Criminal Defense

Florida DUI Court Process

Many people facing DUI charges have no idea what to expect. Fear, anxiety, and uncertainty can fuel bad decisions and lead to accidental confessions to the police and prosecutors.

DUI charges carry harsh penalties, including jail time and hefty fines. Metcalf Falls, Criminal Defense Attorneys, P.A. is here to guide you through the Florida DUI court process and help get a fair outcome in your case.

What Is the Court Process for a DUI in Florida?

The court process for a DUI begins with your first contact with police officers. The Constitution limits the power of police to gather evidence for DUI charges. If the police violate these limits, a court can throw out evidence or dismiss your charges.

These limits apply at several points. For example, police must have probable cause to:

One exception to these protections happens during a DUI checkpoint. Florida law allows the police to set up a checkpoint to stop some or all the drivers passing through it. You have the right to decline to speak to officers. But many drivers do not know this and get caught up in the dragnet.

Arrest and Booking

Police officers must have reasonable suspicion that you have violated Florida’s DUI laws before they arrest you. An arrest means you have been taken into police custody and cannot leave. The officers will probably cuff you while they transport you to jail.

During booking, the police gather information about you at the jail. The police will record your name and address. They will also take your photo and fingerprints.

You will probably spend at least some time in jail after booking. Florida law requires the police to hold you until:

  • Your normal faculties are no longer impaired
  • Your BAC is less than 0.05%
  • Eight hours have elapsed since your arrest

In most cases, you will get released before your first court appearance without posting any bail. This type of release (called “release on recognizance” or ROR) allows you to leave jail by agreeing to return to court for trial.

Occasionally, such as if you face DUI charges involving injury or death, you might not receive ROR. Instead, you might need to post bail. You might even get held without bail.

Administrative License Suspension

Administrative license suspension happens under two circumstances. First, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) can suspend your license if you refuse an alcohol test. This suspension occurs whether you get convicted of DUI or not. The mere refusal is enough to trigger the suspension.

Second, the FLHSMV will suspend your license upon conviction for DUI. For some charges, you can request a hearing for a hardship reinstatement for limited purposes, such as driving to school or work.

First Appearance and Arraignment

The court will inform you of the charges at your first court appearance. In response, you will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.

If you were not released before your first appearance, the court will conduct a bail hearing. The court will determine whether to release you and, if so, which conditions to impose.

Pretrial Motions and Plea Negotiation

During pretrial, your Tampa DUI attorney will gather evidence and prepare for trial. The lawyer will also review the actions of the police and prosecution. Your lawyer can file a motion to exclude any evidence gathered in violation of your constitutional rights.

At this time, your lawyer will also discuss plea bargains with prosecutors. Criminal defendants and prosecutors often share an interest in avoiding the unpredictability of trials. Instead, they might negotiate a plea bargain in which the defendant pleads guilty to an offense in exchange for reduced charges or a sentencing recommendation.

Another possible resolution happens when prosecutors agree to divert your case before trial. In Florida, pretrial diversion for DUI cases allows defendants to attend drug or alcohol treatment while prosecutors pause their cases. Upon completion of treatment, prosecutors drop the charges.

Trial and Sentencing

If your case reaches trial, prosecutors go first in presenting their case to the jury. Prosecutors can win a conviction by proving any of the following applied while you were driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle:

  • Your normal faculties were impaired by alcohol or any chemical substance
  • Your blood-alcohol level was 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood
  • Your breath-alcohol level was 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath

After the prosecution rests, your defense attorney might move for a directed verdict. The judge will grant this motion and dismiss the charges if the prosecution has failed to prove an element of the offense.

However, the prosecution will likely present at least some evidence of each element of DUI. In that case, the judge will deny the motion, and your lawyer will present your defense.

In many cases, your defense will consist of rebutting the prosecution’s evidence and presenting exculpatory evidence. For example, your lawyer might raise questions about the accuracy of your alcohol test results.

Sentencing Hearings

If the jury acquits, your case will be over, and you will move forward with your life. If the jury convicts, you will return for a sentencing hearing. Before the sentencing hearing, the judge may request a presentencing report from the Department of Corrections.

At sentencing, the judge will exercise their discretion and choose a sentence that falls within the range provided in Florida’s DUI statute. For example, a first-offense DUI without property damage or injury can result in up to six months in jail. The judge will review your criminal history in view of your charges and choose a time of six months or less for your jail sentence.

Appeals (if Necessary)

After a conviction, you can appeal if you believe the judge committed any legal errors. These errors can take many forms, such as failing to suppress improperly collected evidence or incorrectly instructing the jury about the legal standard for DUI. An appeals court may vacate your conviction and return your case to the trial court for a new trial.

Florida DUI Court Process FAQs

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about DUI proceedings:

How Long Does the DUI Court Process Take?

The time from arrest to trial will depend on the case. The court might complete a misdemeanor DUI case in six months. A felony DUI case involving injury or death might take a year or longer.

Can You Get a DUI Expunged in Florida?

No, you cannot expunge a DUI in Florida. As a result, you should try to get your charges reduced to an expungable offense. An attorney can evaluate your individual case to help determine the best way to do so.

Is the Administrative Case for a DUI Separate From Criminal Charges?

Yes, the FLHSMV conducts the hearing for a license suspension separate from your criminal trial. You can fight both.

Contact a DUI Attorney

A DUI conviction can result in a criminal record and incarceration. When you’re facing charges for driving under the influence in Tampa, you need a strong defense from a lawyer with years of experience handling these cases. Reach out to Metcalf Falls, Criminal Defense Attorneys, P.A. to learn how our Tampa DUI lawyers can help you, just like we have for countless other clients.

Contact us at (813) 258-4800 to schedule an initial consultation with our DUI defense team.

Avvo top contributor logo Avvo client's choice award logo National Trial Lawyers Top 40 under 40 Avvo perfect 10 rating logo Avvo 5 star review logo