In Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or anywhere else in South Florida, if you are charged with driving under the influence (DUI), you may be penalized harshly if you’re convicted. If you’re facing a DUI charge, you’ll need to reach out – as swiftly as possible – to a Miami DUI attorney.

Every Florida motorist knows that driving under the influence is a crime in this state, and most motorists also understand that a driving under the influence conviction may entail extensive, serious consequences, even for a first offense.

When is driving under the influence a misdemeanor in Florida, and which DUI defendants are charged with felonies? If you’re arrested and charged with driving under the influence, what are your rights, and what steps will you need to take?

If you will keep reading this brief introduction to DUI, your rights, and the law in South Florida, these questions will be answered, and you’ll also learn what a South Florida DUI lawyer will do on your behalf if you’re charged with DUI as a misdemeanor or as a felony.

When Is DUI Considered a Felony in This State?

Someone’s first and second DUI offenses – if there are no aggravating factors – will usually be charged as misdemeanors. When someone’s first or second driving under the influence charge is a felony, the driver may have caused a serious injury or a death.

There are four ways that DUI charges can be felony charges in Florida:

  1. If someone is charged with a third DUI offense within ten years of a prior DUI conviction, that person will be charged with felony DUI, a third-degree felony punishable upon conviction with a prison term and a costly fine.
  2. If someone is charged with a fourth driving under the influence offense – at any time – that driver will face a felony DUI charge.
  3. If a driver under the influence causes serious bodily injury to anyone else, that driver may be charged with felony DUI, and in some cases, ordered to pay restitution to the victim.
  4. When a driver under the influence causes the death of another person or an unborn child, that driver may be charged with DUI manslaughter, a second-degree felony with serious consequences for a conviction.

What Are Administrative License Suspensions?

Florida DUI defendants face not only criminal penalties but also “administrative” actions. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles suspends “administratively” the licenses of drivers who measure a blood alcohol content (BAC) level at or above 0.08 percent.

Florida law provides that if you’re asked to take a breathalyzer test after an arrest, you must take the test. Under the law, driving in this state means that you’ve “in effect” already given your consent to a breathalyzer examination if you are stopped for suspicion of DUI.

Your license suspension may begin immediately if a police officer believes that you are unable to drive safely. If it’s your first offense, the administrative suspension of your license is for six months, but drivers who decline a breath test may have their licenses suspended for a year.

You can challenge an administrative driver’s license suspension, but your Miami DUI attorney must request a hearing with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles within ten days of your DUI arrest, so you must contact that attorney at once.

What Are the Typical Penalties for a DUI Conviction?

If a police officer stops you while you’re driving in South Florida, and if you measure a BAC level of 0.08 percent or higher, you will be charged with DUI. The criminal penalties for a DUI conviction are entirely separate from and unrelated to any administrative penalties.

Criminal penalties for a first driving under the influence conviction usually include a one-year driver’s license suspension, installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) in the offender’s vehicle once the license suspension is lifted, a fine of up to $1,000, and a possible jail sentence.

However, for some first-time and second-time convicted DUI offenders, Florida judges may instead order probation that includes at least fifty hours of community service.

How Will Your Attorney Defend You Against a DUI Charge?

If you’re placed under arrest for DUI, don’t assume the worst. Often, a good South Florida DUI lawyer can have a driving under the influence charge reduced or dismissed. For a first offense, a prosecutor may drop the charge in exchange for a guilty plea to the lesser charge of Reckless Driving..

Your attorney may dispute the accuracy of a breathalyzer test, the reliability of the breathalyzer device, or the way that the test samples and results were handled. The training and credentials of the person who administered the breathalyzer test could also be challenged.

If the police violated your constitutional rights during a traffic stop, interrogation, search, or arrest, your attorney may be able to have the driving under the influence charge reduced or entirely dismissed.

If you’re charged with driving under the influence, you are innocent until the state can prove that you are guilty – even if you failed a breathalyzer exam. A Miami DUI lawyer will review the evidence against you, protect your rights, and fight aggressively for the justice you need.

What Else Should You Know About DUI in Florida?

Florida motorists should consider, along with the administrative and criminal penalties, the additional consequences of a DUI conviction. If driving is your job, you may have to find other work. Your auto insurance costs more after a DUI conviction, and it may never cost less again.

If you hold a professional license in Florida – you’re a physician, dentist, lawyer, or nurse, for instance – a conviction for driving under the influence may trigger disciplinary action and a possible license revocation or suspension by your professional licensing board.

If you are charged with DUI, the state’s case against you is strong, and your conviction is inevitable, a good DUI lawyer may be able to negotiate a plea bargain for reduced or alternative sentencing. Your case is unique, so you must have a DUI lawyer’s personalized advice.

Do not, however, accept a plea deal if you are innocent. Instead, insist on your right to a jury trial. A conviction for DUI can literally devastate your finances, your family, and your future, so selecting the right DUI attorney – as quickly as possible after a DUI arrest – is essential.