Florida DUI Defense Attorney Discusses Reducing a DUI Charge to Reckless Driving
All DUI cases in Florida are different, and the severity of punishment for a guilty plea or conviction will depend upon a driver’s conduct. For example, if a person was arrested and charged with DUI for having a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .09, the consequences will not be as harsh as a situation where an alleged drunk driver caused an accident, and another person sustained injuries. However, it is not uncommon for individuals facing DUI charges to have the charges reduced to reckless driving.
If you are facing a Florida DUI charge, your attorney may be able to tell you generally whether the outlook for your situation is good or bad, but there are a variety of reasons why your attorney cannot know for sure that your DUI charge can and will be reduced to reckless driving. Such reasons include, but are not limited to, the following:
- A judge has not yet been assigned to your case;
- A state prosecuting attorney has not yet been assigned to your case; and
- The discovery process (i.e., reviewing and analyzing evidence and facts of your case, which may include testimony) has not yet begun.
The prosecuting attorney and judge both play a significant role in each criminal proceeding.
Understanding the Steps of a Florida DUI Criminal Case
A DUI charge can result from numerous circumstances, but the most common type of DUI charge is one where a driver is stopped at a DUI checkpoint. An additional way in which a person may be stopped on suspicion of drunk driving and arrested is being pulled over by a “DUI Officer” who is specially trained to identify, pull over, and test drivers who may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The officer at a DUI checkpoint or the officer who pulls over an individual for alleged drunk driving will do the following:
- Ask the driver initial questions;
- Attempt to detect the smell of alcohol or drugs (especially in the case of marijuana);
- Perform a field sobriety test if the driver’s initial investigation of observing the driver leads to further suspicion of impaired driving; and
- Perform a breathalyzer test to determine the driver’s blood-alcohol content (BAC).
Florida’s Implied Consent Law
Florida law requires all individuals with driver’s licenses to submit to alcohol chemical testing (i.e., breathalyzer test and/or blood testing) when instructed by a law enforcement officer. If a driver refuses to submit to chemical testing, he or she may be subject to a minimum one-year driver’s license suspension. Additionally, Florida law enforcement officers are permitted by law to forcibly take a driver’s blood sample to determine the driver’s BAC and whether any drugs are detected under Florida’s Implied Consent Law.
Booking into Jail and Bail
Once a driver is arrested for alleged impaired driving after submitting to chemical testing for drugs and alcohol, he or she is taken to jail and booked. The driver is allowed one phone call, which is typically made to a Florida DUI Defense Attorney or someone who can post bail for the driver. A driver can be released on bail once his or her BAC is below 0.05.
After an individual is booked and potentially released on bail, the next step is the arraignment, which is the initial court appearance. At this stage, formal criminal charges are read to the defendant, and the judge will ask the defendant to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The defendant will also be asked whether he or she has an attorney.
License Suspension / Formal Review Hearing
Under Florida’s DUI laws, driver’s license suspensions have varying degrees of severity based on the driver’s age (whether the driver is under the age of 21), whether the driver is facing criminal charges in addition to a DUI charge, whether the driver refused chemical testing, and whether the driver has any prior DUI convictions on his or her record.
Plea Bargaining – The Stage Where a DUI Charge May be Reduced to Reckless Driving
After a thorough review of the facts and evidence in a person’s case, the defendant’s attorney and the prosecutor assigned to the case may discuss a potential plea bargain. Depending on the severity of the DUI charge, a driver may be eligible for a reduced charge called “wet reckless.” Such a charge does not have the same severe consequences as a DUI conviction.
Motion to Suppress Evidence – The Next Stage if a Plea Bargain is Not Reached
If a defendant’s case does not resolve with a plea bargain, the case will proceed on a path to trial. If you are facing a Florida DUI charge, this is the stage where your attorney will file a motion to suppress evidence in your case. Such a motion is a court filing that asks the judge to prevent specific evidence from being offered at trial.
Criminal Trial and Sentencing
After motions are filed to suppress evidence, a defendant appears for a criminal trial before a jury. A jury will hear the evidence from both sides and decide whether a defendant should be found innocent or guilty of driving under the influence. If a jury decides a defendant is not guilty, the defendant is cleared of all charges and free of all penalties, including fines, jail time, suspension of his or her driver’s license, alcohol and drug courses, among other punishments.
If, on the other hand, a jury finds a defendant to be guilty of driving under the influence, the defendant will face penalties including, among others, fines, jail time, and the potential for installation of an Ignition Interlock Device on a defendant’s car.
Reducing Your DUI to Reckless Driving in Florida
The consequences of a reckless driving conviction are much less severe than those of a DUI conviction. A DUI conviction (a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida) results in the imposition of a fine of $1,000 or more, mandatory participation in DUI school, impoundment of your car, suspension of your driver’s license for 6-12 months, and the mandatory installation of an Ignition Interlock Device if your BAC was more than 0.15. A reckless driving conviction is a second-degree misdemeanor in Florida and results in jail time not to exceed 60 days. Unless a DUI case can be dismissed for lack of evidence, an outcome of reckless driving is a victory to avoid a DUI conviction.