In January of 2019, the Supreme Court of Florida published amended jury instructions for criminal cases. The Court convened a committee to review and propose changes to the state’s standard jury instructions. The Court adopted the changes after a lengthy review. The amendments to the state’s jury instructions clarify, or in some instances expand, Florida law regarding DUI, among other areas of the criminal law as practiced in the state.

Why are Jury Instructions Important in a Florida DUI Case?

Jury instructions are incredibly crucial to a person facing any criminal charge, and especially DUI charges, in Florida. Jury instructions are the law of the case in which the trial judge orders the jury to apply. The instructions should be clear, unambiguous, and provided to the jury in a straight-forward manner so the jury could easily understand and apply them.

The notion of lecturing the jury on the law to be applied in a DUI case in Florida seems absurd on its face. The judge and the lawyers presumably understand the law; they must; otherwise, they do not belong in the courtroom. With repeated practice and study, Florida’s complex and comprehensive DUI statute, and the laws interpreting the provisions of the statute, become second nature to the judge, the prosecuting attorney, and the defendant’s attorney.

Uninitiated jurors, on the other hand, might have a basic understanding of the law, at best. The procedure of jury trials presumes that jurors do not understand the law to be applied in the case. Many jurors bristle at the notion that they must remember everything the judge tells them about the law of the case and then decide whether the defendant is not guilty or guilty. Nonetheless, Florida law requires the judge to give an accurate statement of the law in the jury instructions.

Successful DUI defense attorneys in Florida understand the importance of jury instructions in a case. Inaccurate jury instructions could lead to a wrongful conviction. The defendant could have valid grounds to appeal the conviction, but he or she must wait for the appeals court to hear the case. In the meantime, the person wrongfully convicted of DUI must serve jail time, submit to probation, and suffer numerous collateral consequences before the appeals court overturns the conviction.

Amendments to Florida’s DUI Jury Instructions

A. Definition of Vehicle

The Supreme Court of Florida explained that terms such as “vehicle” have a statutory definition that explains the term as the Florida legislature intended it to be understood. The jury instructions now include exceptions to the law for mobile carriers and personal delivery services as a motor vehicle. The Court also deleted the term motorcycle from the definition of a motor vehicle in the jury instruction.

The definition of vehicle in the amended Florida DUI jury instructions now reads, in pertinent part, that a vehicle is any “device” in which a person or property might be transported or drawn upon a highway, with the exception of personal delivery devices, mobile carriers, as well as devices used on rails or tracks. Interestingly, the Court did not define what is meant by “personal delivery services” or “mobile carriers.”

B. Amendment to Aggravated Fleeing or Eluding

Aggravated fleeing or eluding may be charged by the state’s attorney if the defendant allegedly ran from the scene of an accident before making himself or herself known, failing to help an injured person, or while running from the police. The new instruction asks the jury to make two distinct findings. First, the jury must decide if the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed aggravated fleeing. If the defendant is not guilty, then the jury need not decide anything else. If guilty, then the jury must determine if the government proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim died, sustained a severe injury, moderate injury, or slight injury as a result of the defendant causing the crash.

C. Definition of “Normal Faculties”

Florida Statutes 316.193, which is Florida’s DUI law, indicates that a person is driving under the influence when the driver’s normal faculties are impaired by alcohol or drug use. It is useful, therefore, for the jury to have a thorough definition of the somewhat vague phrase “normal faculties.” The definition provided for the phrase in the updated jury instructions includes the person’s capacity to see, to hear, to walk, to talk, to estimate distances, to drive a vehicle, to make appropriate judgments, respond appropriately to emergencies, and to perform the regular functions of our daily lives.

The judge is not required to define impairment of normal faculties when the state’s theory of guilt rests upon a chemical test exclusively, provided that the test results exceed 0.08 blood alcohol concentration. The definition of normal faculties, therefore, should be given only when the results of the chemical test are below 0.08 BAC, or the defendant refused to take a chemical test.

The judge must instruct the members of the jury that they must presume that the defendant was not driving under the influence if the BAC was recorded at a 0.05 or below. However, the state can overcome that presumption by proving that the driver’s “normal faculties” were impaired by alcohol consumption.

The judge must also give a similar instruction to the jury if the driver’s BAC test results fall between 0.05 BAC and 0.79 BAC. In that instance, the judge must instruct the jury that the law creates no presumption that the accused was driving under the influence, or that the defendant was not driving under the influence. Instead, the judge must instruct the jury that they can consider the defendant’s chemical test results, along with evidence that the driver’s “normal faculties” were impaired by alcohol to determine the defendant’s innocence or guilt.

D. Inoperability as a Defense

If the facts of the case allow, the defendant can ask the judge to instruct the jury that the vehicle was inoperable when the police allege the defendant was driving under the influence. The judge will not give the instruction, however, if the defendant’s actions caused the vehicle to be inoperable, such as after a crash.

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