DUI: Be Courteous But Limit Your Cooperation

There is never a good excuse to drink and drive. Even if you’ve only had one drink, the complications it can add to your life if you’re pulled over or pulled over at a DUI checkpoint far outweighs any enjoyment you may have gotten from an alcoholic beverage. Even if your driving and behavior are perfectly normal, it only takes one slightly suspicious police officer to put you through the proverbial hoops of a roadside sobriety test.

As I mentioned earlier, Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) are virtually impossible for anyone to pass. Although they are designed to test balance and coordination, you would have to be a gymnast, someone who hasn’t been drinking, to have any hope of following the instructions the cop gave you for the FST. We have all seen how these tests are carried out, if not from personal experience, then at least we have seen this circus spectacle performed on television. The officer usually begins his assessment by asking you to trace an object, such as a pen, with his eyes. Then there are the other tasks, like standing on one foot or walking from heel to toe, arms at your sides. These are not activities we engage in every day, so very few of us would be able to perform them to the satisfaction of a police officer seeking to make a DUI arrest.

Once you fail the FST, as you almost certainly will, you will be required to take a breathalyzer test. I object to this for a couple of reasons. First, it compromises the civil liberties of the driver. Second, breathalyzers are not as accurate as the powers that be would like you to think they are. Unfortunately, these tests that you are likely to fail are required in the state of Florida. His Florida driver’s license comes with the implied consent that he will follow all law enforcement directives and will be arrested if he refuses to comply. Therefore, it seems absurd to me to recommend that you politely decline to participate in these activities. For the FST, tell the officer you have a knee or back injury; for the breathalyzer, tell him that you are concerned about the cleanliness of the object you suggest he put in his mouth. Note that failing these tests, as you probably will, will result in you being arrested anyway. In the case of driving under the influence of alcohol, if you are not impaired, there is no point in providing them with any evidence to use against you in court that might suggest that you are. The best thing you can do is call our office as soon as possible for advice.

There are other, somewhat outlandish, suggestions floating around. A popular belief that is emerging in several states due to a video that has been posted is that you should display a sign indicating that you wish to remain silent, decline any searches, and speak to your attorney. This is supposed to be done while holding your driver’s license and registration against your closed window with the doors locked. I am NOT advocating this. There is no legal precedent to indicate whether or not this is an appropriate means of protecting your constitutional rights. Also, with all the recent media hype, cops are more nervous than ever. If you show any signs of resistance when you feel you have issued a legal order, it may end up being just another tragedy on the list of tragedies we’ve been seeing lately.

Another course of action that some who drink and drive may have considered is buying their own breathalyzer for a couple of hundred dollars in an effort to make sure their blood alcohol content (BAC) isn’t excessive. The problem with this is obvious. Devices vary in reliability and there is no guarantee that your reading will be the same as the police stopping you.

Concerns about drunk driving are often valid, and generally speaking, enforcement of drunk driving laws is best for everyone who might be affected by a drunk driver. An example of this is an incident that occurred in South Florida. A Miami woman was recently indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter, and DUI resulting in property damage/injury. These charges stem from a drunk driving incident that occurred several months ago.

On July 19, 2014, the young woman was arrested for driving the wrong way on I-95, resulting in a tragic head-on collision in which a 42-year-old motorcyclist was killed. The indiscretion of choosing to consume too much alcohol cost a man his life. In addition, her lack of judgment has also irrevocably damaged her life, due to the criminal charges that have been brought against her and the permanent disfigurement she suffered as a result of the accident.

This young woman’s BAC was more than double the legal limit and therefore she was indisputably drunk. If she had been stopped or stopped at a checkpoint, she would undoubtedly have been arrested and a man’s life could have been saved. As horrible as it is to be arrested for a DUI, her life would be exponentially better if she had to endure that arrest instead of living with the consequences she now faces.

It is situations like this that make enforcement of drunk driving laws a necessity. Just one incident like this has a ripple effect that impacts the lives of countless people. Unfortunately, these types of tragedies have caused police officers to view almost all drivers as possible drunk drivers, even if the driver is not drunk. Once a cop asks you if you’ve been drinking and you try to be a cooperative citizen by saying, “Well, I had a glass of wine with dinner,” pretty much it was over from there. You can wait for the FST to be administered, and you will most likely go to jail: all a cop has to do is think he is driving badly and then find out he has consumed ANY amount of alcohol, and walk away.

That’s why we’re here, to help those who aren’t really drunk, but have shouldered all the negative consequences that come with putting someone else’s life at risk by driving drunk. Yes, we also represent those who very well might have been drunk too, because our constitution entitles every citizen to a fair defense. The consequences of not defending your drunk driving charge are too great.

DUI Penalties

Hopefully, the suggestions I have made will offer you the best possible chance of having your DUI charge dismissed. Because the penalties for a DUI conviction can be so severe and carry such a long list, the following information pertains to first-time offenders:

  • The fine for a first conviction is at least $500 but not more than $1,000. If the driver’s BAC is .15 or more, or there is a minor in the vehicle, the fine must not be less than $1,000 or more than $2,000.
  • The court requires 50 hours of mandatory community service or the additional fine of $10 for each hour of community service.
  • Possible probation for up to one year.
  • Imprisonment of no more than 6 months, as long as there is no minor in the car and their BAC is less than .15. The court may order a drug or alcohol treatment program that is creditable to the amount of time in the award.
  • If the family of the person convicted of a DUI has more than one vehicle for transportation, the vehicle used in the DUI may be impounded or fitted with an immobilization device for up to 10 days.
  • Driver’s license revocation for 180 days, but not to exceed one year.
  • You must attend DUI school and request a hearing to determine whether or not the driver can receive a hardship reinstatement.
  • Required ignition interlock device for up to 6 months if BAC is .15 or greater.
  • A first-time DUI conviction causing injury or property damage will result in a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 or one year in prison. If serious bodily injury occurs, the driver can be convicted of a third degree felony and face a fine of $5,000 and/or 5 years in prison.

These are just some of the penalties that a person convicted of DUI for the first time can face. They are mandatory sentences, so judges have no discretionary power to change them. The penalties get significantly deeper, as they should, if someone dies as a result of drunk driving like in the incident mentioned above.

Just don’t drink and drive. The devastation that can result from drunk driving is just too great across the board. Even if you think you’re sober, if you have another way home, it’s always best to take it. Don’t forget that police cars have dash cameras and there is a growing trend for police officers to wear body cameras as well. Consequently, even the slightest imbalance or hint of slurred speech gives the policeman all the motivation he needs to arrest you. You can bet he will present that video/audio in court as evidence of his guilt. (This is another good reason not to do an FST: they’ll make almost everyone look drunk.)

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