Florida has zero tolerance for drunk driving, and law enforcement has no patience for underage Driving Under the Influence (DUI). The crime of underage Driving Under the Influence (DUI) of alcohol, drugs, or both, in the State of Florida is a crime that Florida prosecutors aggressively seek maximum punishments. A qualified DUI lawyer from Musca Law can help you or your child fight the harsh consequences of a Florida DUI conviction via winning a dismissal of the case, winning the trial, or plea bargain with the state's attorney to a lesser offense.
Understanding Florida's Underage DUI Laws
Information regarding Florida's underage DUI law may be found in Florida Statutes Section 316.193. Florida defines an intoxicated driver who is under the age of 21 differently than an offender who is over the age of 21. In the State of Florida, an individual, who is under the age of 21, is considered impaired and in violation of Florida's DUI statute if the driver is found to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.02% or more. In other words, the legal limit for drivers under 21 in the State of Florida is 0.02% BAC. Conversely, 0.08% BAC or lower is the legally allowable limit for drivers who are 21 years or older.
The legal Blood Alcohol Content limit, whether tested by a breath test, urinalysis, or by a blood lab test, creates a presumption of drunkenness. This is important because law enforcement officers are not restricted to chemical testing to charge a suspected drunk driver with a DUI in the State of Florida. This is especially so if the law enforcement officer suspects the driver has been drinking alcohol, and the driver is under the age of 21. In Florida, police officers are permitted to charge a driver with Driving Under the Influence if the arresting officer has witness statements, or the officer has made observations leading the officer to believe the driver has been drinking alcohol. For example, the police is permitted to stop an underage driver solely based on the officer's suspicion the driver is under 21, and the driver is swerving, is intermittently braking, has caused an accident, or unable to maintain a steady speed.
After the driver has been pulled over, the law enforcement officer may ask the driver to perform a field sobriety test. The moment the police officer made the stop, the officer will be looking for signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech, stumbling, confusion, bloodshot eyes, and the smell of alcohol emanating from inside the driver's automobile. The police officer will use note these observations to determine whether or not the driver is may be driving while under the influence of alcohol.
The Penalties and Collateral Consequences of an Underage DUI COnviction in Florida
If someone has been arrested and charged for DUI in the State of Florida, the defendant will face criminal and administrative sanctions if the defendant is convicted of DUI. According to Florida Statutes Section 316.193, criminal penalties if convicted of DUI are the same whether the defendant is underage or he or she is 21 years of age or older. Florida criminal statutes establish the criminal penalties for a first-time DUI offense as a fine between $500.00 and $1,000.00, a potential six-month jail sentence, suspension of driver's license for as long as one year, probation, 50 hours of community service, and the chance of the judge issuing an order to impound your motor vehicle.
If an individual is convicted for driving under the influence in the State of Florida, the drunk driving conviction will appear and remain on your criminal record indefinitely. A first-time DUI conviction is a misdemeanor in Florida, but a conviction on your criminal record will make it much more challenging to pursue educational opportunities or land a good job.
In some cases, the law enforcement officer may choose not to arrest an underage driver if the driver is found to have been drinking alcohol, and the driver is under the legal limit. In those cases, the law enforcement officer will take a precautionary measure by removing the underage driver from the road. The law enforcement officer is permitted to physically detain the motorist in a procedure that is not considered an arrest. If the law enforcement officer has probable cause to conclude the underage driver was impaired or the driver's BAC results are 0.08% or higher, this temporary detention may lead to an arrest. If the BAC falls between 0.02% and 0.05%, then the police have not placed you under arrest and cannot issue a citation. There is no permanent criminal record generated by this procedure, but the event will appear on the operator's driving history.
In their attempts to stop underage drivers from drinking and driving, states like Florida have created stiffer penalties for underage drivers as compared to individuals who are of the legal drinking age. Florida has passed its own version of "Zero Tolerance" laws. For example, a driver who is under 21 should not be drinking any alcohol. Therefore the legal limit is extremely low as compared to drivers who are "of age."
A minimum BAC of 0.02% automatically triggers specific administrative penalties under Florida Statutes Section 322.2616. By authority of this statutory section, the law enforcement investigating officer may send the breathalyzer test results to the Florida Department of Highway Safety. The Florida Department of Highway Safety will then automatically suspend the underage driver's license for a mandatory minimum of six months. If the underage driver refuses to submit to a roadside breath test, the automatic suspension of the driver's license will be eighteen months.
If the BAC of the underage driver is between 0.05% and 0.079%, then the Florida Department of Highway Safety will not reinstate the driver's license until the underage driver attends and passes an educational substance abuse course, and he or she passes a substance abuse evaluation.
Additional Penalties for Underage DUI in Florida
Florida's DUI laws also elevate the criminal charges if a driver is found to have a BAC of 0.15% or higher. This is also known as aggravated DUI because the BAC of 0.15% is near twice the legally permissible limit. In some states, this crime is known as "super extreme DUI," and the criminal charge is a felony. The penalties for aggravated DUI in Florida increase depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. If convicted of aggravated DUI, regardless of age, can receive up to nine months in jail for a first offense, and a fine between $1,000 and $2,000. The punishments increase for each subsequent offense.
Florida DUI Enhanced Punishments
Florida's DUI criminal code covers enhanced penalties when a DUI defendant is involved in an accident while driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or both. A driver who causes an accident while driving under the influence and the accident results in personal injury or property damage will be charged with a misdemeanor in the first-degree. If convicted for a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida, the driver could receive up to one year in the county jail. A motor vehicle accident caused by a drunk driver resulting in personal injuries to another may have their charge elevated to a felony in the third-degree. A felony in the third degree is punishable by a prison sentence of up to five years.
In Florida, a DUI manslaughter conviction is punished with much more severe penalties. DUI Manslaughter is a second-degree felony in the State of Florida. The maximum prison sentence for a felony in the second-degree is fifteen years. Notwithstanding, Florida's DUI laws mandate an individual convicted of a felony in the second-degree to serve a minimum prison sentence of four years.
Example Defenses Used to Defense Against Underage DUI Charges in Florida
As in any criminal defense trial, the accused who is charged with DUI has several defenses that may be used to win their criminal case or reduce their charges. A skilled and experienced Florida underage DUI defense attorney will examine the facts and circumstances of the case and plan the defense that is most appropriate according to the circumstance of the case. Some defense arguments may include, contesting the validity of the breathalyzer results, contesting the performance of the driver on field sobriety tests, and arguing that the police violated the driver's rights so that the case should be dismissed.