Tampa DUI Lawyer

Tampa DUI Lawyer | We Take the Wheel in Florida DUI Cases

Tampa DUI Defense Attorney

Being prosecuted for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) in Florida can be an overwhelming and stressful ordeal, especially if you don’t have the assistance of an experienced Tampa DUI lawyer to guide you through the process. In pursuit of its goals of punishment and deterrence, Florida law is unforgiving with respect to impaired driving, imposing harsh penalties. Those convicted of DUI in Florida can face incarceration, probation, driver’s license suspension, vehicle impoundment, mandatory ignition interlock installation, community service, and substantial fines. When aggravating factors are present, such as prior DUI convictions or causing property damage, these penalties can be significantly more severe.

Given the severity of these consequences, retaining a skilled DUI attorney is more than simply an advantage; it’s a necessity. For over a decade, Tampa DUI lawyer William B. Wynne has represented clients in a wide range of DUI cases, including enhanced DUI, felony DUI, DUI involving drugs, DUI accidents, juvenile DUI, and more. Contact our office today for a free consultation and case evaluation.

DUI charges are unique in the criminal justice system due to their wide-reaching impact across various segments of society. The universality of driving and the prevalence of alcohol consumption contribute to DUI’s distinctive nature as a crime that transcends socioeconomic boundaries—impacting everyone from everyday citizens to high-profile professionals like doctors, accountants, and judges.

The Evolution of Strict DUI Laws

Historically, DUI laws were more lenient, and there was a time when DUI was not even a commonly prosecuted offense. However, over the years, changing societal norms and the efforts of advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have played a pivotal role in influencing public opinion and legislative priorities, shedding light on the scope of the problem and pressuring government officials to enact stronger penalties and more focused law enforcement efforts regarding impaired driving.1

Despite these developments, DUI continues to be a significant issue in Florida and across the nation. In 2018 alone, approximately 32,177 people were arrested for DUI in the Florida.2 And in 2020, there were just under 30,000 DUI arrests in the state.3 Between 2009 and 2018, 7,573 people were killed in crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver in Florida.4 In 2022, Florida saw 5,262 alcohol-only, drunk driving-related crashes, resulting in 3,084 injuries and 423 fatalities.5

Given this climate, lawmakers, responding to public concern, media attention, and the efforts of advocacy groups, have implemented harsh penalties and strict enforcement to deter DUI offenses and enhance public safety. Florida’s unforgiving approach to DUI enforcement, prosecution, and sentencing is a logical outgrowth of this political climate. The state’s strict DUI laws, with their emphasis on deterrence and punishment, reflect a political process shaped by a societal shift towards intolerance of impaired driving and a desire to protect communities from the dangers posed by drunk drivers.

Understanding Florida DUI Laws

In general terms, driving under the influence (DUI) refers to operating a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs. However, this straightforward definition leaves out many of the legal nuances specific to Florida law. Section 316.193, Florida Statutes sets forth the criminal offense of Driving Under the Influence in Florida. Under this statute, a person is guilty of DUI if they are “driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle” while under the influence of alcohol or drugs “to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired,” or if they have a blood or breath alcohol level of 0.08% or higher. § 316.193, Fla. Stat. (2023).

DUI Lawyers in Tampa

A Tampa DUI lawyer can help navigate the complexities of these laws, providing valuable insight and defense for individuals facing DUI charges.

Ways of Determining DUI Impairment

Section 316.193 provides two ways of determining if a driver is impaired:

  1. Impairment of Normal Faculties: This is a subjective assessment based on observed behaviors and evidence, such as erratic driving, slurred speech, or failing field sobriety tests. This method relies heavily on a police officer’s judgment of whether the driver’s ability to function normally is impaired due to alcohol or drugs.
  2. Blood or Breath Alcohol Level: This objective test involves measuring the alcohol concentration in the driver’s blood or breath. In Florida, a BAC of 0.08% or higher is considered legally over the limit.

To clarify, DUI impairment under Florida law can be established either through a BAC above 0.08% or through other observational or circumstantial evidence that the driver’s normal faculties are impaired. In the context of DUI cases, evidence that the driver’s normal faculties are impaired usually consists of the arresting officer’s observations of the driver, including slurred speech, difficulty standing, the smell of alcohol emanating from the driver’s breath, poor performance on field sobriety exercises, statements made by the driver, and an erratic driving pattern.

These two methods of establishing DUI impairment operate independently. Therefore, DUI impairment can be established even if a driver has a BAC below 0.08% or refuses to take the breath test entirely, provided there is other evidence that the driver’s normal faculties are impaired. Conversely, impairment can be demonstrated with a BAC above 0.08%, even if there is no other evidence to show the defendant was impaired.

With the advent of technology, chemical tests, such as breathalyzers, have become a common method of proving the impairment element of DUI. However, field sobriety tests and officer observations still play a significant role. Typically, both the observations of investigating officers and test results are used together in prosecuting a DUI case. This comprehensive approach combines subjective observations and objective measurements in DUI investigations.

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Presumptions of Impairment

In cases involving breath alcohol tests, Florida law establishes legal presumptions based on the driver’s BAC levels. These presumptions, as detailed in section 316.1934(2), Florida Statutes, are as follows:

  • BAC above 0.08%: The driver is presumed to be impaired and legally intoxicated.
  • BAC between 0.05% and 0.08%: There is no presumption of impairment or non-impairment. This means that while the BAC alone does not conclusively establish impairment, other evidence can still be used to show that the driver’s normal faculties were impaired.
  • BAC below 0.05%: The driver is presumed not to be impaired.

These presumptions are rebuttable, meaning they can be challenged with contrary evidence. For example, if a driver has a BAC below 0.05% but there is strong evidence showing they were impaired, such as poor performance on field sobriety exercises, a staggering demeanor, and slurred speech, the presumption of non-impairment can be overcome. Conversely, if a driver has a BAC of 0.08% or higher but can present convincing evidence that they were not impaired, they might rebut the presumption of intoxication.

These presumptions of impairment play a crucial role in DUI court cases because they guide how evidence is interpreted and presented. In court, they serve as a way of assigning weight to the test results, often being included in jury instructions. For drivers, this means that while breath or blood test results are significant, they are not the sole deciding factor in their case. Other evidence, such as field sobriety tests or officer observations, can influence the outcome.

Tampa DUI Attorney: Specialized Situations

Tampa, Florida drivers can face even stricter requirements and penalties in certain situations. For example, Florida has a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under the age of 21. In addition to prosecution under section 316.193, drivers under 21 can face penalties and license suspensions if their BAC is just 0.02 or higher. § 322.2616, Fla. Stat. (2023). Further, commercial drivers can be arrested and charged with DUI if their BAC is 0.04 or higher. § 322.61, Fla. Stat. (2023). Tampa DUI lawyer William B. Wynne brings a wealth of experience in dealing with numerous cases involving these specialized DUI situations.

Reasonable Suspicion in DUI Cases

In order for a traffic stop for an infraction or a crime to be proper, the police must have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, or probable cause to believe a traffic infraction has been committed.” Jones v. State, 842 So. 2d 889 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003). This means that to investigate a driver for suspicion of DUI, a police officer must have a reasonable suspicion that the driver is in actual physical control of a vehicle and that they are impaired. Remember, this is simply the requirement to stop and investigate a driver, not to make an arrest. Placing a suspect under arrest for DUI requires a bit more.

Throughout the years, several court decisions have clarified what constitutes reasonable suspicion. A bare suspicion or a mere hunch is insufficient. Popple v. State, 626 So. 2d 185, 186 (Fla. 1993). In determining whether sufficient evidence to support a well-founded suspicion exists, a court should consider all facts known by police at the time of the stop. Bartlett v. State, 508 So. 2d 567, 568 (Fla. 2d DCA 1987). Reasonable suspicion is a comparatively low standard and can be easily met if an officer observes one or more indicators of impairment—like a clumsy or erratic driving pattern, the smell of alcohol, bloodshot watery eyes, etc. In numerous Tampa DUI cases, reasonable suspicion has been established through erratic driving, slurred speech, or difficulty in communicating with officers. Often, reasonable suspicion simply gives an officer an opportunity to develop probable cause, which then allows the officer to make an arrest.

Probable Cause in Florida DUI Cases

Probable cause—on the other hand—requires a little more than reasonable suspicion. Probable cause is a set of circumstances that may lead a law enforcement officer to reasonably believe that a crime has been (or is being) committed. To initiate a DUI arrest, a law enforcement officer must have probable cause to believe that the driver is committing the crime of DUI. The Florida Supreme Court defines probable cause as “a reasonable ground of suspicion supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to warrant a cautious person in the belief that the person is guilty of the offense charged.” Dunnavant v. State, 46 So. 2d 871 (Fla. 1950). Consequently, probable cause for a DUI arrest must be based upon more than a belief that a driver has consumed alcohol; it must arise from facts and circumstances that show a probability that a driver is impaired by alcohol or has an unlawful amount of alcohol in his system. State v. Kliphouse, 771 So. 2d 16 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000).

Typically, a combination of several factors constitutes probable cause. These can include an erratic or clumsy driving pattern, the smell of alcohol, slurred speech, difficulty maintaining balance, admissions, bloodshot watery eyes, and many more. A skilled Tampa DUI lawyer can challenge the determination of probable cause or reasonable suspicion in a DUI case by filing and arguing a motion to suppress evidence, which can lead to the dismissal of charges.

Florida DUI Penalties

For Tampa drivers facing DUI charges, it’s crucial to understand the lifelong consequences that can ensue. 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. Even a first-time offender faces severe minimum penalties. This means that if you are unable to get the charges dropped or reduced, the judge has no choice but to sentence you to the minimum penalties.

Most DUI cases are misdemeanors and are punishable by a fine from $500.00 to $1,000.00 and can include a one-year license suspension and 6 months of imprisonment. That means jail time is possible—even on a first offense. In addition, DUI penalties include a 10-day vehicle impoundment and up to one year of probation.

No Withhold of Adjudication

Under section 316.656, Florida Statutes, the Florida legislature made it unlawful for a court to withhold of adjudication on a DUI offense. This means that your DUI case cannot be sealed or expunged and will stay with you for life, unless you can get it dropped, dismissed, or reduced to a lesser offense, and you are otherwise eligible to seal or expunge your record. For more details, see our expungement & sealing page. These potential long-term consequences highlight the importance of retaining an experienced Tampa DUI Lawyer.

DUI Harsh Minimum Penalties

The state of Florida has stringent minimum penalties for DUI offenders. If you’re convicted of Driving Under the Influence, even if it’s your first offense and you have to prior record, you will be facing harsh minimum sentence requirements. This means that if you’re found guilty, the judge has no choice but to sentence you to these requirements as established by law. In other words, the judge cannot lawfully give you less. As a Tampa DUI Lawyer with over 10 years of experience, William B. Wynne is very experienced in negotiating these harsh consequences.

First-Time Florida D.U.I. Penalties

  • Jail Time: For most first-time offenders, the maximum jail time is 6 months. However, if the driver had a BAC of 0.15% or higher, or if there was a minor in the vehicle, the maximum jail time is increased to 9 months.
  • Probation: 6-12 months of probation.
  • License Revocation: A first offense leads to a license revocation of a minimum of 180 days and a maximum of 1 year.
  • Fines: A first-time DUI conviction will result in fines ranging from $500 to $1,000. This range increases to $1,000 to $2,000 if the driver’s BAC was 0.15% or higher or if a minor was present in the vehicle.
  • Vehicle Immobilization: The offender’s vehicle will be impounded for 10 days, which cannot be concurrent with jail time.
  • Other Penalties: Mandatory 50 Hours of Community Service. DUI School which includes substance abuse evaluation and follow treatment.

First-Time DUI Penalties Table


And remember, in going over the minimum penalties, we are assuming a best-case scenario. You can receive jail time even on a first-time DUI, depending on the circumstances. If you wish to avoid these penalties, speak with a Tampa DUI lawyer about your options.

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Florida DUI Drug Charges

While most DUI cases involve alcohol, you can also be charged with Driving Under the Influence for being under the influence of drugs, which can even include your own prescription medications. Remember, Florida law defines DUI as being under the influence of alcohol or a chemical substance while operating a motor vehicle. In theory, any narcotic or drug that could potentially impair one’s ability to operate a vehicle safely, could be the basis for a DUI charge. Common drugs that lead to DUI charges include opiates, benzodiazepines like Xanax, ADHD stimulant medications like Adderall, cocaine, heroin, and even marijuana.

DUI drug charges are often complex and can be more difficult to prosecute than alcohol related DUI charges, but the penalties are essentially the same. The complexity stems partly from the fact that intoxication via drugs does not register on a blood alcohol test. Instead, it is typically determined circumstantially through field sobriety exercises, and the presence of the drug in urine or blood tests. The presence of chemical substances detected in the human body requires complex scientific inquiry, and often leads to evidentiary obstacles for a prosecutor. An experienced Tampa DUI Attorney can recognize and exploit these weaknesses.

Defenses to DUI Charges

Clients frequently ask whether it’s possible to have DUI charges dropped or reduced, or if the case can be dismissed entirely. The answers to these questions depend on the specific circumstances of each case, requiring a detailed analysis of multiple factors. However, an experienced Tampa DUI lawyer can explore a range of defenses to address the charges effectively.

Getting a prosecutor to drop or reduce charges often involves negotiation. Leveraging our extensive experience and knowledge of Tampa DUI cases, we thoroughly investigate all aspects of each case. Our objective is to convince the prosecutor to drop or reduce the charges by highlighting weaknesses in their case. Various mitigating factors, such as the defendant’s background, community involvement, prior military service, and volunteer work, can be instrumental in these negotiations. As Tampa DUI attorneys, we are skilled at utilizing these factors to facilitate negotiations for reduced charges, such as reckless driving.

Achieving a dismissal of the charges typically involves legal strategies within the court system, such as pre-trial motions to suppress evidence or statements, motions to dismiss, or motions in limine. A motion to suppress evidence challenges the legality of how evidence was obtained and requests the judge to exclude such evidence if it violates the defendant’s rights. Another approach is a motion to dismiss, which argues that even if all the State’s allegations are true, the evidence is insufficient to convict the defendant. As experienced DUI attorneys in Tampa, we frequently pursue these strategies, often filing motions to suppress evidence, as well as seeking the dismissal of charges.

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Tampa DUI Lawyer: Common Defenses

  • No reasonable suspicion to initiate an investigation for driving under the influence.
  • No probable cause to initiate a traffic stop of a motor vehicle on the roadways.
  • No probable cause to place a suspect under arrest for the crime of driving under the influence.        
  • The breath test failed to comply with the standards set for in the Florida Administrative Code.
  • Lack of actual physical control of the vehicle. Meaning there is insufficient proof that the suspect was driving the motor vehicle at the time of impairment.
  • Insufficient evidence of impairment.
  • Unreliable test results.
  • Breath test results inadmissible.
  • DUI checkpoint failed to adhere to legal standards.
  • Police investigator failed to give Miranda Warnings

Any criminal case can have numerous defenses. A skilled Tampa DUI defense attorney will exploit all available defenses and leverage them into an overall strategy.

DUI Attorney Tampa: Frequent Questions

Below are some frequently asked questions and answers pertaining to Driving Under the Influence charges in Florida.

What constitutes a DUI offense in Florida?

In Florida, a person commits a DUI if they operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcoholic beverages, chemical substances, or controlled substances to the extent that their normal faculties are impaired. Under the law, a driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher is presumed to be impaired.

What are the consequences for a first-time DUI?

First-time DUI offenders face penalties including fines ranging from $500 to $2,000, up to 9 months in jail (depending on BAC levels or presence of a minor), license revocation between 180 days and one year, vehicle impoundment for 10 days, mandatory 50 hours of community service, and DUI school attendance.

How does Florida handle DUIs involving drugs?

Florida treats DUIs involving drugs similarly to alcohol related DUIs. This can include prescription medications if they impair your ability to drive. DUI charges can result from the influence of any drug that impairs driving ability, such as opiates, benzodiazepines, or stimulants.

Can a DUI charge be challenged or dismissed?

Yes, there are several defenses against DUI charges in Florida, including challenging the legality of the traffic stop, the accuracy of the breathalyzer test, or proving that the driver was not in actual physical control of the vehicle. A skilled Tampa DUI Lawyer can utilize these defenses to potentially dismiss or reduce charges.

What are the regulations for drivers under 21 and commercial drivers?

Florida has a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under 21, where penalties can apply for a BAC of 0.02% or higher. Commercial drivers can face DUI charges for a BAC of 0.04% or higher.

What are the long-term consequences of a DUI conviction?

A DUI conviction in Florida can have long-lasting effects, including a permanent criminal record, increased insurance rates, loss of professional licenses, and difficulties in finding employment.

How important is legal representation in a DUI case?

Given the complexities and potential consequences of a DUI charge, securing experienced legal representation is crucial. A qualified Tampa DUI lawyer can significantly influence the outcome by negotiating charge reductions, challenging evidence, and providing a strong defense.

Can a DUI conviction be sealed or expunged in Florida?

DUI convictions in Florida generally cannot be sealed or expunged, regardless of whether adjudication is withheld. However, if the charges were dismissed, expungement may be an option. Furthermore, if the original DUI charges were reduced to a lesser offense that is not explicitly ineligible for sealing—for example, from DUI to reckless driving—and adjudication is withheld, then sealing the record may become a viable option.

Contact a Tampa DUI Attorney

Now, more than ever, it is important to retain an experienced and aggressive Tampa DUI Lawyer. For over 10 years we’ve served Tampa residents accused of DUI. We fight hard to protect the rights of our clients, and to avoid the harsh consequences associated with these charges. Contact the Law Office of William B. Wynne today at 813-532-5057. Consultations are free of charge.

References

  1. DriversEd.com: “Driving Under the Influence: Do Strict DUI Laws Really Work?↩︎
  2. Florida Department of Law Enforcement: “Total Arrests by County, 2018↩︎
  3. Florida Department of Law Enforcement: “Total Arrests by County, 2020“. ↩︎
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Sobering Facts: Alcohol-Impaired Driving – Florida↩︎
  5. Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles: “Crash Dashboard↩︎