Police car seen through a rear view mirror.

Driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs is illegal in all 50 states. However, the laws regarding DUI crimes vary from state-to-state. For example, some states, such as New Jersey, treat DUI as a traffic offense rather than a criminal offense.

The DUI laws in Florida are some of the toughest in the nation. Is DUI classified as a traffic offense or a criminal offense in the state of Florida? When can you be charged with this crime? What penalties will you face if you are convicted? How can a Tampa criminal defense attorney help? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and more.

How is DUI Classified in Florida?

DUI offenses are not classified as traffic violations in the state of Florida. Instead, these offenses are classified as crimes.

In Florida, DUI can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the nature of the crime and the defendant’s prior criminal record.

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If you are charged with DUI for the first or second time, you will most likely face misdemeanor charges. However, if you have two prior DUI convictions within the last 10 years, you will face felony DUI charges for your third DUI offense. Furthermore, if you have three or more prior DUI convictions on your record, you will face felony DUI charges for your subsequent DUI offense, regardless of when the prior convictions took place.

DUI is also charged as a felony if the offense involves injuries or fatalities. For example, if you crash into another vehicle while under the influence and someone is injured or killed, you will face felony charges. This is true even if it is your first DUI offense.

When Can You Be Charged With DUI in Florida?

Many people think that they cannot be charged with DUI unless their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is above the legal limit of 0.08% at the time of their arrest. It’s true that in most cases, defendants are charged with DUI because their BAC is above the legal limit. But it’s important to understand that you can be charged with DUI even if your BAC is below the legal limit at the time you are pulled over.

Florida law states that a person can face DUI charges if they are under the influence of alcohol or chemical substances and are “affected to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired.”

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As you can see, the law does not state that a person’s BAC has to be above 0.08% in order to be charged with DUI. This means the police can arrest you and you can be charged with DUI if there is reason to believe that you were operating a vehicle while intoxicated, regardless of whether or not your BAC level was above the legal limit.

What Are the Penalties For DUI in Florida?

The penalties you will face for a DUI conviction will depend on various factors, including:

  • The number of DUI convictions on your record, if any
  • When your prior DUI convictions occurred
  • Your BAC level at the time of your arrest
  • Whether someone was injured or killed as a result of your intoxication
  • Whether there was a minor in your vehicle at the time of your arrest

The penalties for every DUI conviction are serious. But in general, the penalties are more severe for repeat offenders, offenders who injured or killed someone while under the influence, offenders with high BAC levels, and offenders who were traveling with a minor at the time of their arrest.

Even first-time DUI offenders could face serious penalties if they are convicted. A first-time DUI offender will face:

Up to six months in jailUp to $1000 in fines10-day impoundment or immobilization of their vehicleDriver’s license revocation for between six months to one year

A first-time DUI offender who was driving with a minor or who had a BAC level above 0.15% at the time of their arrest will face increased penalties, including up to $2000 in fines and nine months in jail.

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Remember, these are just the penalties for first-time offenders. Repeat offenders will face far more serious consequences for their second, third, and subsequent DUI offenses.

The laws regarding DUI penalties are complex, which is why it’s best to discuss your case with an attorney to learn more about the potential consequences of a conviction.

How Can You Fight DUI Charges?

The only way to avoid the serious penalties of a DUI conviction is to aggressively fight your charges. But fighting DUI charges on your own is not easy, which is why you need to turn to an experienced DUI attorney for help. An attorney can use a number of defense strategies to fight your charges. Some of the most common strategies include:

  • Questioning the legality of the traffic stop
  • Fighting field sobriety test results
  • Discovering issues with chemical test results

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Every DUI case is different, so the strategy that your attorney chooses to use to fight your charges will depend on the circumstances surrounding your arrest. Let an attorney review the details of your case to determine the most effective way to fight your charges, clear your name, and secure your freedom.

Seek Legal Representation From An Experienced DUI Defense Attorney

Don’t make the mistake of taking DUI charges lightly. In Florida, DUI is a serious crime that can carry severe legal penalties. If you’ve been charged with DUI, it’s in your best interest to seek legal representation from the experienced DUI attorneys at Carlson Meissner Hart & Hayslett as soon as possible. With over 125 years of combined legal experience, our team knows what it takes to fight and beat DUI charges.

Take the first step toward protecting your rights and fighting for your freedom by contacting our law office to schedule a free consultation regarding your case.

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