Introduction to The DUI Book – Florida Edition
I met prominent Atlanta DUI Defender par excellance William C. Head a few years ago when I traveled to Atlanta to attend a seminar that he sponsored. There, I learned that roadside “sobriety tests” used by police in DUI investigations were actually standardized, and that, if the proper procedures were not followed, overzealous and/or careless police officers could actually trigger the very symptoms they were supposed to be on the lookout for. This, of course, increases the likelihood of innocent people being wrongly convicted of DUI. That weekend in Atlanta opened my eyes to the truth that I could protect and defend my clients better by focusing my practice on the nuts and bolts, the real guts, of DUI defense. Following that weekend, and the frank discussions I had with Mr. Head and a few other lawyers, I joined the National College for DUI Defense. My real legal education had begun.
Last spring, when he and I were attending a seminar devoted to mastering the scientific evidence in DUI cases, William C. Head told me that he was embarking on an important project: He was writing a national DUI book. He asked me to write the Florida supplement of his national treatise, The DUI Book, in early 2005. I knew that the national book would be of the highest quality because Mr. Head’s stellar reputation in the field of DUI defense was well known to me. It didn’t take long for me to decide to accept his offer. I learned long ago that best way to learn a subject is to teach it to someone else. My hope is that this book will serve at least two purposes: raising the level of awareness in Florida by better informing people accused of DUI about how the criminal justice system works, particularly in these kinds of cases, and raising the caliber of performance provided by Florida DUI lawyers. My belief is that better informed clients spur their attorneys to work harder and more to become more effective lawyers. The ultimate goal of course is to improve justice for those accused of what is perhaps the most politically unpopular crime of the 21st Century.
Each year I interview well over a hundred if not several hundred potential clients who have been accused of drunk or “drugged” driving, or what Florida now calls “DWI” (driving while impaired). Many of these citizens have never before had any contact with lawyers, let alone the criminal justice system. It seems that persons accused of this crime, as well as those whose lifestyles place them in jeopardy of becoming the “accused”, have similar questions about the “system”.
In particular, those who are already facing DWI charges have two questions foremost on their minds:
(1) what’s the “worst case scenario” if I am convicted, and
(2) how “defendable” is my case.
They want to know the specifics of what will happen to their driver’s license, whether they would go to jail, and how an DWI conviction might impact their jobs, their ability to travel, or their ability to maintain or pay for automobile insurance. Many of these questions are answered in the principle book, but Florida’s laws are unique in some ways, and these issues are nearly always state-specific. This supplement addresses those issues as well as hundreds of other issues relating to how to choose a qualified, experienced trial attorney to handle your Florida case. This supplement also explains what to expect from each stage of your DWI case in Florida as it proceeds to trial and even beyond trial.
A person charged with a drunk or drugged driving offense in Florida faces an assortment of sanctions if convicted, but these can be placed into three broad categories:
(1) the criminal sanctions imposed by the judge,
(2) the driver license sanctions imposed by the Division of Motor Vehicles, and;
(3) the non-judicial “sanctions” that occur simply from having a permanent, alcohol related, criminal conviction on your driving history and criminal record.
Each of these categories is discussed in detail in this supplement.
The Florida crime of DWI can be proved through the traditional intoxicated driving offense (driving while impaired) and possibly also by proving the so-called “per se” alcohol offense [DUBAL which means driving while having an illegal amount of alcohol in the driver’s breath blood or urine]. For a “per se” alcohol prosecution to be pursued by the State, it is not necessary for the prosecutor to prove that you were affected or influenced by the alcohol that you consumed. On the legislative horizon in Florida are increased penalties for higher breath or blood alcohol levels, and increasingly draconian judicial and driver license sanctions for even first time offenders.
Florida drivers are required to provide a sample of their breath, blood or urine (very rare) for testing by the police. Based on changes to the law the administrative penalties for refusing a chemical test have been made more severe. Now, persons who refuse to submit to implied consent testing (that has been legally and properly requested by a police officer) will have their driver’s license suspended for one year. If there has been a prior refusal, then the sanction imposed is an eighteen month license suspension, and the likelihood of a separate criminal charge being added.
Many of these increased sanctions for Florida drivers are the result of public campaigns pursued and financed by MADD and other political activists. These activists seek to wipe out drunk driving and drugged driving, or (as some writers have stated) possibly seek to reinstitute Prohibition. These efforts have influenced Florida’s legislators to write and rewrite laws that persistently become more and more punitive. In addition, Florida’s judges, from the Florida Supreme Court down, are generally unsympathetic to those accused of drinking and driving (or accused of drugged driving). Because Florida’s laws change constantly, the reader will need to go on-line to get current information about the State’s laws on drinking and driving and drugged driving. Within this book, a summary on current Florida law can be found. A summary of the key provisions and code sections from the DUI-DWI laws of each American jurisdiction can be found on-line at http://www.theduibook.com/stateDUIDWIsummaries.htm.
Florida has historically been somewhat behind other states in its efforts to have law enforcement officers specially trained in the detection and arrest of drunk and drugged drivers. Nevertheless, nearly all State Troopers have now received such specialized training, and many members of the “local” law enforcement are similarly trained. So called “drug recognition experts” are only just beginning to “make the scene” in Florida, and these officers now claim that they can determine if a driver is on drugs and if so, what class or category of drug they have consumed. It is also becoming more common to confront Florida prosecutors who have taken special training courses developed to increase the likelihood of conviction. Unfortunately, obtaining convictions has become an increasingly simplistic task because many courts (and just as often many jurors) assume that the breath or blood test evidence is irrefutable. Prosecutors also benefit from the State’s judiciary who is often either wholly unsympathetic or perhaps even openly hostile to a well-defended drunk driving case. Without question these facts complicate the aggressive drunk driving defense and they can have an unfair impact on the DWI trial. They also make the job of the criminal defense lawyer who undertakes the defense of these cases particularly challenging.
The main purpose of this supplement is to provide an authoritative guide and to inform and assist citizens accused of drunk or drugged driving about what to expect as their case moves through the court. The information provided is also intended to help the accused better prepare for what lies ahead. The detailed information provided in this supplement should significantly decrease the levels of stress and anxiety felt by the citizen accused of DWI. This is because understanding how things work within the court system generally has a therapeutic and calming effect on otherwise frazzled nerves.
This supplement should also assist Florida’s criminal defense attorneys who defend DWI cases. These attorneys may find it useful to offer this book to their clients who have not already read it. For those clients that have read the book, it should assist in making better use of the various interviews and briefings that their attorney and his or her staff provide to their clients. Either way as it becomes a useful source of authoritative information this book should help ease the time constraints on the DWI practitioner and the members of his or her staff. The supplement might also act as a surrogate for answering the many questions common to all who are accused of Driving While Impaired.
This supplement was never intended to be a compendium of the Florida law of drunk driving and yet readers will find that many of the State’s most important legal authorities are included as footnotes.
One Final Note: This book should not be thought of as a “do-it-yourself” guide to the defense of a drunk driving charge. A written work can never replace the personal advice and counsel from a well informed and experienced attorney. The law and practice of drunk driving defense is far too complex, and the stakes involved far too high for such a thing. This work should, however, increase the overall quality of the defense of those accused of drunk driving in Florida, and it is my hope that this supplement will reach this goal very well.