What to Expect From a First DUI

Hopefully you are reading this before you have been arrested for DUI. My advice to you as a lawyer and fellow citizen is this: DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE. Not even one beer. True, it is only illegal if you drive while your normal faculties are impaired.  One beer or drink may or may not cause your normal faculties to be impaired.  But why risk it?  One or two beers is not worth all of the emotional and financial distress you will face.  Believe me. And it’s not just because a DUI is very expensive, your license will be suspended (yes you may be eligible for a “business purpose only” license, but, to use the proper legal term, it “royally sucks”), and your insurance rates will most certainly increase. In those tragic cases when accidents happen because of drunk driving, the human cost is much worse. If you’ve ever been to a victim impact panel (you may be ordered to attend one if you are convicted) you will know what I’m talking about.

That said, we all are human and make mistakes, especially when our judgment is impaired by alcohol or other substances, whether legal or not.  If you do get stopped for a DUI, you will face tough decisions regarding whether to submit to field sobriety exercises, whether to submit to a breathalyzer test, and whether to answer questions posed to you by the law enforcement officer.  There are no truly hard and fast rules despite what you read on the internet and hear from friends.  The only thing I can say is, when you accepted your license, you agreed to consent to take the FSEs and the breathalyzer.  But you obviously have a constitutional right not to make a statement to law enforcement. You didn’t consent to waiving that right. If you want to discuss these issues further, call me.

I must emphasize this though:  If you are stopped, be POLITE.  If you refuse to speak or to take the FSEs or breathalyzer, that is fine.  But don’t be a jerk.  This may sound strange from a criminal defense attorney, but I truly believe the large majority of local law enforcement officers in this area are professional, well-meaning, and thoughtful.  If you treat them with respect, I can virtually guarantee they will treat you with respect.  Besides, most deputies and local officers have video and audio capabilities, including microphones attached to their uniforms.  Whatever you say to them or how you act will likely be recorded.  And don’t mouth off when you are in the back of the cruiser.  Yes, there are rear facing cameras and audio recording equipment in most cruisers.

Ultimately, you will be taken to a breath testing facility where you will be asked to submit to a breathalyzer test (or give a urine sample depending upon what the officer believes is impairing your normal faculties).  The officer will observe you for 20 minutes and then request a sample.  Again, I cannot tell you what to do.  It all depends on the circumstances.  But continue to be COURTEOUS.  You are likely being videotaped. 

Once the officer has completed the breathalyzer paperwork, he or she will take you to jail.  Again, don’t get lippy in the back of the cruiser. You will be filmed.  Once at the jail, you will be dealing with a new set of deputies. These deputies are stuck in the jail all night and are not likely in the best of moods. Again, be POLITE and COOPERATIVE.  You will be searched, for perhaps the third or fourth time, and given whatever attire the deputies deem necessary. For example, if you are wearing steel-toe boots, you will be given flip-flops.  Your phone, shoes, belts, and other items will be stored for you.

Since rarely anyone knows anybody else’s phone numbers these days, the detention deputies will allow you to retrieve phone numbers from your cell phone to make phone calls.  You can only make a collect call, and the other person has to accept it.  So pick someone whom you think may actually like you.  You will be fingerprinted and photographed.  And then you will wait.  And wait.  And wait some more.  You cannot be released until at least eight hours after your arrest.  Although you may be given a bond or released on personal recognizance (called ROR’d), you still have to wait the eight hours.  You will be sitting in fairly uncomfortable chairs or on metal benches, which get increasingly uncomfortable as the night drags on (especially if you start feeling the effects of a hangover).  Depending on the time, you may be offered something to eat.  Do so at your own risk.

If you do not get bond or ROR’d, you will have to see a judge for what’s called “first appearance” or sometimes “advisories.”  At this point, the judge will determine the conditions of your release and then you will be brought back down to the holding area.   And you will wait.  And wait.  And wait some more.  If you are given a bond, there are TV monitors in the holding area that have a list of bail bondsman and their phone numbers.  If you can afford it, you can also pay for your bond with a credit card. If you have questions, the deputies in the holding area are for the most part courteous and professional.  Most are happy to answer reasonable questions about the process but they will obviously not give legal advice.  But if you have been a jerk, don’t expect a lot of help and steel yourself for a lot of insults and sarcasm.  Hey, I warned you right?

Once your eight hours are up, you are eligible for release. This is not to say you will be released exactly eight hours after your arrest, but you are eligible.  Bugging the deputies to release you exactly eight hours after the arrest will likely be counterproductive.  Just be patient.  Once you finally get told you can go, you will be taken to the property room and given back your stuff.  You will be given a copy of the arrest report and a yellow uniform traffic citation, called a UTC, for your DUI.  DO NOT LOSE THESE.  You will need them for DUI school and for getting a “business purpose only” license if you qualify.  You will then be unceremoniously led to the door and shoved out into the sunshine.  Hopefully, the friend you called will be there to pick you up.  Otherwise, you will have your cell phone back at this point and you can start trying to call people to come get you.  Good luck.

The next step is critical.  Call a lawyer. You have a very short time period to do certain things. Your yellow UTC will serve as a ten-day temporary driving permit.  Within this ten-day period you have to make certain decisions.  If this is your first DUI, you can immediately ask for a hearing to determine your eligibility for the business purpose only license.  You will need the original yellow UTC to apply.  In Pinellas, you will also have to enroll in DUI school through the Suncoast Safety Council or other approved school.  Other counties have other schools that can be found by googling DUI schools for that county.  Typically, you can pre-register for the school on-line, pay the $278 fee (at Suncoast anyway), and someone will call you to schedule your evaluation and the school.  They are very helpful and courteous.  Be the same. 

After the call, someone will email you your paperwork that show you are enrolled in school.  You take that paperwork, the ORIGINAL yellow UTC, and $25 to the Bureau of Administrative Reviews.  The address for the office you need to go to is on the UTC.  They will have a form there for you to fill out.  It must be signed in front of a witness, usually the hearing officer sitting at the desk.  You will then be invited in to see a hearing officer and he or she will determine your eligibility.  If you are eligible, you can go down to DMV and get your BPO license.  Another $200.00.  Yikes!  Starting to get expensive, isn’t it?  This license is, according to statute, only for “driving necessary to maintain livelihood, including driving to and from work, necessary on-the-job driving, driving for educational purposes, and driving for church and for medical purposes.” What does this mean exactly? It’s not really clear and law enforcement has broad discretion to determine if you are on a “business purpose.”  So don’t be tooling around with your buddies.  You will be caught and arrested and that will just pile on more problems and expenses.  The BPO will be for six months if you took the breathalyzer or one year if you refused. 

Next comes the court proceedings.  You will be scheduled to appear before a judge for arraignment.  The officer will write on the UTC the time and place you need to appear. If you hire a lawyer, he or she can file a plea of not guilty and waive the arraignment so you don’t have to go.  If you got a companion civil citation (e.g., driving without headlights, speeding, etc.), the two cases will be consolidated and typically get resolved together.  A lawyer can help you with understanding the process.  

In Florida we can participate in what’s called “discovery,” a process where the state basically gives you the evidence it has against you.  You can get the police reports and, hopefully, the DVD of the traffic stop and the FSEs if you agreed to perform them.  It will also likely have you in the back of the cruiser slinging profanities at the officer if you failed to heed my advice above.  Anyway, if you have a lawyer, he or she will look through the discovery and try to determine if there are any reasons for filing motions to dismiss or suppress or other similar pre-trial motions.  If it’s a close call (or even if it’s not) your lawyer can ask for an “RD Review.” This is when the prosecutor will review the evidence and determine if an amendment for reckless driving can be made. This would be a much better than a DUI conviction.  A DUI conviction results in an automatic adjudication of guilty, whereas you can get a withhold of adjudication if you plea to a reckless driving charge.  The fines, costs, and penalties are a lot less as well.

If you can’t get your case dismissed or reduced to RD, you will either have to plead or go to trial. By the way, when you go to court, dress APPROPRIATELY.  No tank tops, droopy pants, hats, profanity-laden t-shirts, or other improper attire.  You might as well leave your baseball hat at home, because the deputies will make you take it off anyway. And for goodness’ sake, DON’T CHEW GUM, especially in front of the judge.  I don’t think anything is more disrespectful to a judge than a defendant chewing gum in the courtroom. You’ll likely get a gentle admonition from a deputy to spit out the gum in any event.  All answers to the judge are “Yes, Your Honor” or “No, Your Honor.” Take out your face piercings, plugs, and other less-than-conservative jewelry.  If you have politically incorrect tattoos, hide them.  Now don’t get offended.  I’m tattooed, with two full sleeves and then some.  I get it.  But court is no place to show this stuff off. 

If you are convicted, you will be subjected to certain penalties.  At sentencing you will be told what the costs and penalties are.  Some things are mandatory, but some are up to the discretion of the judge.  If you’ve been a jerk, don’t expect to get any breaks.  A chart of the minimum and maximum penalties appears here.  Don’t let that mislead you though. In reality, there are a whole lot of things you have to do if you get convicted.  Most of these things are conditions of probation.  For a first offense, they may include approximately the following:

Fines and costs

Roughly $950.00

Cost of Probation Supervision

$55 per month for 12 months=$660.00.  The judge may allow early termination of probation if you satisfy all other conditions

Investigative costs

Usually $75 to $250 (varies wildly)

Victim Impact Panel

$25.00 (sometimes can be waived by judge)

Impound Fee

$50.00 (cash)

Community Service Insurance Fee

$8.00

Urinalysis Test

$120.00

Cost of Prosecution

$50 to $250 (also varies wildly)

Ignition Interlock for 6 months (if you blew a .15 or above or had a minor in the car) (of course you add another $1000 or so to the fines/costs if this is the case)

•$12 Interlock fee

•$75 for installation

•$72.50 for monthly monitoring and calibration=$435.00

•$100 refundable deposit or a $5 monthly insurance charge

Buy out of 50 hours of community service if allowed by the judge at $10 per hour

$500.00

So, as you can see, for a first DUI conviction the fees and costs could exceed $3,000.00, not counting attorney’s fees. And this does not take into account the fact that your insurance per month will skyrocket.  You will need FR44 insurance at 100/300.  Google it.  Plus, you will have a business purpose only license for 6 months to one year.  Don’t push the limits on that.  Get used to sitting at home watching TV (if you can still afford cable after all this) or riding your bicycle.  Your friends will soon get tired of you asking them to drive you around.

Oh, one more thing.  While you are on probation, NO drinking.  You will be subject to random urinalysis tests.  You will not be allowed to go to any bars, clubs—nothing.  And don’t push that either.  You will be caught.  Just suck it up and comply with all the rules.

So, is that one or two beers worth all this?  You decide.