DUI Defense Lawyers in Lee County, Florida
Understanding Lee County Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Laws, Punishments, and Defenses
The state attorney for the Twentieth Judicial District of Florida vigorously prosecutes all criminal cases in Lee County. DUI cases are taken especially seriously by the state attorney's office. The state attorney's office holds an enormous responsibility to prosecute all offenders arrested for DUI in Lee County, no matter how strong of a case the arresting law enforcement officer makes.
A large number of people are arrested each year in Lee County and prosecuted by the state attorney's office. According to statistics assembled by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 1,358 individuals were arrested for DUI in Lee County from January to December of 2018, which are the most recent statistics available. Just over half of the DUI prosecutions statewide resulted in convictions, according to data from DMVFLorida.org (which is not an official website for the state of Florida).
The relatively low conviction rate for DUI cases in Florida should be no indication that the prosecuting attorneys are indifferent to the potential harm driving under the influence could inflict on innocent people. There could be many reasons why the DUI conviction rate is not higher. The low conviction rate might reflect bad police work, too many arrests of people by overzealous police officers, plea bargains to less serious charges, or bringing weak cases to trial.
One thing is certain: you must not take a chance to represent yourself if you are charged in Lee County with DUI. The potential criminal penalties, along with the collateral consequences that accompany a DUI conviction are so severe that trying to represent yourself is not worth the risk
If you have been arrested for DUI in Lee County, Florida, then you need representation from a law firm that has the resources to match the extensive resources to which the police and prosecutors have access, but also has the skill, knowledge, and experience to limit your exposure to the pitfalls and severe consequences of having of made a mistake and getting behind the wheel after having "one too many."
An arrest for DUI in Lee County, Florida, might seem like you have lost your entire world. You would have spent the night, or a good portion of it, in jail, had a police officer tell you that you would lose your license for refusing to take a chemical test or for failing a chemical test, and you might be out of a job because you can no longer drive. Additionally, your family might be upset with you, you could experience financial problems, and you are afraid of the unknown. At Musca Law, we pride ourselves on delivering results for our DUI clients in Lee County. Our firm has over 150 years of criminal defense experience upon which you can rely for representation that is aggressive and results-oriented. Call Musca Law 24/7 at 888-484-5057 to arrange a meeting with a seasoned Lee County DUI defense attorney.
DUI Law in Lee County, Florida
DUI is a crime because driving or operating a motor vehicle in Florida at or above the "legal limit" or driving while your normal functions are inhibited by alcohol or drug consumption is prohibited by statute. Section 316.193 of the Florida Statutes creates the crime of DUI and provides the elements or components of the crime as well as the possible maximum penalties a person faces, along with any minimum sanctions the court must levy.
Section 316.193 sets forth the elements of DUI. The prosecution, or state attorney in Florida, must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused was either driving a motor vehicle or had control over a motor vehicle and that either alcohol impaired his or her normal functions or the person operated a vehicle with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08% as measured by 210 liters of breath or 100 milliliters of blood. Additionally, a person could be convicted of DUI if he or she is under the influence of a narcotic as defined by Florida Statutes §877.111, a controlled substance defined by Florida Statutes Chapter 893, or a combination of alcohol and drugs.
The state always has the burden of proof in every criminal case to prove every element or component of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt. Failing to satisfy the burden of proof means that the defendant or accused is entitled to the benefit of an acquittal on the crime charged.
DUI Penalties in Lee County, Florida
A first offense DUI conviction is a misdemeanor in Florida. Despite being a misdemeanor, a conviction will have severe ramifications for you. A DUI first offense conviction carries with it the possibility of six months incarceration in the Lee County jail, one-year probation, along with a maximum of $1000 fine but no less than a $500 fine. Additionally, the judge will revoke your driver's license for up to 180 days at a minimum and could be as long as one year, according to Florida Statutes 322.28. Additionally, the judge must order the convicted offender to perform at least 50 hours of community service while on probation for DUI in Florida.
The potential collateral consequences for a first offense DUI conviction in Florida are extremely severe. A second offense, which will be discussed in more detail below, carries stiffer penalties and could include minimum jail time. Additionally, you will experience a substantial increase in your auto insurance policy premium. A professional licensee could face professional discipline from the profession's licensing authority, and you will have tremendous out-of-pocket expenses which could include paying for an ignition interlock device, probation fees, driver's license reinstatement fee, fees for a DUI course, impoundment fees, and costs associated with alternative transportation during the period of license suspension. The judge must also impound the vehicle driven at the time of the DUI arrest for ten days unless the family of the offender has no alternative transportation.
A conviction for a second offense requires proof of the same elements as a first offense DUI with the exception that the government also bears the burden of proving the existence of a prior conviction, whether that previous conviction occurred in Florida or any other state in the country. The penalty for a second offense DUI conviction would carry with it the potential of a nine-month maximum sentence to the Lee County jail, with a ten-day minimum sentence if the previous conviction happened within ten years of the second conviction. Additionally, the judge must order a fine between $1000 and $2000. Also, the judge must order the convicted offender to install an ignition interlock device for at least two years. The driver's license will be suspended for at least one year. Moreover, as a term of probation, the judge must sentence the offender to a counseling center for treatment of a possible substance abuse problem, and the judge will order the vehicle driven by the offender to be impounded for up to 30 days.
A conviction for third offense DUI in Florida could be a felony or a misdemeanor depending on when the prior convictions occurred. A third-offense DUI could be charged as a third-degree felony in Florida if the second DUI conviction on the offender's record or curd within ten years of the most recent charge. A conviction for a third-degree felony in Florida carries the potential of incarceration in the state prison for no more than five years. The judge must sentence the felony offender to at least 30 days in jail. Additionally, the judge must order the driver's license to be suspended for at least ten years, and the vehicle driven by the accused at the time of the arrest must also be impounded for 90 days.
A third-offense DUI in Lee County, Florida, could be a first-degree felony if the second offense falls outside of the ten-year lookback window. A first degree misdemeanor in Florida carries the potential of a one-year jail sentence in the Lee County detention facility and the imposition of a fine between $2000 and $5000.
A fourth offense in Lee County, Florida, are third-degree felonies. As with all third-degree felonies, the offender faces up to a five-year state prison sentence. Additionally, the driver's license of the convicted offender could be suspended or revoked for life. The four-time offender might have the opportunity to seek reinstatement of his or her driver's license if the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles permits the offender's license to be reinstated with probationary conditions. A person convicted of a fourth DUI offense could face prosecution as a habitual offender under Florida Statutes §775.084 as well. Florida law does not impose any additional criminal penalties for convictions beyond four previous convictions.
DUI Charges in Lee County with Aggravating Factors
The state attorney in Lee County, Florida, can bring aggravated DUI charges in certain circumstances. If the blood alcohol level of the person arrested exceeds 0.15 percent as determined by a blood test or by a breath test, then the law enforcement officer who arrested the accused can bring a charge for aggravated DUI. Additionally, any person arrested for DUI who has a child in the car at the time of the arrest can also be charged with an aggravated DUI offense. In this instance, a child means a person under 18 years of age.
An aggravated DUI conviction for a first offense carries a maximum jail sentence of nine months. A conviction for a second offense DUI with an aggravating factor increases the potential penalty from nine months to one-year incarceration. The maximum fines also increased by $1000 as well.
Enhanced DUI charges also apply to auto accidents caused by an intoxicated driver. A person who causes a motor vehicle crash resulting in property damage or slight personal injury will be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. An accident caused by an intoxicated driver that results in a serious personal injury will result in the offender being charged with a third-degree felony.
A crash caused by an intoxicated driver that results in the death of another person is charged as DUI manslaughter. DUI manslaughter in Florida is a second-degree felony. The maximum sentence of incarceration for a second-degree felony is fifteen years with a four-year minimum-mandatory incarcerated sentence. Moreover, the offender convicted of DUI manslaughter in Lee County, Florida, will have his or her license revoked for a lifetime. There is the potential for reinstatement of the driver's license with some restrictions if the convicted offender satisfies certain obligations and requirements of Florida law.
Applying for a Temporary Driver's License After Arrest for DUI in Lee County, Florida
The law enforcement agent who arrests an individual for a DUI charge will administratively suspend the offender's license. The terms of the suspension will vary depending on whether the individual took a chemical test or refused a chemical test. The suspension for refusing to take a chemical test begins immediately upon refusal. Alternatively, a person who provides a chemical test which results in a .08 blood alcohol level or higher will have a temporary driver's license provided that is valid for ten days.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles possesses statutory authority to reinstate licenses for business or employment hardship purposes. These temporary licenses that severely restrict one's ability to drive a car are sometimes known as Cinderella licenses or work licenses. These licenses are available to people who are 21 and over. To be eligible for reinstatement, the offender who gives a BAL test of .08 or higher cannot have his or her license reinstated within the first 30 days of suspension. Additionally, the offender must enroll in DUI school before he or she may apply for a business or employment hardship license. A person who refused to take a chemical test cannot apply until he or she has enrolled in DUI school and wait 90 days from the date of suspension.
Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will reinstate a driver's license after conviction if the convicted offender completes DUI school and applies for reinstatement. If the chemical test provided by the person arrested measures 0.15 or higher, then the individual must have an interlock ignition device installed in the primary car here she drives for at least six months.
The decision made by the arresting officer to administratively suspend the offender's driver's license can be appealed. You should have the same lawyer who represents you in the criminal case handle your appeal. Otherwise, you could compromise the defense in your criminal case and cause irreparable harm to your ability to get your driver's license reinstated.
Appealing the officer's decision to suspend your driver's license administratively allows you to contest evidence before defending against the charges in criminal court. However, representing yourself at the appeal could be extremely dangerous. You could say something during the hearing that you think is innocuous that hurts your case. Anything that you say during an appeal hearing could be used against you during the criminal prosecution. Therefore, you must have experienced, and competent counsel represents you in both the criminal matter as well as the administrative appeal.
DUI Defense Strategies in Lee County, Florida
Devising a winning strategy for your Lee County, Florida, DUI case will be largely dependent upon the facts of the DUI incident as well as your prior criminal history. If you have prior convictions for DUI offenses in Florida or another state, the best option for you might be to enter a plea bargain with the prosecution so that your exposure to harsh penalties and severe consequences are limited. For a first time offender, the possible penalty will be the same if you plead guilty war take the case to trial and lose provided that there are no aggravated DUI charges alleged.
The best outcome for a first-time offender might be a plea to a charge colloquially referred to as a "wet reckless" charge. Taking the case to trial might be advantageous for you because you could win an acquittal and be free from all criminal sanctions. However, an acquittal does not alleviate the administrative penalties that you could face. Additionally, if the prosecution will not negotiate a reduced sentence, then you can plead guilty to the crime as charged or take the case to trial. The best thing that you can do when deciding whether to negotiate a plea with the prosecution or take the case to trial is to have a comprehensive discussion with an experienced and aggressive DUI defense attorney in Lee County, Florida, before you decide upon a course of action.
The decision to enter a plea bargain or take the case to trial might hinge upon the outcome of pretrial motions. Filing motions to suppress and dismiss could exploit weaknesses in the government's case against you. A successful motion to suppress could have the most damning evidence against you thrown out of court, or it could force the prosecution to dismiss the case entirely based on lack of evidence. For example, if a police officer stops a motor vehicle for a motor vehicle offense, but the court believes that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to make the stop, then the judge will order all evidence of the stop in anything that flows from a stop to be suppressed from evidence at trial. Consequently, the government will have no evidence that it could use to prove the DUI charge against you and must dismiss the case. Additionally, any statements made by you when you are under arrest could be suppressed if the police asked you questions designed to incriminate yourself without properly giving you the Miranda warnings required by the United States Constitution as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Any sound trial strategy begins with a thorough analysis of the case. A skilled DUI defense attorney from Lee County, Florida, can devise a winning strategy after speaking with you and analyzing the case. Some cases can be defended by using the art of cross-examination to expose the weaknesses of the government's case. In others, a combination of cross-examination, along with presenting witnesses who could contradict the government's case if they are available, can provide a successful defense. Additionally, an experienced DUI defense attorney understands how to dismantle the government experts who testify about chemical processes and test results. An attorney with extensive trial experience defending DUI cases can demonstrate how test results are unreliable because the tests are inherently unreliable, or the tests were incorrectly interpreted or incorrectly administered. In other words, expert witnesses are not to be treated any differently than fact witnesses just because the expert witness has a higher level of training.
In the end, the best defense is the one that prevents the government from upholding their burden of proof, which will result in an acquittal after a trial or allows you to experience though least severe consequences of making a mistake and driving after having a couple of drinks.
Musca Law: DUI Defense Serving all of Lee County, Florida
Call Musca Law at 888-484-5057 anytime day or night to speak with our experienced, highly reputable, and successful Lee County, Florida DUI defense attorneys. Do not make a bad situation worse by waiting to see what happens. Call us today for a free consultation and experience the difference Musca Law can make for you.