DUI Defense Lawyers in Pinellas County, Florida
Understanding Laws, Punishments, and Defense Strategies for Driving Under Influence (DUI/BUI) of Alcohol or Drug Charges in Pinellas County, Florida
The state attorney's office for the Sixth Judicial Circuit in Florida is the prosecuting authority for Pinellas County. The state attorney for the Sixth Judicial District has a responsibility to the citizens residing in Pinellas County to protect them from people who drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Notwithstanding that obligation, the state attorney for the Sixth Judicial District also has an ethical obligation to ensure justice is done.
Justice, as we know, is often hard to come by. Many people who have no criminal history whatsoever have run afoul of the law by driving under the influence. Despite a clean criminal history, good reputation in the community, and being a person of high character who works, takes care of his or her family, and is a good citizen, a person could still wind up behind bars one night after having one too many.
The prosecutor's office in Pinellas County pulls no punches when prosecuting DUI cases: they argue feverishly for tough jail sentences, harsh terms of probation, and heavy fines. Judges in Pinellas County will do what they can to protect the public as well. That means they will often dole out severe punishments after DUI convictions, if warranted.
Facing an arrest and prosecution for DUI in Pinellas County is an incredibly serious legal matter. Do not try to defend these charges alone. You will need the guidance, counsel, and expert representation from a tremendously experienced and knowledgeable Pinellas County DUI attorney to fight the allegations and deliver justice for you and your family. Without seeking advice from attorneys who understand how to defend DUI cases in Pinellas County successfully, you will be on your own, without anyone to protect your interests better than you could possibly protect your own.
Elements of DUI in Pinellas County, Florida
Florida Statutes §316.193 defines the criminal charge of DUI. Anyone convicted of DUI faces escalating penalties depending on the severity of the crime, whether the person has previous convictions for DUI, or whether he or she was hurt in an accident caused by someone driving under the influence.
In Florida, a person could be convicted of DUI if the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt all three elements of the crime. The elements of DUI in Florida are 1) driving, operating, or maintaining physical control over car or a motor vehicle; 2) while suffering under the influence of alcohol, a narcotic substance outlined in Florida Statutes §877.111, or after consuming a controlled substance defined by Florida Statutes Chapter 893; or 3) driving with a blood-alcohol level (BAL) of 0.08 grams of ethyl alcohol for every 100 milliliters of blood or has a BAL of 0.08 grams or more of ethyl alcohol for every sample of 210 liters of breath.
The prosecution always has the unwavering burden to prove every element of the crime of DUI in Pinellas County, Florida, beyond a reasonable doubt. Additionally, the state's attorney has the burden to prove the existence of prior offenses, if any, against the accused to argue that the court should hand down and extremely harsh punishment for the crime. If the state attorney does not prove even one element of the charge of DUI, then the accused will be found not guilty. Therefore, if the state's attorney does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused operated or was driving a motor vehicle, failed to prove that the person was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs such that the person's normal bodily functions were impaired, or does not prove the breath or blood sample taken from the accused meets or exceeds the legal limit, then the accused must be acquitted.
Penalties for DUI Convictions in Pinellas County, Florida
First Offense DUI
The potential penalties for DUI convictions become more severe as the number of prior convictions increases or the severity of the crime proven increases. For a first offense DUI conviction in Pinellas County, Florida, the offender could be sentenced to as long as six months in the Pinellas County jail, up to one-year probation, and a fine not exceeding $1,000 but no less than $500. There is no minimum mandatory incarcerated sentence associated with a first offense DUI conviction in Pinellas County, Florida. Accordingly, the judge has wide latitude to fashion an appropriate sentence that sanctions the offender while hopefully deterring future criminal behavior.
While most people understand the possibility that they could be sentenced to jail for committing a crime, many people fail to realize that the collateral consequences of driving under the influence are severe as well. Florida Statutes §322.28requires the sentencing judge to revoke or suspend the driver's license of the accused for no less than 180 days, but it could be as long as one year. Moreover, the sentencing judge has the authority to order the accused to attend substance abuse counseling, enter the DUI program, order the offender to install an ignition interlock device for up to six months, and to report monthly to the probation department. Furthermore, the judge must order the offender to perform 50 hours of service in the community.
Second Offense DUI
A second offense DUI charge is identical to a first offense DUI charge except that the state attorney must prove that the accused committed the crime at least once before. The prosecution must prove the same three elements as the first offense charge. If successful, the prosecution could seek a maximum of nine months committed to the Pinellas County jail, with a minimum sentence of ten days if the two convictions happened in a five-year time frame. Also, the judge could levy fines that range between $1,000 and $2,000. Additionally, the judge must order the offender to install an interlock ignition device for two years and suspend the driver's license of the accused for one year, at least. The judge must impose mandatory substance abuse counseling in the DUI program as a term of probation. Lastly, the judge shall order the vehicle driven by the accused to be impounded.
Third Offense DUI
Depending on the timing between the second and third convictions for DUI in Pinellas County, Florida, the crime could be a felony or a misdemeanor. A conviction for third offense DUI will be a third-degree felony provided that the second conviction happened within ten years of the third conviction. A conviction for a third-degree felony DUI in Florida exposes the offender to a maximum five-year state prison sentence. The offender must serve 30 days at a minimum in the Pinellas County Jail, and order the vehicle driven by the offender to be impounded. The judge must order the driver's license of the offender to be suspended for ten years.
A third offense DUI is a first-degree misdemeanor, exposing the accused to a maximum one-year jail sentence if the second and third convictions were more than ten years apart. The person convicted of a misdemeanor for third-offense DUI may serve up to one year in jail and face a mandatory fine of no less than $2,000 but no more than $5,000.
Fourth Offense DUI or Greater in Pinellas County, Florida
A person convicted of DUI with three prior DUI convictions or adjudications is guilty of a third-degree felony in Florida. As a result, the convicted felon could spend as long as five years in the state prison. The offender's driver's license must be revoked for life. The four-time offender has the opportunity to apply for reinstatement of his or her driver's license if the Florida Department Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles approves reinstatement.
It is important to note that people who have been convicted in other states for DUI could be charged with subsequent offenses after a DUI arrest in Florida. The prosecution must prove the out-of-state conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.
Enhanced Penalties for Aggravated DUI Convictions in Pinellas County, Florida
Section 316.193 of the Florida Statutes Imposes strict penalties for aggravated DUI convictions. A person who provides a BAL after a chemical or breath test equaling 0.15 or better will be subject to enhanced penalties. Additionally, any person convicted of DUI while driving with a person under eighteen years of age in the vehicle will also be subject to enhanced penalties. Those enhanced penalties increased the maximum possible sentence from six months to nine months for a first offense and from nine months to one year for a conviction resulting in a second offense. Additionally, the minimum fines increase to $1000 to $2,000 for a first conviction, $2,000 to $4,000 for a second conviction, and $4,000 at a minimum for a third or subsequent conviction.
Any person who is driving under the influence and causes a motor vehicle crash is subject to enhanced penalties as well. A person driving under the influence and causes a collision that resulted in property damage or minor personal injury faces punishment for a first-degree misdemeanor. Additionally, if the crash caused by a person driving under the influence results in a serious bodily injury, then the offender faces a third-degree felony. Moreover, DUI manslaughter is a second-degree felony that carries with it a maximum of fifteen years in prison and a four-year minimum mandatory prison sentence. Additionally, the offender convicted of DUI manslaughter will lose his or her driver's license for life, subject to restriction if the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles grants hardship reinstatement.
Applying for a Temporary Driver's License After a DUI Arrest in Pinellas County, Florida
Law enforcement officers will administratively suspend any person's driver's license who is under arrest for DUI for refusal to take a chemical test or someone who BAL is 0.08 or higher and is 21 or older. The suspension for refusal begins immediately upon arrest. The police officer will take the driver's license of the accused. However, if the accused has a BAL of 0.08 or higher, then the officer will give the offender a temporary driver's license that is valid for ten days.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has the authority to grant licenses to people facing DUI charges for business or employment hardship. Sometimes these special hardship licenses are referred to as Cinderella licenses or work permits. Anyone younger than 21-years-of-age who is also charged with DUI is ineligible for any license reinstatement because Florida is a zero-tolerance state until the alleged underage-offender completes a class on traffic laws and substance abuse education courses and serves 30 days license suspension time before applying for reinstatement.
A person 21-years-of-age or older who gives a BAL test of .08 or above or refuses to submit to a chemical test must enroll in a DUI school and apply to have a hardship license granted to them. The offender who provides a BAL of 0.08 or greater shall have his or her license suspended for 30 days before becoming eligible for hardship reinstatement. For refusal to take a chemical test, the accused must wait 90 days to apply for reinstatement. Florida law prohibits anyone who has two refusals or more to apply for a hardship license.
Florida law allows for reinstatement of driver's licenses after a conviction as well. The first-time offender must attend and complete DUI school and apply to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for reinstatement. If the offender gave a chemical test that yielded a result of 0.15 or greater, then the offender must install an interlock device in his or her car for as long as six months. The conditions for reinstatement become more onerous as the offenses become more serious or show that a person has a longstanding history of driving under the influence of alcohol.
A person charged with DUI who has also had his or her driver's license administratively suspended can appeal the decision of the law enforcement officer who suspended his or her license. Appealing the decision to suspend a license could benefit the accused by providing an opportunity for the defense to devise a strategy to defend the case that will lead to the highest likelihood of success after trial. There are no collateral consequences for trying to appeal the officer's decision to suspend the driver's license administratively. However, a person charged with DUI must be cautious when appealing the administrative suspension. Having an experience than knowledgeable Pinellas County DUI defense attorney represent you at an administrative hearing will jealously protect your rights and give you the greatest chance of success. Otherwise, you could unwittingly make statements against your penal interest that could be used against you later on in court.
Pinellas County DUI Defense Strategies
Defending a Pinellas County DUI accusation begins by obtaining all of the evidence in the possession or control the prosecution and then thoroughly examining it to determine where the weaknesses lie. A complete, thorough, and exhaustive examination of all of the evidence could reveal several weaknesses that could be exploited either at a motion to suppress or at trial. On some occasions, the best defense will be a plea bargain to a lesser charge, such as "wet reckless quotes." This type of plea still imposes a penalty on the offender but is less onerous than a DUI conviction. Whatever course the accused decides to follow, he or she must engage a Pinellas County DUI defense lawyer who will vigorously defend his or her client's rights aggressively.
Pursuing a motion to suppress could substantially weaken the government's case and yield a favorable result for the accused. The defense could argue that the police officer had no grounds to initiate a traffic stop, and therefore, had no justification to investigate the accused for DUI. The judge could throw out all of the evidence against the accused beginning with the unlawful car stop and every other piece of evidence that flows from the car stop. In that case, the prosecution would be left with no evidence to proceed to trial. That means the case will likely be dismissed.
Another motion strategy to pursue relates to statements made by the person when under arrest or because the police did not follow the proper procedure to procure the results of a chemical test. A violation of the appropriate procedures could result in the suppression of this most damning evidence against the accused. Additionally, any statements made by the accused will be suppressed if the officers violated the Miranda laws, or the defendant did not make a knowing or intelligent waiver of his or her rights.
Deciding whether you should try the case or plea bargain, it is difficult at times. Consequently, you must have an in-depth discussion with reputable Pinellas County DUI defense attorneys to decide what is in your best interest. If you opt to go to trial, you will have the opportunity to watch the witnesses testify against you and have your lawyer cross-examine them. Skillful cross-examination will expose the kinks in the armor of the government's case. Effective cross-examination also magnifies mistakes that law enforcement officers made while investigating the incident like rushing to judgment or failing to administer field sobriety tests correctly. Additionally, cross-examination can also show that the police did not treat you fairly. As a result, an effective cross-examination can tear down a strong case put on by the government and lead to an acquittal.
Musca Law: Vigorous DUI & BUI Defense in Pinellas County, Florida
At Musca Law, we understand that one mistake should not impair your ability to earn a living, enjoy your family, and live your life. That is why we fight vigorously for people charged with DUI in Pinellas County. Call us today at 888-524-5057 to consult with our highly-skilled and motivated DUI defense attorneys from Pinellas County. Our Florida DUI/BUI defense attorneys are available 24/7 to help you put this mistake in your past.