DUI Defense Lawyers in Hillsborough County, Florida
Laws, Charges, Punishments, and Legal Defenses for Hillsborough County Driving Under Influence (DUI) of Alcohol or Drugs
The Office of the State Attorney for the Thirteenth Judicial District prosecutes DUI cases in Hillsborough County. The State Attorney for the 13th Judicial District in Florida is known as a tough and no-nonsense prosecutor, especially regarding DUI offenses. The Hillsborough prosecutor’s office seeks long prison sentences, strict terms of probation, and large fines to significantly punish those people who are convicted of DUI as a way to deter further criminal conduct and to send a tough, strong, and unwavering message to the public that the State Attorney for the Thirteenth Judicial District finds DUI crimes intolerable.
Aligning yourself with a tough, experienced, and successful Hillsborough County DUI defense attorney from Musca Law can help you avoid the consequences of getting behind the wheel when you have had “one too many.” The Hillsborough County DUI attorneys with Musca Law understand the importance of limiting the interruption a DUI charge could have in your life. Their experience guides them toward the most successful defenses so that you can get your life back on track, get your license reinstated, and move forward with your life.
DUI is only one out of several driving offenses an individual could be arrested for after drinking and driving. Florida Statutes §316.193 establishes the charge of DUI. Under §316.193, a person will be convicted of DUI if the state’s attorney proves beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- The person arrested was driving, operating, or was exercising physical control over a vehicle; and
- At such time was under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, under the influence of a substance outlined in Florida Statutes §877.111, or after consuming any controlled substances defined in Florida Statutes Chapter 893, or, alternatively,
- Possessed a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 grams or greater of alcohol for every 100 milliliters of blood or has a BAC of 0.08 grams or greater of alcohol for every 210 liters of breath while operating, driving, or having physical control over a motor vehicle.
The severity of the penalties imposed by a judge after a person is convicted of DUI in Hillsborough County will depend on many factors. Some of those factors include the severity and nature of the offense, the extent of the accused’s prior criminal history, along with other considerations.
DUI First Offense in Hillsborough County
The penalties set out in §316.193 after a conviction for DUI can be extremely harsh. Fortunately, a first offense DUI offender does not face a minimum mandatory jail sentence unless there are aggravating circumstances. For a so-called simple first offense DUI, the judge could sentence the first-time offender to serve no more than six months in the Hillsborough County jail. The sentencing judge has the discretion to sentence as he or she deems appropriate. Therefore, the judge will consider the accused’s prior record to determine whether probation or an alternative to jail is necessary, rather than incarceration exclusively. The facts of the case will also play a substantial role in aiding the judge to determine the most appropriate sentence for the first-time offender.
In addition to a maximum of six months incarceration in the Hillsborough County jail, the judge could place the defendant on probation for no more than one year, order the accused to perform community service, and pay a fine ranging between $500.00 and $1000.00. Additionally, the court will suspend the offender’s driver’s license for no more than one year, but in any event, no fewer than 180 days. Suspension of the offender’s license is required by the operation of Florida Statute §322.28. Finally, the court has the discretion to order the offender to attend substance abuse counseling, install an interlock ignition device, and report to the probation Department every month
DUI Second Offense in Hillsborough County
The elements of the crime for a second offense DUI in Hillsborough County are the same as for a first offense DUI, with the exception that the prosecution alleges that the offender committed the crime once previously. The penalties escalate as a result of the prior offense. The second-time offender could spend as long as nine months in the Hillsborough County jail with a minimum of ten days to serve if the two convictions for DUI occur within the same five-year time span. Additionally, the court may assess fines ranging between $1000.00 and $2000.00, and the court must order the accused to install an ignition interlock device for one year. Additionally, the driver’s license of the second-time offender must be suspended for at least one year, and the judge will impose probation with terms of mandatory substance abuse counseling along with reporting to probation.
Third Offense DUI in Hillsborough County
A conviction for third offense DUI in Hillsborough County, Florida, could be a felony in the third degree. A third DUI conviction would be a third-degree felony, and therefore expose the accused to a five-year state prison sentence if the previous conviction happened within ten years of the most recent conviction. However, if the time between the second conviction and the third conviction is greater than ten years, then the charge is a first-degree misdemeanor. In that case, the accused faces no more than one year in the Hillsborough County jail along with finds between $2000.00 and $5000.00. A person convicted of a third offense DUI will be ordered to install an ignition interlock device for at least two years once the person is eligible to reinstate his or her driver’s license. The minimum driver’s license suspension for the DUI third offense is ten years.
Fourth DUI Offense or Greater in Hillsborough County
A fourth DUI offense or greater is a third-degree felony. Any person found guilty as a four-time offender could serve as many as five years in state prison, irrespective of when the prior convictions happened. Moreover, the four-time offender’s driver’s license will be revoked for life. However, the person’s license could be reinstated in limited circumstances if the state approves the offender’s application for a hardship license. The state follows stringent guidelines when authorizing a hardship license.
Enhanced Penalties for “Aggravated DUI” in Hillsborough County, Florida
In addition to enhanced penalties for multiple DUI convictions, Florida law recognizes enhanced penalties for aggravating factors. For example, providing a BAC sample greater than 0.15% will subject the accused to potential enhance penalties even if the crime is a first offense DUI charge. The offense carries with it the possibility of increased jail time as well as mandatory installation of an interlock device.
Car crashes involving a person driving under the influence also carries the potential to face enhanced penalties depending on the outcome of the crash. A person driving under the influence which causes a crash that results in property damage or personal injury faces a first-degree misdemeanor, even if the charge is a first offense. Additionally, a crash caused by a person driving under the influence that results in serious bodily injury to any person other than the accused is a third-degree felony under Florida law. Lastly, DUI manslaughter is a second-degree felony in Florida. A person convicted of a second-degree felony in Florida faces up to 15 years in the state prison, along with a $15,000 fine, lengthy-term of probation, and additional collateral offenses such as lifetime loss of driver’s license.
Administrative Penalties in Florida Punish the DUI Offender Twice for the Same Offense
The state agency in charge of drivers’ licenses in Florida is the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (“the Department”). Florida law authorizes the Department to suspend a person’s driver’s license before he or she is convicted in a criminal case in certain circumstances. Those circumstances include failure or refusal to take a chemical test, a person driving allegedly under the influence who younger than 21 years of age, the person has prior arrests for DUI, in addition to other factors. Administrative suspension of a person’s license may occur irrespective of whether the accused is acquitted after a trial in Hillsborough County.
Obtaining a Temporary Driver’s License After a DUI Arrest in Hillsborough County, Florida
Florida law authorizes the Department to grant hardship licenses, sometimes known as work permits or Cinderella licenses, in limited circumstances. A person who is under 21 years of age and charged with DUI is ineligible to receive a hardship license by application of Florida’s zero-tolerance law. Florida’s zero-tolerance law does not allow for anyone under 21 charged with DUI to drive under the auspices of a hardship license despite providing a chemical test that yields a result less than the “legal limit.”
A person who suffers an administrative suspension of his or her driver’s license can appeal the decision and pursue a further administrative review, provided that he or she is 21 years of age or older. The person whose driver’s license was suspended must decide to appeal promptly. Florida law only authorizes a ten-day window to appeal the Department’s decision to suspend a person’s driver’s license administratively. A hearings officer could reinstate the driver’s license after a formal review if the administrative hearings officer finds that the arresting police officers did not follow Florida law during the encounter by failing to offer a test or declaring that the driver refused when the evidence shows that the driver consented but the officers did not administer the tests.
Taking an appeal from an administrative suspension can also provide the defense an opportunity to test the prosecution’s evidence before going to trial. Following this procedure gives the defense a chance to hone their strategy and will provide the best chance for success after trial. Consequently, a defense attorney with vast experience defending DUI cases in Hillsborough County can provide you with a sound legal strategy to defend not only the criminal case but also appeal the suspension of your driver’s license and have it restored as soon as possible.
DUI Defense Procedure in Hillsborough County, Florida
Nearly every DUI arrest in Hillsborough County, Florida, is initiated after a police officer observes the accused driving or responds to an accident scene. The officer's suspicion often begins when the officer observes the accused driving erratically. The officer might see the driver weaving, braking erratically, speeding, and then slowing without reason, or nearly crashing.
At an accident scene, the officer might receive information about the manner of the accused's operation before the accident, and then begin to suspect that the person was under the influence. The officer might talk to witnesses who smelled alcohol on the driver after the crash, or the officer might make his observations while talking with the accused after the crash.
A law enforcement officer is trained to be aware of particular signs that an individual is driving while under the influence. Law enforcement officers know that when they speak with an individual they suspect might be operating under the influence they should look for slow, deliberate, or slurred speech, the odor of an alcoholic drink emanating from the driver's compartment of the motor vehicle, along with glassy and bloodshot eyes.
Moreover, officers will look for signs that the driver’s coordination is impaired. Officers are trained to watch closely as the driver reaches for his or her driver's license and proof of insurance. Any confusion on the part of the driver will allow the officer to conclude that the driver has been drinking and is more than just flustered or nervous.
The officer will also look for other opportunities to confirm his or her suspicion. If the officer believes that the driver has been drinking, the officer can order the defendant out of the car and ask him or her to perform a portable breath test or field sobriety tests. The officer will look to see how the driver performs on the field sobriety tests by closely observing the driver's ability to follow directions, comprehend instructions, listen, and then perform the field sobriety tests.
Field sobriety tests are sometimes called "divided attention tests." Field sobriety tests are allegedly a good indicator of whether the individual is coordinated enough to drive. Of course, many physical, medical, and emotions conditions make performing field sobriety tests difficult, if not impossible, for a motorist. Additionally, the field sobriety tests require significant hand-eye coordination and balance, which are skills that are required to drive. However, no one has to balance on one foot while holding the other knee-high off the ground while driving.
The law enforcement officer has the authority to make an arrest once he or she believes that there is probable cause the motorist is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Before formally making the arrest, the officer can order the motorist to perform a portable breath test. Even after the arrest is made, the officer has the authority to ask the motorist to take a chemical test.
Florida and every other state in the U.S. enacted what is known as an implied consent law. Implied consent means that every motorist who lawfully operates a motor vehicle on a public way in Florida consents to taking a breath or blood test upon the request of a police officer who has probable cause to arrest the defendant for DUI. A police officer can take a sample by force if necessary. However, a person who refuses to take a breath test will face an administrative driver's license suspension for at least one year.
A person arrested for DUI in Hillsborough County has certain rights. The arrestee has the right to a phone call to arrange for someone to post bail. Florida law requires that the person remains in custody until his or her BAC falls below 0.05%, or eight (8) hours have elapsed since the arrest, whichever happens first.
The accused will receive notice of his or her court date upon release from custody. At the first court date, the person will be arraigned by the court and enter a plea of not guilty. At that time, the court will inquire of the accused concerning representation if a lawyer does not appear with him or her at the arraignment.
A knowledgeable and skilled DUI defense attorney in Hillsborough County, Florida, will examine the facts of the case and investigate the circumstances to devise a winning strategy for his or her client. Sometimes the best strategy is to enter a plea bargain with the state's attorney. Many cases, especially first offense cases when the prosecution has not sought charges for enhanced penalties, can be negotiated to a lesser offense known as "wet reckless." The decision to plea bargain to reduced charges should only be made after speaking with knowledgeable and seasoned DUI defense counsel from Hillsborough County.
Instead of plea bargaining early in the case, there might be a greater advantage to filing motions to suppress to exclude some of the prosecution's evidence. Motions to suppress could involve arguing that the police officer had no cause to stop the car, arguing that the officer failed to advise the individual of his or her Miranda warnings during questioning while under arrest, or that any statements made by the accused were not made as a result of free will, but were coerced in some manner.
Not every motion to suppress will result in a dismissal of the charges if the defendant wins, but the defense will benefit by arguing motions to suppress. Arguing motions to suppress is frequently a good defense tactic because the defense can subject the prosecution's evidence to scrutiny under cross-examination and expose the prosecution's weaknesses in the case. Even if the prosecutor wins the motion to suppress, the prosecutor might see that his or her case is weak and offer a plea to a reduced charge.
If the accused maintains his or her rights that he or she is innocent, then he or she has the right to a trial by jury. At trial, the state’s attorney must prove the case against the accused beyond a reasonable doubt for the jury or judge if it is a jury-waived trial to find the defendant guilty as charged. The accused must be acquitted if the prosecution fails to meet its burden. If the defendant is acquitted, then he or she will be discharged from the case. Notwithstanding the acquittal, any administrative penalties imposed by the Department could remain in effect.
Defenses to DUI Cases in Hillsborough County, Florida (FL)
Mounting a successful defense against a DUI charge in Hillsborough County requires a thorough investigation of all the facts and circumstances surrounding the event. A constitutional error committed by the police or the prosecution will require the judge to dismiss the case or suppress much of the damning evidence the accused faces. Suppressed evidence could lead to the dismissal of the case for lack of evidence the prosecution could offer a trial, or the allowed motion to suppress could substantially weaken the government's case making success at trial for the accused a significant possibility.
Even if none of the evidence is suppressed, the standard the government is held to by courts of law in Florida is, at times, insurmountable. A skilled, experienced, and highly experienced DUI defense attorney knows how to expose the weaknesses of the government's case to his or her client's benefit. Additionally, a seasoned DUI defense attorney from Hillsborough County, Florida, will understand how to attack so-called expert testimony and demonstrate that field sobriety tests, breath tests, and blood tests are only reliable when the individuals who administer the tests follow strict protocols. If they do not follow those strict rules when performing the test, a jury could find that test results are unreliable and discount them.
A skilled Florida DUI Defense attorney who has experienced significant success defending DUI charges in Hillsborough County will understand how to confront the prosecution's witnesses and convince the jury that the state attorney’s evidence is weak, misleading, and unreliable. If a jury cannot find that the prosecution's evidence meets the burden of proof, then the defendant will be found not guilty and can go on living his or her life.
MUSCA LAW: An Aggressive Hillsborough County DUI Defense Law Firm
Call Musca Law immediately at 888-524-5057 to begin defending your Hillsborough County DUI charges. We understand how devastating the consequences of a DUI conviction can be to a person convicted of DUI. Our DUI defense attorneys in Hillsborough County, Florida promise to devise a legally sound, yet aggressive defense so you could keep your job, maintain your freedom, protect your driver's license, and preserve your way of life. Do not compound one mistake with another by calling anyone else.