DUI Lawyer Tampa
Law Office of William B. Wynne
2501 Orient Road, Suite D
Tampa, FL 33619
The Law Office of William B. Wynne, P.L.L.C., represents clients in criminal and civil matters in Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, Polk, Hernando, Pinellas, and Pasco Counties. Consultations are free of charge. Call us today!
If you or someone you know has been arrested for Driving Under the influence, it’s important to speak with a Tampa DUI Lawyer right away. First, know this: you are not alone. It’s estimated that around 43,900 people were arrested for DUI in 2017. According to a Fox 13 News report, Hillsborough County leads the state in injuries and fatalities as the result of driving under the influence. And all this, at a time when the total number of DUI arrests across the entire state, has seen a downward trend over the past few years. The crime of DUI affects people from all walks of life, from all backgrounds, and from all income levels.
As most people know, a DUI is much more than just a traffic ticket. It is a very serious criminal offense that can have lifelong consequences.
The penalties associated with the crime of DUI have seen a steady increase over the past 20 years as society has recognized the dangers of impaired drivers. Now, more than ever, it is important to retain an experienced and aggressive Tampa DUI Lawyer.
The Florida legislature (in section 316.656 Florida Statues) has specifically made it illegal to receive a withhold of adjudication for the charge of DUI. Apparently, they singled out the crime of DUI for just this purpose. For those that aren’t legal experts, this means (in a nutshell) that your DUI case will stay on your record for life, unless you can get it dropped, dismissed, or reduced, and you are otherwise eligible to seal or expunge your record. For more details, see the Expungement in Florida section. Now, more than ever, it is important to retain an experienced Tampa DUI lawyer.
Under Florida Statute 316.193, if you are arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence, and it is your first offense—assuming you are unable to get the case dropped or reduced—you will be facing harsh minimum sentence requirements. This means that if you are found guilty, the judge has no choice but to sentence you to these requirements as established by law. They cannot lawfully give you less.
In 2018, just a few years or so after his successful campaign bid, newly elected Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew H. Warren, introduced the R.I.D.R. program in Hillsborough County. R.I.D.R. stands for Reduced Impaired Driving Recidivism. According to the State Attorney’s Office, R.I.D.R. seeks to aggressively target and reduce impaired driving by imposing enhanced sanctions like alcohol monitoring devices and DUI education programs on first-time, non-aggravated DUI offenders.” In summation, this is supposed to be a “diversion program,” but is perhaps more akin to a negotiated plea that applies to an entire class of offenders.
To put it simply, the R.I.D.R. program is an agreement, that if you qualify for the program and you do what is required of you, you can have your charges reduced to “Reckless Driving.”
There are three levels of the program: Level 1 for a standard DUI, Level 2 for DUI with a breath alcohol concentration (BAC) above .15, and Level 3 for a drug related DUI.
Unfortunately, that’s not everything. If all of this is done, then the State Attorney will agree to offer you the negotiated plea agreement. So, you would first complete the above terms, then at a final court date you would resolve your case with a plea of “No Contest,” or “Guilty,” to the reduced charge of reckless driving. The following are the terms of the plea deal:
Level 2 requires additional community service hours and a 6-month period for the ignition interlock device, and Level 3 requires a “PharmCheck Drugs of Abuse Patch.”
As you can see, the requirements can be burdensome. But for some defendants, it is a good opportunity. Most important of all, is that the program offers a “withhold of adjudication.” This leaves the door open for participants to have their record sealed, provided they are eligible. Again, see the section on Sealing and Expunging. Call a Tampa DUI Lawyer today to discuss your options.
The Initial Stop DUI arrests occur (almost always) during traffic stops on our roadways, and for a variety of different reasons. Often the police will look carefully for impaired driving patterns, late in the evenings or in the early morning hours. Other times, a DUI arrest can occur after a suspect is pulled over for speeding, having an expired registration, or a taillight out. If an officer suspects the driver may be impaired, and can articulate specific reasons for his suspicion, he can initiate a DUI investigation, regardless of the initial reason for the stop.
Typically, officers write in their reports that they smell alcohol emanating from the driver, along with different observations, such as “bloodshot watery eyes,” “slurred speech,” and “fumbling fingers.”
The officer then informs the driver that a DUI investigation is being conducted. Tampa DUI Lawyer William B. Wynne can often raise legal challenges to the way the traffic stop was carried out.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Standard Field Sobriety Tests are defined as “a battery of three tests administered and evaluated in a standardized manner to obtain validated indicators of impairment and establish probable cause for arrest.”
These tests consist of the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg-stand test.
These are the standard battery of tests administered by law enforcement and accepted as credible—generally speaking. A finger-to-nose test is also administered at times. These tests are used very often by law enforcement when attempting to determine if a person is operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. These tests are meant to test a driver’s agility, coordination, and balance. And it is believed that an impaired driver will perform poorly on these tests. They are far from perfect, however. And it isn’t surprising to see a completely sober driver fail these tests. Or conversely, to see a very impaired driver (with a high tolerance) pass them.
Typically, after the stop occurs and the officer claims to have reasonable suspicion of driver impairment, the first test administered is the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, often referred to as an HGN test. In a nutshell, the HGN test is done when the officer has a suspect track a stimulus he holds in front of their face (usually a pen or small light). As their eyes follow the stimulus, the officer checks their eyes for nystagmus, which is basically involuntary jerking or bouncing of the eyes. It is said that this jerking and bouncing of the eyes, is a sign of impairment. Following this test, the DUI investigator will typically move the driver to a flat surface to perform the additional tests listed above.
It is worth noting that whether a driver passes or fails these tests is completely up to the officer’s subjective discretion. Often (unfortunately) it seems that officers have already made up their mind on the issue, before the tests are even performed. Accordingly, most drivers would be better off not consenting to these tests. After all, the tests are voluntary.
Contrary to popular belief, the breath test is usually not administered in a DUI case until after the driver has already been arrested and taken back to the police station. It’s a bit of a backwards and counter-intuitive notion. After all, one would think the breath test should come before the arrest, since the decision to arrest would be based on the results of the test. Nevertheless, this is how it is done. DUI investigators usually decide whether to arrest a driver based on everything they have observed up to the conclusion of the field sobriety exercises (without the breath test results). This means that they will consider several different factors. They will consider a suspect’s driving pattern and look for things like, weaving, swerving, wide turning, drifting, almost striking another vehicle or object, speeding, driving excessively slow, and many others. And, once a driver is stopped, they will observe and note cues like bloodshot watery eyes, slurred speech, fumbling fingers, and difficulty answering questions. Once the driver steps out of the car, they will look for cues like trouble maintaining balance, using objects to lean on, and difficulty exiting the vehicle.
These observations combined, along with any statements or admissions by the driver, and the field sobriety exercises, all contribute to the officer’s decision to arrest a suspect for DUI.
Breath tests in Hillsborough County (and Florida generally) are administered on a machine known as the Intoxilyzer 8000. These tests are typically administered at the Orient Road Jail, after a suspect has already been arrested for DUI. Breath tests work by measuring the weight of alcohol in blood or breath. This is done in terms of grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood or grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath. These machines work by using infrared spectrometry to detect whether alcohol is present. This presence is detected by measuring the amount of light absorbed by molecules in the breath at specific wavelengths. In Florida (and the rest of the country) a blood alcohol content of .08% is all that is needed to arrest a suspect for DUI.
Although a driver is legally obligated to comply with a lawful request for a breath sample, some drivers refuse to do so. Refusing a lawful command to take this test results in a one-year suspension of his or her driver’s license. Of course, keep in mind, if the driver takes the test and fails, his or her license will be suspended for six months (for a first-time DUI) anyways. The suspension increases to 18 months if the driver has refused a breath test on a prior occasion. Further, a second refusal to submit to a breath test is a crime itself. Thus, a driver refusing a breath test—who has previously had their license suspended for refusing such a test—can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. Make sure to contact an aggressive Tampa DUI Lawyer if you have questions about your rights in this regard.
It is typically easier to defend a driver that refuses to take a breath test, however, keep in mind that the refusal to take such a test, can later be used against the driver at a DUI trial as conscientiousness of guilt.
And remember, the license suspension only applies to refusal of the breath test, not the field sobriety exercises. Though the refusal of field sobriety exercises can also be used against a driver at trial as conscientiousness of guilt, it will not result in a suspension of their driver’s license. Call a Tampa DUI Lawyer to discuss this in further detail.
A DUI case is essentially two cases in one. There is an administrative case, and a criminal case. The administrative case deals with whether your driver’s license will be suspended by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV). This case is heard before a hearing officer of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Fortunately, you can be represented by an aggressive Tampa DUI lawyer to represent you in this administrative case.
For starters, under Florida law, by accepting the privilege of driving a vehicle, the driver is deemed to have given his or her consent to submit to lawful alcohol testing. This is known as “Implied Consent” as defined in in Section 316.1932, Florida Statutes.
Further, under Florida Statute 322.2615, your driver’s license will be immediately subject to an administrative suspension in either of these two scenarios:
So, the driver being investigated for DUI, can only avoid an administrative suspension by taking the breath alcohol test, and having a result under .08. A reading above .08 requires a 6- month suspension, and a refusal to take the test requires a one-year suspension. Remember, a second refusal nets an 18-month suspension. These are suspensions imposed by the department of Motor Vehicles and are part of the administrative case.
Assuming the driver arrested for DUI, either 1) blows over .08 or 2) refuses to take the test, his or her license will be suspended immediately. However, the DUI citation given to the driver by the arresting officer will act as a 10-day temporary driving permit.
This all sounds very confusing, perhaps even arbitrary. But, I’ll explain why. In a nutshell, before the government can take away a citizen’s substantial right(s), that citizen must be afforded due process. Driving a vehicle is such a right. And, therefore due process requires that before such a right is taken, a citizen should (at the very least) be afforded the opportunity to be heard in a proceeding, and to present any defenses he or she may have.
Thus, the driver is given 10 days in which he or she may request an administrative hearing with the Department of Motor Vehicles. The driver can and should be represented by a Tampa DUI Lawyer at this hearing.
If such a hearing is requested within the 10-day time frame, the driver will be given an extension to the temporary driving permit, which should last (ideally) until the time of the hearing. On the other hand, if the driver chooses to do nothing within the 10-day time frame, he or she forfeits their right to a hearing, and the suspension goes into effect immediately. There is also a new option that was made available a few years ago. A driver, within ten days, can waive his or her right to a hearing, and be eligible for an immediate hardship permit.
If a driver does nothing, the suspension will go into place on the 10th day. Thus, an alcohol reading of above .08 will incur a 6-month driver’s license suspension. And the driver will not be eligible for a hardship permit within the first 30 days. This is known as a “hard suspension.” A refusal to take the test will incur a 1-year suspension, and the driver will not be eligible for a hardship permit for the first 90 days. Thus, there is a 90-day hard suspension.
If the driver requests an administrative hearing within 10 days, they will be issued a 42-day temporary hardship driving permit. This should ideally last until the date of their scheduled hearing.
The issues to be decided at these hearings are limited. In cases involving a breath test above .08, the hearing officer must examine whether the officer had probable cause to arrest the driver for DUI, and whether the driver submitted to a lawful alcohol test that resulted in a reading over the limit. In cases involving a breath test refusal, the officer must examine whether there was sufficient probable cause to make an arrest for DUI, and whether the driver refused to submit to the test after being instructed and warned properly. If you win the hearing, the suspension is invalidated. If you lose the hearing, the suspension goes into effect immediately, and the “hard suspensions” above will apply. A driver can appeal a hearing officer’s decision to uphold the suspension. It is important to remember, whether a driver wins or loses this hearing has absolutely nothing to do with his/her pending criminal charges. A driver can win the administrative hearing and receive a harsh sentence on the DUI criminal case. Conversely, a driver can lose the administrative hearing, and then get the DUI criminal case dismissed. The administrative case is independent of the criminal case.
A newer option that became available in 2013, is known as a “Review Waiver Hearing.” Under this option, a driver (with no prior DUI charges) can report to the DHSMV within 10 days and elect to waive his/her right to a hearing. A simple way to think about it is that a driver is giving up his right to have a hearing, in exchange for not having to contend with a “hard suspension.” Thus, if a driver waives his right to a formal hearing under this option, the suspension goes into effect immediately, but the driver is eligible for a hardship permit right away. This is a good option for those with no prior DUI charges, that wish to driver uninterrupted and avoid the hard suspensions.
As stated in the previous section, the administrative suspension is entirely independent from the criminal case. Whether a driver wins or loses their administrative hearing has no bearing on the criminal case, and vice versa.
The first court date in a criminal case is known as an Arraignment. This typically occurs around a month following a driver’s arrest. An arraignment is very simple. It is simply a court hearing, where the defendant goes before the court, is advised of what charges he is facing, and is then asked to enter a plea of either “guilty” or “not-guilty.” That’s it. Very rarely do defendants ever plea guilty at these hearings.
Assuming the Defendant enters a plea of “not guilty,” the case will progress much like any other case that works its way through the Florida criminal system. Typically a pre-trial conference is set after the arraignment, which is a hearing where the state and the defense confer and address the case with the court, to discuss scheduling, continuances, discovery issues, and whether the case will proceed to trial.
Often in DUI cases, police videos are of particular interest. Often there is video evidence recorded from the police cruiser that captures the defendant’s driving pattern up to the traffic stop, and sometimes the interaction with the officers afterwards. Further, most DUI investigators record the field sobriety exercises, as well as the request to take the breath test, that occurs back at the station. Sometimes this evidence can benefit the defendant, and lead to potential suppression motions, motions to exclude evidence at trial, and otherwise bolster the defense’s bargaining leverage.
If the parties are unable to reach a plea agreement, the case will proceed to trial. Ordinarily, this will be a jury trial. At the trial six jurors will be called upon to hear the case and decide the ultimate issue of guilty or innocence.
Tampa DUI Lawyer William B. Wynne will take the time to look for all the options available to accomplish full dismissal of your case if possible. He will appear in court on your behalf, allowing you to continue to work and support you and your family. In order to be convicted at trial of the crime of “Driving Under the Influence,” the prosecutor has to first be able to prove that the criminal offense took place beyond a reasonable doubt. A properly prepared defense can often result in reduced penalties, reduced charges, or even a dismissal. Even in cases where the evidence of guilt is overwhelming, a good defense attorney can present mitigating circumstances which can often decrease the penalties.