DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Since beginning my career in the Public Defender’s Office in 1982, I have represented literally hundreds of people charged with DUI. The DUI laws in Florida are constantly changing, as the state legislature strives to increase the penalties for the crime. A DUI case in Florida now involves two separate but parallel proceedings—the administrative driver’s license suspension case and the in-court criminal case. Unless you take steps to defend yourself in both proceedings, you can end up with a suspended driver’s license, even if you succeed in getting the criminal charges dropped or dismissed. The administrative proceedings also allow for hardship driver’s licenses, but, unless you act quickly, you will miss out on the opportunity to get a hardship license. This is but one example of the complex and sometimes prosaic twists and turns in the DUI laws which make getting an experienced and knowledgeable attorney a priority for one charged with DUI.
Over the years, I have created my own cache of DUI motions and cross-examination outlines for use in pretrial motion hearings and trials. I also incorporated this material into my book—Florida Criminal Trial Procedure (James Publishing). My general strategy in DUI cases is to file as many pretrial motions as possible and try to resolve the case with either a dismissal or non-DUI plea and save my client the dilemma of deciding whether or not to go to trial and risk being subjected to the very harsh DUI penalties. One of the problems with the DUI statute for those being charged under it is that a DUI conviction carries a mandatory adjudication, making it impossible to have the record sealed. In this sense, being prosecuted for a DUI is worse than being prosecuted for third-degree felonies such as aggravated assault with a firearm or possession of cocaine or heroin, because you can receive a withhold of adjudication for these crimes, making it possible to have the records sealed.
Many times, I have been able to get DUI cases dismissed due to violations of the Speedy Trial Rule, police misconduct or failure to follow the proper administrative procedures for DUI investigations, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment violations, Double Jeopardy violations, faulty intoxilizer machines, and unreliable breath, blood, and urine testing results. If the pretrial motions do not succeed, I am not afraid to try a DUI case in front of a jury and have done so many times. I have not had a client convicted of DUI after trial in almost 20 years.
Sometimes, a DUI charge can mean prosecution in Circuit (felony) Court, usually when an accident occurred involving death or serious bodily injury or the driver has multiple DUI convictions within the last 10 years. I have also represented many DUI defendants in Circuit Court. The stakes in such cases are higher but the basic law is the same. It pays to get a lawyer involved in a DUI case as soon as possible, due to many of the time limits on filing for administrative relief. If charged with a felony DUI, this is an even bigger priority, as a thorough investigation pre-arraignment investigation may help convince the prosecutor not to file felony charges. One of my biggest DUI successes was getting a DUI manslaughter charge reduced to misdemeanor DUI after I showed the prosecutor how the victim of the fatal accident, a pedestrian, had himself been intoxicated when he ran in front of my client’s car in the dead of night. Not only was I able to save my elderly client a mandatory state prison sentence but, by getting him into a treatment program, I kept him from serving any jail time whatsoever.