Florida law enforcement arrests a lot of people every year for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol, chemical substances, or controlled substances. In 2011, more than 55,000 people were arrested for a DUI. The punishment for such a crime is also quite severe. If you are convicted, you could face a significantly high fee in addition to community services, probation, impoundment of a vehicle, imprisonment, DUI school, and driver license revocation. So, if you have been arrested for suspicion of DUI, there are some important steps to take to ensure you don't face the maximum penalty for conviction.
Being arrested is the first step in facing a DUI charge. If an officer feels you might be under the influence, he or she could administer a standardized field sobriety test, a breath test, or take you to the station for a blood test to determine blood alcohol content (BAC). If the officer decides to place you under arrest, don't resist. You will be put in handcuffs and taken in the police car to the police station. Upon arriving, the police officer will begin the process of asking for a breath or urine sample under implied consent laws. The officer will also complete paperwork on the case. You will be searched, and asked for your personal information. These questions will be asked while observing you for 20 minutes in order for the breath test to be considered valid. The officer will then conduct the breath test. You must comply with these requests because, if you refuse, your license can be suspended and your refusal will be used against you in court.
Booking is the process by which you are admitted to jail. Your personal information, mugshot, and fingerprints are entered into a criminal database along with your charges. Your personal items will then be logged and taken to a safe location as you enter a more secure area of the jail. An officer will also run your name through the system to check for any outstanding warrants or holds. If there are no other charges listed, you will be taken to a holding cell to await bail or first appearance.
If you can afford bail, you can pay the amount as a financial investment to ensure you appear at your court date. If you can't afford to pay bail, you can try using a bail bondsman. As long as you appear at all your court dates, you will get your bail money back. A bondsman will keep 10% down payment as compensation. However, if you don't show up to court, a bondsman will keep the 10% in addition to your collateral.
A first appearance is the first time you appear before a judge. The judge will review the probable cause affidavit (PCA) prepared by the arresting officer. A PCA is a sworn affidavit where the officer outlines the facts of your case as he or she sees it. The judge will determine whether or not there is really probably cause for your DUI arrest. If the judge decides there is no probable cause, he or she will allow the officer to supplement the paperwork with addition facts to see if the standard can be met. If they can't establish probable cause, even with additional information, you will be released with no bond.
However, if the judge upholds the probable cause, a bond amount will be set. It may be the same amount as when you entered the jail. If you have a previous record or if there were aggravating circumstances, the bond could be raised. Additionally, if there is a supervised release program, you could be allowed out of jail with certain restrictions, such as a weekly check-in or alcohol testing. The law is, however, required to keep you for at least 8 hours to ensure your BAC drops to an acceptable level.
By now, you should think about hiring an experienced Florida DUI attorney. Arraignment is the next step, and if you have a lawyer, he or she will enter a Notice of Appearance on your behalf. This notice will inform the state you are denying the charge and entering a not-guilty plea. In addition, this notice informs the state that you have an attorney who will be representing your case. This notice will also excuse you from your arraignment unless your lawyer tells you otherwise.
If you don't hire an attorney, at your arraignment, the state will announce whether or not it intends to charge you with a DUI. If they do decide to charge you, they will also inform you of the exact charge against you (1st-time DUI, DUI with property damage, and so on). After hearing the charge, you have the opportunity to plea guilty or not guilty. If you plead not guilty, the court will arrange another court date called a "case management" or "pre-trial conference" time. If you plead guilty, you will be sentenced, which would go into effect immediately. It's inadvisable to plead guilty at an arraignment, especially if you're only representing yourself.
A preliminary hearing happens before formal charges are filed. They can either be for adversarial hearings or bond hearings. Both can influence bond amounts, but an adversarial hearing deals more directly with preventing a charge being filed. Bond hearings can be done at any time, and their purpose is to secure the accused's release from jail.
Pre-trial motions are one of the most important parts of the DUI process. It's through motions that many cases are lost or won. These occur prior to trial and can sometimes be used as leverage to get a better deal for the accused. Motions are set to sort through evidence and establish the boundaries of the case. The 4 most popular are the motion to dismiss, motion to suppress, motion to compel, and the motion in limine.
Another way to avoid going to trial is plea bargaining. About 90% of cases are resolved through plea bargaining in the criminal justice system. If an attorney enters into plea negotiations, they are asking the state to make the best deal possible in order to avoid trial. Attorneys usually do this by talking directly to the prosecutor and showing mitigating factors. If the prosecutor is unwilling to make a bargain, your lawyer can ask the judge to get involved in the negotiation.
If you go to trial, a jury determines whether or not you are guilty. This can be a lengthy process, as the both attorneys need to select individuals to serve on the jury. After the jury has been determined, both lawyers must make opening statements, and each side gets to put witnesses on the stand and present evidence. The opposition also gets to cross-examine the witnesses. Each attorney will also make closing arguments, after which the jury will take the time to make a decision. If they determine you are not guilty, you are free to go. If they decide you are guilty, you will be sentenced.
Your lawyer can help you appeal the court's decision if you both feel something was not done correctly in the case. A higher court will review your record and determine if there are any errors. If they find mistakes that are bad enough, the higher court will direct the lower court to correct it by dismissing your case or restarting proceedings.
If you are found guilty, there may be minimum sentences for DUI, particularly if this is a subsequent charge. Fines and jail time is a possibility, as well as license suspension, community service, and potentially the installation of ignition interlock device (IID) in your car. The punishments for DUI can be particularly severe. Make sure you have an experienced DUI attorney on your side throughout the process in order to get your best chance of avoiding jail time and high fees.
If you want to get your case reviewed, talk to one of our experienced Florida DUI attorneys at Musca Law. We have more than 100 years of collective legal experience to offer you. Contact us at (888) 484-5057 or fill out our online form to schedule a free case consultation today. We look forward to protecting your rights and freedom.