DUI Lawyer in Sarasota, FL: Learn About Your Charge and Prepare Your Defense
When you drive around Florida highways, you’ve likely seen signs telling you not to drink and drive. While these are ultimately friendly reminders, they must be taken seriously.
Driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or other mind-altering substances puts your life and that of others in jeopardy, and it’s also against the law. If caught, you will face serious fines and potentially jail time, not to mention the guilt of knowing the danger you created.
Nevertheless, while it’s unwise to drink and drive, things happen, and law enforcement can also make mistakes. If you’ve been charged and need a DUI lawyer in Sarasota, FL, look no further than Smith and Eulo.
What is a DUI?
According to the Florida statutes, a person is considered to be driving under the influence if the person:
- is under the influence of alcoholic beverages or any other controlled chemical substance (full list here) to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired;
- has a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood
- has a breath-alcohol level of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.
As you can see, while alcohol is the most common substance behind a DUI charge, it is not the only one. Consuming other mind-altering substances can also lead to a DUI and will be prosecuted in the same way.
Blood Alcohol Level and DUI
One thing many people confuse about DUI charges is the relevance of blood alcohol level (BAL).
In the state of Florida, the legal limit for BAL is .08, which refers to the number of grams in your breath or blood.
A BAL higher than this limit will automatically result in a DUI charge, but it’s not the only way to incite these charges. In fact, you can be charged with a DUI if law enforcement can prove that you have consumed enough substances to “impair your normal faculties.”
This becomes an issue when your BAL is between .05 and .08.
In the state of Florida, if you are below .05, you can’t be charged. But if you fall in this range and you appear to be impaired, then you could still be in trouble. Of course, in these instances, law enforcement must be able to prove that you were in fact impaired, which can often be difficult.
DUI Manslaughter and Vehicular Homicide
Driving under the influence is a crime in and of itself. But if you cause property damage or injure someone else as a result of driving while intoxicated, the crime can turn into DUI manslaughter, reckless driving, or vehicular manslaughter.
A DUI accident that results in property damage is charged as a first degree misdemeanor. If serious bodily injury comes to another person, this is a second-degree felony. Should someone die as the result of the crash, that would be a second degree felony, and fleeing the scene of a DUI accident, when an injured person subsequently dies, is charged as a first degree felony.
As you can see, the state of Florida takes all DUI-related crimes very seriously, which is why it’s so important to hire an experienced DUI lawyer to help you craft your defense.
DUI Under the Age of 21
Another way to be charged with a DUI is if you have a BAL of .02 or higher and are under the age of 21. Since it is illegal for anyone under 21 to drink alcohol, the threshold for a DUI charge is much lower. With a BAL of .05, the punishments become more severe for underage drivers.
If the accused is under the age of 16 and doesn’t have a license, the punishment will be delayed, making it harder for the individual to get their license.
If you’ve had a few drinks and have been driving and are pulled over, it’s normal to be scared. And in this moment, you may think it’s better to refuse the police officer’s request to test your blood or breath.
However, this is not the case. As a licensed driver in the state of Florida, you give “implied consent” to have your blood or breath tested when law enforcement deems it necessary. Refusing to do so will result in a $1,000 fine, and it will also disqualify you from Florida’s diversion program, which could reduce your sentence for a first time offense.
All in all, if the officer asks you to take a test, you’re much better off saying yes.
Possible Punishments for a DUI
The state of Florida takes DUIs very seriously. As such, the punishments can be quite severe. These are meant to deter people from engaging in DUIs, but it’s also to prevent repeat offenses.
However, the state also takes into account the fact that people make mistakes, and so punishments are tiered based on your past record. Here’s a summary of the potential consequences of a DUI charge:
For first time offenders, here are some of the potential consequences :
- Fine of at least $500 but no more than $1,00 (up to $1,000/$2,000 if your BAL was .15 or higher or if a minor was in the car)
- Six months in jail (nine months if your BAL was .15 or higher or if a minor was in the car)
- License suspension of at least 180 days and no more than 1 year
- Possible installation of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) that prevents you from driving your car without first proving sobriety. (Mandatory if BAL is above .15 or a minor was in the car). If this is required, it will be at the driver’s expense.
These consequences represent what is possible, but they are not always what happens. The court will often consider alternative sentencing, especially if you have a clean record. The Florida DUI Diversion program, for example, mandates community service instead of jail time.
For a second DUI offense, all of the potential consequences get more severe, they include:
- Fine of at least $1,000 but not more than $2,000 (Goes up to $2,000/$4,000 when BAL is above .15 or a minor was in the car)
- Up to nine months in jail (12 months if BAL is higher than .15 or if a minor was in the car. If the second conviction is within 5 years of the first, 10 days in jail is mandatory)
- 5-year license suspension if the offense occurred within five years of the first
- Mandatory installation of an IID for one year at the driver’s expense.
For a third DUI offense, the consequences get even harsher, but only if the third offense occurred within 10 years of the second. Three-time offenders can expect:
- Fines between $2,000-$4,000 ($4,000 minimum if the BAL was above .15 or if there was a minor in the car)
- Up to 12 months in prison (this goes up to a maximum of five years for four or more offenses)
- 10-year license suspension (permanent for four or more offenses)
- IID for up to two years
DUI Manslaughter and Vehicular Manslaughter
While driving under the influence is a crime on its own, if doing so results in property damage or harm to another person, the consequences get even more severe.
To give you an idea, a DUI that results in property damage is a first degree misdemeanor and carries a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to one year in jail. For serious bodily injury, the charge is elevated to a third degree felony and carries a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to five years in prison.
If someone dies as a result of your DUI crash, known as vehicular manslaughter, this is a second degree felony. Fines will not exceed $10,000 but you can spend up to fifteen years in jail.
Lastly, if you flee the scene of a DUI crash and an injured person subsequently dies, then you will be charged with a first degree felony and can be fined up to $10,000 and face jail time of up to 30 years.
One thing to note is that all of these sentences will be added to your original DUI charges, which can raise your fines and extend any jail time.
If you are arrested and charged with a DUI and are under the age of 21, you will face some different consequences. For one, your licenses will automatically be suspended for six months. In addition, if your BAL is above .05, you will be required to attend a substance abuse program. All of this comes in addition to any other consequences handed down according to Florida statutes.
Hire a DUI Lawyer to Defend Your Case
While the state of Florida takes DUI charges very seriously, there is a lot of room for negotiation. For example, license suspensions, especially for first-time offenders, are not mandatory, and if excessive hardship can be proved, can be avoided.
There is also the Diversion Program, which replaces fines and jail time with community service.
A DUI lawyer can also help you review the circumstances of your case. For example, blood and breath samples can be disputed, and if the state is trying to charge you for a DUI with a BAL that was under .08, the state must prove you were impaired, which can be disproved in court.
All in all, there are a lot of intricacies to DUI cases that only an experienced lawyer can help you navigate. And considering the severity of these charges, you don’t want to trust your case to anyone but the best.
If you or your loved one find themselves in a situation where you are being accused of a DUI? Call us right away at 941-217-2118 to speak with a qualified legal professional or fill out the contact form on this page. We’re available 24/7, we offer free initial consultation and payment plans. In addition to our Sarasota office, we have offices in the following cities across the state of Florida:
*Additional Orlando Florida & Orange County Legal Resources