Florida is known for its theme parks and pristine beaches but most people don’t know that law enforcement in the sunshine state takes driving under the influence very seriously. Not only is the state tough on DUI offenders by strictly enforcing the applicable laws, but offenders are fined a hefty fee, even for first-time violations.
Many times a year, my office in the Tampa Bay Area is contacted by an individual who has been arrested for a DUI in Florida and now has to return home. Often, the person is extremely worried about the situation and they don’t know what to do. These individuals have numerous questions, ranging from “do I have to show up in Florida court?” to “what are the sanctions imposed by the judge?” Many of these questions are easily answered.
You must attend your court dates in Florida. An attorney who you have hired should suggest filing a waiver of your appearance at the future court dates. This will allow your attorney to continue to represent you in court while your attorney works on your case. Some judges voice their concern when a client is not appearing for court dates but your attorney should be able to guide you and advise you on how the judge will react to your attorney appearing on your behalf at most court dates. Typically, the judge will tell the attorney you must appear when the case is getting old or a motion or trial is pending soon.
What should you expect if you must enter a no contest plea or guilty plea to a first-time DUI? Florida Statutes specify the minimum mandatory sanctions that apply to the first time DUI offender. Incarceration on a first-time DUI is not mandatory but depending on the facts and circumstances of the case, the court can impose incarceration in the county jail up to 180 days.
There are mandatory sanctions in place for a first-time driving under the influence charge, which include an Adjudication of Guilt, i.e. conviction for DUI. There is a mandatory term of probation for a year. While on probation, the defendant must pay a fine in the amount of at least $500 but up to $1000, plus court costs, complete 50 hours of community service, impound or immobilize of your vehicle for 10 days, but this can be waived by the court under certain circumstances. Complete the state-approved DUI School, which is a substance abuse class, alcohol and drug evaluation and any treatment they recommend. Your license will be suspended at least 6 months but can be suspended for up to 12 months.
Under some situations, the fine will be from $1000 to $2000 and a mandatory placement of the ignition interlock device will be ordered onto your vehicle by the department of motor vehicles while all the other sanctions will remain the same. The higher fine and the interlock device are additional sanctions imposed when a person provides a blood or breath sample during the DUI arrest and the results of those show the person’s blood-alcohol level or breath-alcohol level of 0.15 or higher. This is referred to in court as an enhanced breath result which informs the judge that additional sanctions are required.
If the above sanctions are imposed by the court, they can be completed in your home state as long as the judge is advised you do not live in the state. Many judges will allow you to enter a plea in abstentia, which is simply a plea you enter on paper and because you can’t appear personally in court. Florida has strict requirements about when a defendant may enter a plea in abstentia. You must comply with these requirements or the judge may reject the plea.
Except for a county jail sentence, these sanctions can be completed in the DUI defendant’s home state. Community service can be completed in your home state or bought out or paid for at a statutory rate of $10 per hour if the judge permits it. The toughest sanction to complete for most people is the DUI school requirements. Because each state has a different name for the program, it is wise to ask around in your home state and then confirm with the State of Florida, Department of Motor Vehicles, that your state’s program will be accepted as an alternative to DUI School.
Going through the criminal system is difficult enough when you are familiar with the local laws. When you are dealing with a criminal charge from another state and you are not familiar with the court proceeding or the attorneys in the area, you are at a real disadvantage and the situation can be overwhelming. If you decide to retain an attorney, begin by taking advantage of the free consultations and get your questions answered. Be wary of attorneys promising you results. Use your common sense and check up on the attorney at legal websites such as Avvo or Martindale-Hubbel. Visit the attorney’s website, see if they have web videos you can watch and learn who they are and what services they can offer you. Which attorney you hire is your decision.