Locating a DUI in the state the state of Florida

Candace Lightner and Senator Michael Barnes.
Candace Lightner and Senator D- MD Michael Barnes. Candace Lightner worked with Michael Barnes and other legislators to change drunk driving laws countrywide. Lightner lost her daughter, Cari, to a drunk driver that had just been released from his 4th offense, and hit Cari as she was walking to a church event.

A DUI, defined as the criminal act of operating a vehicle while “under the influence of alcoholic beverages, chemical substances, or controlled substances,” is a serious offense in the state of Florida. Court records that result in conviction of a person found to have been operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or another inebriant are a matter of public record. Searching for, obtaining, and studying these records are a public right under Florida’s Public Records Law, and can be easily obtained through a number of record search websites.

DUIs in Florida cover multiple categories of infractions. A DUI can occur when a driver operates a vehicle while under the influence of either drugs or alcohol, and a test results in a blood alcohol level (BAL) of .08 or higher. Drivers with a Commercial Drivers License face more stringent laws, and can incur a DUI with a BAL of just .04. Minors can also be charged with impaired driving while any alcohol or drugs are detected in a BAL.

If charged with a DUI, a driver may face penalties that aim to prevent them from driving while intoxicated. Florida DUI penalties increase depending on how many times the offender has committed a DUI.

  • First time offenders are fined no less than $500, and no more than $1,000. They may also face imprisonment of up to six months depending on the severity of the crime. They face higher charges of between $1,000 and $2,000 and imprisonment of up to nine months if their BAL .15 or higher, or if there was a minor in the vehicle at the time of the arrest. They also face between 180 days and one year of license revocation.

  • For second time offenders, the penalties raise to fines between $1,000 and $2,000 and jail time of up to 9 months. If a minor was present in the car, or if the offenders BAL was .15 or above, the fines raise to between $2,000 and $5,000, and jail time increases to 12 months or less. If the offense occurs within 5 years of a prior conviction, there is a mandatory 10 days of imprisonment, two of which must be consecutive. They also face a minimum of five years of license revocation if convicted within five years of the prior offense. If committed more than five years after the prior offense, they can face between 180 days and 1 year of license revocation.

  • For third time offenders, who commit a DUI within 10 years of the second offense, the fines are between $2,000 and $5,000, and the jail times is up to 12 months. If a minor was in the car, or if the offenders BAL was .15 or above, the fines increase to no less than $4,000. Additionally, if the conviction occurred within 10 years of the prior conviction, there is a mandatory imprisonment of 30 days, two of which must be consecutive. If the offense occurs more than 10 years after the prior conviction, jail time can be up to 12 months. They also face between 180 and 1 year of license revocation, unless the offense was committed within 10 years of rht prior conviction, in which case they face a minimum of 10 years of license revocation.

  • For a fourth or additional offense, fines will not be less than $2,000 and jail time of up to five years. This is further detailed in Florida Statute 775.084, which specifies punishments for habitual or violent offenders. If the offenders BAL is more than .15, fines will not be less than $4,000. This punishment includes a mandatory permanent license revocation. After 5 years, the offender may apply for hardship reinstatement. This period begins after any incarceration is served.

  • The final category of DUI is one that involves manslaughter, or the accidental murder of someone while driving under the influence. DUI manslaughter, sometimes categorized as vehicular homicide, is a second degree felony, and is punishable by up to $10,000 and up to 15 years in prison. If found to have left the scene of the crime, the offense is upgraded to a first degree felony, which is punishable by up to 30 years in prison in addition to the $10,000 fine. These offenders also face permanent revocation of their license.

Ronald Reagan and Michael Jackson launch a drunk driving campaign in 1984

In addition to these punishments, DUI offenders can expect to have their car impounded for 10 days after a first offense, 30 days after a second offense, and 90 days after third offense, provided the commit them within 5 years or 10 years after the prior offense, respectively. This impoundment takes place after or before an offender serves any jail time, and will only not occur if the family of the offender has no other transport.

In order for the offender to be picked up following their arrest, they must no longer be under the influence, have a BAL of lower than .05, and have remained in custody for at least eight hours.

If an offender causes any property damage or injury while under the influence, they are culpable to a fine of up to $1,000, or at least one year in prison. Any offender that is convicted of a third DUI within 10 years of a prior conviction, or is convicted of a fourth DUI, that offender is charged with a third degree felony, which is punishable by up to $5,000 and up to five years in prison. If an offender causes serious bodily injury while driving under the influence, they are also guilty of a third degree felony, and punishable by the same.

President Ronald Reagan signs legislation to change the national drinking age from 18 to 21
President Ronald Reagan signs legislation to change the national drinking age from 18 to 21.
Candace Lightner shares the story of the creation of MADD, arguably the most influential anti-drunk driving organization.

The first law against driving under the influence in Florida, instituted shortly after New York in 1910, was quite light by today's standards, and didn’t tie the intoxication of the offender to any specific parameter, such as BAL. It simply said that driving while intoxicated was not allowed, and that a police officer should know drunk driving when they saw it.

Following the invention of the Drunkometer in 1936 by Dr. Rolla Harger, many states, including Florida, started to use the device as a means of testing blood alcohol content. The American Medical Association and National Safety Council did studies showing that people with a blood alcohol content of .15 were still able to operate a vehicle reasonably well, so that was set as the designated limit. This lasted until 1953, when the breathalyzer was invented. The device proved much more accurate, and easier to deploy.

With the rise of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, stricter laws soon followed, and Florida was no exception. After discovering that the drunk driver that killed her daughter had three prior drunk driving convictions and was even at the time of the accident out on bail from a hit-and-run, Candace Lightner personally led the movement for stricter laws countrywide. The legal age for drinking was raised to 21, the maximum blood alcohol content was lowered to .10, and a new zero tolerance policy for underage drunk drivers was instituted on a nationwide scale.

 

Today, Florida is home to some of the harshest DUI penalties in the nation. Namely, they place higher penalties on repeat offenders and those with excessively high blood alcohol levels.