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A DUI Lawyer In Tampa Explains Your Rights: Tips To Help Avoid A Conviction For Driving Under The Influence (DUI) In Florida

The below is intended only as general information, and does not constitute legal advice. You must speak with an attorney to discuss your individual case.


First off, if you have been drinking alcohol, do not get behind the wheel of a car and drive. Plain and simple. That is the best way to avoid a DUI in Florida. But if you decide to drive after drinking, it is helpful to know your rights if you find yourself as the subject of a DUI investigation. The following is an explanation of your rights involved with a DUI investigation and some tips that may help to avoid a Florida DUI conviction.

Law enforcement’s job is to keep drivers who are impaired by alcohol or drugs off of the streets to avoid accidents, injuries, and deaths caused by drunk drivers. In their quest to keep the streets safe, officers unfortunately sometimes stop and arrest those who are not “drunk” or impaired to the level necessary to sustain a DUI conviction. That is where an effective DUI lawyer in Tampa comes in…

To prove a DUI charge, the State of Florida must prove that your normal faculties were impaired, or that you drove with an unlawful blood alcohol or breath alcohol level of .08 or above. When you are pulled over and the officer suspects you have been drinking due to the odor of alcohol, there is a good chance you are going to jail regardless of what happens next. The officer will state that he/she smelled alcohol, will state that your eyes are glassy and bloodshot, will state that you had slurred speech, will state that you are unsteady on your feet, and will state that you failed to follow instructions. This ALWAYS happens even if you have only had one drink. You will be taken to jail, but if you educated yourself regarding your rights beforehand, you will already have begun the process of preventing yourself from being convicted of DUI.

If you think it is possible that you may choose to drink and then drive, read the following before going out:

Before you get in the car to drive home, have a LARGE glass of water. Or two. Then help yourself to a mint, or some mint chewing gum. This won’t completely kill the odor of alcohol, but will help lessen the smell. Also, make sure you have your license, registration, and proof of insurance all in the same place, so if (and when) these items are requested by law enforcement you can produce them without delay or error.

Do not give the police a reason to pull you over. Don’t speed. Use your cruise control and set it at the speed limit. Don’t use your cell phone or adjust the radio. It can wait. Concentrate on driving in a straight line. You may think you can multitask while driving (as we normally do), but after drinking that ability is weakened. Again, don’t give the police a reason to pull you over. Law enforcement is looking for a weave, wide turn, failing to maintain a lane, failing to use a turn signal, failing to stop completely, or any other minor infraction to pull you over. Of course, a DUI lawyer in Tampa or Clearwater can always challenge the legality of the traffic stop in court, however judges will find the stop legal more often than not.

If you are pulled over, be polite and say as little as possible. Don’t be argumentative, even if you think the cop was wrong for pulling you over. Assume everything you do will be recorded on video. Although not all police cruisers are equipped with video/audio equipment, most are and you don’t want to “look” intoxicated.

When the police ask for your license, registration, and proof of insurance, you will have it all in one place (i.e., plastic sandwich baggie) because you already read it above in this article. If you don’t produce them all at once, the officer will say you “fumbled for documents” or “had trouble following instructions” or “failed to produce the requested documentation.” These actions are initially what the police look for to determine if someone is impaired by alcohol or drugs. They will later be allowed to demonstrate and testify to this in court. You do not want the cop coming to court and telling the jury you handed him/her a credit card when asked for your license.

Unless you are completely sober, politely refuse to complete any field sobriety tests. This is not being uncooperative. You have the right to refuse all field sobriety tests. You should exercise this right if you have consumed too much alcohol (and thus shouldn’t be driving in the first place) or have any doubt whatsoever about your ability to physically complete these tests. You will likely go to jail, but at least you are limiting the evidence available to be used against you.

Normally these tests are the pen test, walk the line, stand on one foot, and the finger to nose test. If you decide to do the tests, relax, listen to the officer’s instructions, and relax again. Do not begin the test until the officer says to do so and make sure you complete the test as the officer instructed. If you deviate from the officer’s instructions, he/she will use it later against you in court. You must understand, that even if you do well on the tests, you will still likely be arrested, but your DUI attorney in Tampa or Clearwater will be able to use the video (if there is one) to your benefit later on. And remember, always assume you are being recorded on video so say as little as possible and be courteous to the officer.

Rule of thumb: “If you don’t know, don’t blow. And if you aren’t certain, don’t provide urine!” If you are not sure if you will blow over .08, don’t take the breath test. Only if you haven’t had any alcohol all day and are sober, should you take the test. If you blow under .08, you will not be “un-arrested.” The police will then conclude that you must be on something other than alcohol (i.e., drugs) and ask for a urine sample. If you haven’t smoked marijuana within the last forty (40) days or taken any pill that day or used any other “hard” drug within the last month, should you take the urine test? If any of types of drugs shows up in the urine test, the State of Florida will then argue that, combined with alcohol, you were more impaired, and thus guilty of DUI. Again, if you aren’t sure about the urine test, refuse it as well. You must remember, the job of law enforcement is to gather as much incriminating evidence against you as possible, but in actuality, they need your help to do it! So, if you don’t know, don’t blow and if you aren’t certain, don’t provide urine. Of course, a DUI attorney in Tampa can always challenge the legality of the breath and urine test in court, however judges rarely suppress this evidence.

If you refuse, you suffer the consequence of a suspended driver’s license, but you may avoid the much worse consequence of a DUI conviction. Law enforcement will tell you that your license will be suspended for one (1) year for a refusal or eighteen (18) months if you have previously refused the breath test. While this is true, what law enforcement does not tell you is that if you blow over the limit you will lose your license anyway AND have the result used against you in court. Since you will never be “un-arrested,” there is rarely a benefit to taking the breath test–unless you are completely sober.

Further, and also what law enforcement won’t tell you, is that the law changed for first time DUI offenders in the middle of 2013, which now allows you to be IMMEDIATELY eligible to obtain a hardship or business purposes license even if you refuse or blow over the limit AND haven’t had any alcohol related offenses in the past. So, it may be better to take the license suspension up front rather than hand over a breath result which may ultimately be all the prosecution needs for a DUI conviction later on.

Why is it important to avoid a DUI conviction? Here are some consequences:

  • jail time
  • court ordered license suspension
  • court ordered community service
  • criminal driving record for the next 75 years
  • enhanced penalties for the second DUI
  • court ordered counseling
  • ignition interlock device
  • alcohol monitor
  • probation
  • lots of fines and fees
  • increased insurance rates

So before going out, and if there is a possibility of you drinking then driving, plan ahead and know your rights! And remember, the guaranteed way to avoid a DUI conviction is to NOT DRINK AND DRIVE, get a designated driver, or call a cab. After all, the $40 cab fee is better than an effective DUI attorney in Tampa’s fee of $3,000 – $10,000. (Fee determined on a case by case basis and depends on circumstances involved, number of priors etc.)

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