely even driven past Hillsborough Avenue when you suggested that you just park the car and call a cab. Too late. Now there was a patrol car signaling you to pull over. The next thing you knew he was being charged with Driving Under the Influence ("DUI"). What do you do? What happens now? Here is some basic information to help you with a DUI in Tampa.

For a general overview, you may wish to start by checking out the FindLaw section on DUI Law. Then return here for some information specific to Hillsborough County.

Key Players

The first folks you will likely encounter are officers from the City of Tampa Police Department or the Florida Highway Patrol. You may spend some time in Central Booking at the Orient Road Jail. Your case will likely be heard at the Hillsborough County Circuit Court, prosecuted by the State Attorney's Office, and perhaps defended by the Public Defender's Office if you qualify for services.

If you do not qualify for the services of the public defender, it is strongly recommended that you retain a private defense attorney as a DUI charge and conviction can be confusing, upsetting, and have substantial impact on your personal and professional life. Check out this FindLaw section on Using a DUI Lawyer for additional information and resources.

The Legal Limits

Florida law provides that you are guilty of the offense of driving under the influence if you are driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle and you have a blood or breath alcohol level of 0.08% or more or you are under the influence of alcohol, substances or chemicals to the extent that your normal faculties are impaired.

There are criminal and administrative penalties associated with a DUI. Penalties increase depending on factors like how much alcohol you have in your system and whether you have previously been convicted, but even for a basic first time offense punishment can include a fine between $500 and $1000, imprisonment up to 6 months, community service, probation, immobilization of your vehicle, and driver's license revocation.

The Traffic Stop and Arrest

You may have been driving erratically, drifting from one lane to another, or making an illegal turn. When an officer has reasonable suspicion that you are driving while under the influence, he will generally pull you over, ask you a few questions about your evening and encourage you to participate in field sobriety tests. This process is intended to give the officer additional opportunity to observe you and make an assessment as to your sobriety. You are not required to take these tests and many attorneys recommend that you politely decline. Regardless of whether you take the tests, or not, however, if the officer has probable cause, he will still likely arrest you.

Once you are arrested you will typically be asked to take a chemical breath, blood or urine test. Under Florida law you are deemed to have already consented to this test simply by driving in Florida. You may refuse to submit to the test, but there are consequences for doing so.

Before you can be released home, you will need to go through the process of booking and bail. Booking is when the information about you and the charges against you are officially entered into the system. Bail is the promise you make (with money or your signature) that you will return.

Court Hearings

Typically your first court appearance will be the arraignment. This is when the charges against you are read and you are given the opportunity to enter your plea. If you plead guilty you will proceed to sentencing. If you plead not guilty, your case will proceed to trial, even though you may resolve the matter beforehand. Prior to trial there will typically be pre-trial hearings and motions in which the parties will argue as to the admissibility of certain evidence and set the parameters for trial.

Administrative License Process

After your arrest, your driver's license will probably be confiscated if you failed or refused the chemical test. You then have only 10 days to either request an administrative hearing on the suspension or to waive your right to that hearing and immediately apply for a restricted license. In either case, you will be heading to the Tampa Bureau of Administrative Review at 2814 E. Hillsborough Avenue (813) 276-5772.

If you request an administrative hearing on the suspension, the issues at hearing are essentially limited to whether the officer had probable cause to arrest you, whether you failed or refused the test, and, if you refused, whether the officer appropriately explained the consequences of doing so. If the suspension is upheld, you will have a "hard suspension" of between 30-90 days where you cannot drive at all. After that you can apply for a restricted license

Alternatively, under a law that went into effect in 2013, you can elect to waive your administrative hearing on the suspension, and apply immediately for a restricted license with no period of "hard suspension."

Because of the deadlines and complicated choices, you may wish to consult with an attorney to determine the best course of action given your circumstances.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

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