You can’t risk driving under the influence (DUI) in Florida. If you are convicted of DUI in this state, you’ll face harsh criminal penalties. In the greater Tampa Bay area, if you are charged with DUI, you will need to contact – as quickly as possible – a good Tampa DUI attorney.

How is DUI defined by Florida law? What penalties can be imposed if you’re convicted? Who can help? If you’ll keep reading, you’ll learn these answers, and you will learn more about your rights if you are charged and prosecuted for DUI in the Tampa Bay area or anywhere in Florida.

What Should Florida Drivers Know About DUI?

A DUI defendant in Florida faces administrative as well as criminal penalties. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles administratively suspends the driver’s license of any driver arrested with a BAC (blood alcohol content) level at 0.08 percent or higher.

Under Florida law, if you are asked to submit to a breathalyzer exam after you have been arrested, you must. The implied consent law provides that merely by driving in Florida, you have already in effect consented to a breath test if you’re arrested for driving under the influence.

If it’s a first DUI offense, the administrative license suspension lasts for six months, but motorists who decline a DUI exam face a year-long license suspension. Your license may be suspended after a driving under the influence arrest even if you are not finally convicted of DUI.

Is DUI A Misdemeanor or Felony in Florida?

DUI laws vary from state-to-state. In Florida, DUI can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the nature of the crime.

Most first and second DUI offenses are misdemeanors. However, if you are charged with DUI for the third time and one or both of your prior convictions occurred within the last 10 years, you will face third-degree felony charges for your third offense. If you are charged with DUI for the fourth time, you will face third-degree felony charges regardless of when your three prior convictions occurred.

Drivers in this state can also face felony DUI charges if they cause serious bodily injury or death while under the influence. A DUI involving serious bodily injury is a third-degree felony. If you kill someone while operating a vehicle under the influence, this is called DUI manslaughter, which is a second-degree felony.

Both misdemeanor and felony DUI can lead to serious consequences. But felony DUI offenses carry far more harsh penalties than misdemeanor DUI offenses.

What Penalties Will You Face For Your First DUI Offense?

The possible criminal penalties for someone’s first-offense DUI misdemeanor conviction – if no injuries, property damage, or other offenses are involved – are:

  1. a suspended driver’s license for one-year and installation of an IID (ignition interlock device) in the convicted offender’s personal vehicle after the license suspension period
  2. a six-month jail term (or a nine-month jail term if someone under age 18 was a passenger or if the driver measured a BAC level at or over 0.15 percent)
  3. a $1,000 fine (or $2,000 if someone under age 18 was a passenger or if the driver measured a BAC level at or over 0.15 percent)

In most cases, judges in Florida will order probation for first-time DUI offenders, including community service for a minimum of fifty hours, and a first offender’s personal vehicle is usually impounded for at least ten days.

What Penalties Will You Face For Your Second DUI Offense?

There is mandatory jail time – a minimum of ten days – for a second driving under the influence conviction within five years. A second DUI misdemeanor conviction within five years of the first conviction may also be penalized with:

  1. a five-year license suspension and installation of an IID (ignition interlock device) in the convicted offender’s personal vehicle after the license suspension period
  2. a nine-month jail term (or a twelve-month jail term if someone under age 18 was a passenger or if the driver measured a BAC level at or over 0.15 percent)
  3. a $2,000 fine (or $4,000 if someone under age 18 was a passenger or if the driver measured a BAC level at or over 0.15 percent)

The penalties may vary if your second DUI offense did not occur within five years of your first DUI offense.

What Are the Penalties For A Third DUI?

A third DUI offense within ten years is a third-degree felony punishable on conviction with a five-year prison term, a $5,000 fine, and a license suspension that may last for ten years. There is also mandatory jail time – at least thirty days – for a third DUI conviction within ten years.

What Are Other DUI Penalties?

Along with the criminal and administrative penalties, drivers need to consider the additional repercussions of a conviction for DUI. If driving is your occupation, you may need to find different work. Auto insurance costs go up after a DUI conviction and may never again go down.

If you are a professional in Florida – a doctor, nurse, dentist, or attorney, for example – a DUI conviction may trigger a disciplinary action – and possibly the suspension or revocation of your license – by your professional licensing board.

And if an intoxicated driver injures someone, an injury victim may file a personal injury lawsuit in Florida’s civil courts. A conviction for DUI can put you on the wrong side of a civil lawsuit, and you could be ordered to pay a victim thousands of dollars that your insurance may not cover.

How Will A DUI Defense Lawyer Help You?

If you are arrested for DUI, do not plead guilty or presume the worst. Often, a skilled criminal defense attorney can have a DUI charge reduced or entirely dismissed. For first-time offenders, prosecutors may offer a “wet reckless” plea bargain, which is a deal where the defendant agrees to plead guilty to the lesser charge of reckless driving.

If you are arrested and charged with DUI, even if your BAC level measures at or above 0.08 percent, you’re innocent until proven guilty. Let the right Tampa Bay DUI attorney review the details of the case, protect your legal rights, and advocate aggressively for justice on your behalf.

Nothing is More Important Than Your Family And Your Future

If the state’s case against a defendant is airtight and a conviction is certain, a good DUI lawyer will work to arrange for a plea bargain and/or for reduced or alternative sentencing. Each case is different, of course, so defendants must seek a DUI attorney’s personalized legal advice.

Having the advice and representation of the right DUI attorney after a driving under the influence arrest is imperative, because a DUI conviction can literally wreck your finances, your family, and your future.