Tampa DUI Lawyer

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Tampa DUI Attorney

DUI charges can often happen quickly and without warning. It can be difficult to figure out what to do after the initial arrest. Every DUI case has lots of different circumstances that impact the outcome. This is why reviewing your situation with a DUI defense attorney who has experience with DUI cases can be helpful. An experienced Tampa DUI lawyer can attempt to achieve as positive an outcome as possible for your case.

Tampa DUI Lawyer

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At Paul Figueroa Law, we strive to help our clients during their time of need. We understand how scary it can be to defend yourself against criminal charges and can assist every step of the way. We offer personalized support for individuals accused of a wide variety of criminal charges, including DUIs, violent crimes, sex crimes, and more. Our staff has over a decade of experience working with clients in Tampa and the surrounding areas.

What is a DUI?

In Tampa, an individual can be charged with Driving Under the Influence if they are found to be driving with over the legal amount of alcohol in their bloodstream (.08%). This can also apply to individuals who are not driving their car but are still found to be in control of a vehicle, especially if the engine is on.

DUIs often come with harsh penalties that increase depending on how many DUIs someone has received in the past. Each conviction comes with jail time or probation, fines, a license suspension, and the requirement to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on your vehicle for a certain amount of time. Every DUI conviction also comes with the requirement to take a government-approved counseling course on drug and alcohol use.

The first two DUIs a person receives are considered misdemeanors. If the person is arrested on DUI charges within ten years of being previously convicted, it is considered a felony, and the penalties are significantly increased.

Additional penalties can be sentenced in other severe DUI circumstances, including:

  • Driving with a blood alcohol content level that is considered excessively high (0.15% or higher)
  • Committing a DUI with someone under the age of 18 in the vehicle with you or while you are driving in a school zone
  • Driving with a license that is expired or was already suspended or revoked
  • The offense resulted in damage to property or injuries or death to a person
  • Excessively speeding while committing a DUI (usually at least 30 mph faster than the listed speed limit)
  • Blatantly ignoring traffic lights, road signs, and other road markers

In certain cases, these situations can result in an aggravated DUI charge and conviction.

Why Do I Need an Attorney?

While most people think of an attorney when faced with a trial in court, an attorney can help with many different steps of the legal process, including:

  • Receiving Guidance: Regardless of what happens, consulting an attorney for initial guidance can be helpful. They can tell you the potential outlook of your case and the steps you can take to improve your situation. Some solutions to criminal defense cases are not obvious to individuals without legal experience, leaving them vulnerable to increased penalties.
  • Negotiating an Offer: Although you might initially receive a plea offer from a prosecutor, that offer might not be as beneficial as you might think. Given the circumstances of your case, an attorney might be able to negotiate with the prosecutor and reduce the criminal consequences in the offer even more than you might think is possible. It’s also potentially possible that an attorney could get the charges against you dismissed instead.
  • Streamlining the Legal Process: An attorney can help carry the brunt of the work for your case. They have the time and resources to put a significant amount of effort into your case. In certain situations, they might even be able to attend court on your behalf. This can be especially helpful if an individual is subject to a license suspension due to DUI charges.
  • Increased Communication: One of the biggest issues individuals facing criminal charges experience is the lack of information about their case. Experienced attorneys communicate frequently with their clients about where their cases are and what their future options are. An attorney can answer any questions an individual has, increasing that person’s peace of mind with their situation.
  • Assistance With a Trial: Although it is technically not a requirement to have a lawyer to go to court, individuals representing themselves normally have negative results. They simply do not have the experience or knowledge required to skillfully navigate the criminal justice system. DUI attorneys are well-versed in DUI law and also understand how a trial works to help represent you in a positive light.

Every DUI case is different and requires a different strategy. A Tampa DUI lawyer can help determine what strategy to use to deliver favorable results for your case.

The Initial Arrest for a DUI

Many individuals who receive DUI charges for the first time have never received any type of criminal charges before and have no idea what to expect. While every case is different, there is a general order to how the case is moved through the legal system.

The first step in a DUI is the initial arrest. Many individuals experience this when they are pulled over by a police officer. If the officer has a valid reason to believe that the person was driving with a higher-than-legal blood alcohol content, they have the right to arrest them and test their blood alcohol level at the police station. Even if a person refuses to take the test, they can still be taken to the police station for a formal report to be written.

Once the individual arrives at the police station, information will be gathered to make an entry into the police’s database. This is called the booking process. After this is complete, bail will likely be set. This is a specific amount of money required for a person to leave jail to make sure that they come back for their first appearance before a court. If the person cannot pay this amount (or “post” bond), then they must wait in jail for their first appearance.

What Is a First Appearance?

A first appearance involves a judge reviewing your case to determine whether it is legally valid. If the judge doubts the validity of the case, they can request additional evidence and can even dismiss the charges if sufficient evidence is not submitted. If it is determined that the police officer acted with probable cause, then a new bond can be set, or an alternative form of release might be negotiated.

Due to the fact that a DUI arrest usually involves the overconsumption of alcohol, most individuals facing DUI charges must stay in jail for at least eight hours to ensure that they are mostly sober when they leave.

Understanding Your Options During Arraignment

In an arraignment, an individual facing DUI charges has the option to hear their charges and determine how they plead. A not-guilty plea can lead to additional court appearances, while a guilty plea usually results in a sentence that must begin at the time of the arraignment.

An attorney is especially helpful at the arraignment stage of your case. If you have an attorney at this point, they can submit information to the court, letting them know that you are being represented by them and that you plead not guilty. You might not even have to attend the arraignment with enough advanced notice from your attorney.

Even if you do not have an attorney at this point, it is generally a good idea to consult with one before pleading guilty. This helps you understand your options and ensures you have a complete picture before making a final decision on how to plead.

What Are Preliminary Hearings?

Preliminary hearings occur before the official trial begins. Most types of hearings are either adversarial or related to your bond and can be requested by an attorney on your behalf. Different hearings are recommended for different cases, and an attorney can evaluate which ones are necessary for each situation.

In an adversarial hearing, the prosecution has to convince the judge that the charges are legitimate. If they are not able to do this, the charges might be dropped. An adversarial preliminary hearing can be requested for severe DUI cases with felony charges attached. It is relatively uncommon for misdemeanor DUI cases.

Another point of contention that is sometimes resolved in a preliminary hearing is the bond amount. A bond hearing is used to attempt to convince the judge to lower the bond amount if you are unable to post it as is. Unfortunately, these hearings can also be used to raise the bond amount if the court feels it is necessary. This is why it is important to have an attorney represent you to avoid bond increases whenever possible.

What Happens Before the Trial?

Most cases are resolved before they ever get to trial. In order for them to be resolved faster, an attorney can request motions for evidence against you to be dismissed. Discovery is used when an attorney gathers evidence that is not in your favor. This is an important step in preparing for what actions the prosecution might take. An attorney can also file a variety of motions pertaining to the evidence they collected to affect how it might be used in court.

Pre-trial motions can include preventing certain forms of evidence from being able to be used against you in court because it was not obtained legally. A motion can be filed to gain more information as well as omit specific details that are irrelevant to the case. If there is not enough evidence against you, it might even be possible for an attorney to file a motion to dismiss in order to completely drop the charges.

After this process, in most cases, your attorney will attempt to cooperate with the prosecution to develop some form of a plea bargain. This plea bargain is often significantly reduced from the initial sentencing made after an arrest. The exact details outlined in a plea bargain differ from case to case. An attorney can bargain for certain criteria based on your needs. For example, they might be able to request a lower fine for higher community service hours.

If the plea-bargaining process is successful, then your case does not need to go to court. This saves time and money for everyone involved. If it is not resolved, then your case moves into the trial phase. No matter the outcome, an attorney is an invaluable resource at this stage. They can negotiate for better sentences and represent you more favorably to the prosecution and the judge.

An Outline of a DUI Trial

The exact outline for your DUI case depends on many different factors, but DUI trials generally proceed in the following order:

  1. Choosing the Jury: In this stage, both your attorney and the prosecution must work together to choose jury members who can equitably make a judgment on your case. An effective attorney will fight on your behalf to select jury members who are less likely to treat your case unfairly.
  2. Statements and Cases: At first, both parties have the opportunity to make an opening statement about their argument. Once this is done, the prosecution then lays out their argument for accusing you of the crimes you have committed. This argument is criticized by the defense attorney. They attempt to make the argument look weaker to the jury.
  3. Acquittal: After the prosecution makes their case, the defense can argue that they did not provide enough evidence to convict the defendant and that the case should be dismissed by the judge. If this is unsuccessful, then the defense presents any additional evidence they have that can then be criticized by the prosecution.
  4. Closing Arguments and Deliberation: Each side has one final attempt to convince the jury to align with them in a closing argument. The jury then leaves to decide what the verdict should be. This process is called deliberation.

A not guilty verdict means that you have been found innocent, and the case ends, but a guilty verdict means that the judge must give out a sentence.

How Is Sentencing Determined?

If you are found guilty of a DUI, then a judge has to deliver a criminal sentence. There are general guidelines that are listed in Florida state law that detail certain sentencing criteria, like jail time and fines. However, a judge can decide that these guidelines are not enough and increase the penalties.

For a DUI, sentencing laws usually specify:

  • Minimum and maximum jail sentences or lengths of probation
  • Minimum and maximum fine amounts
  • How long your vehicle is impounded
  • How long your license is suspended
  • How long an ignition interlock device must be installed on your vehicle after your license suspension is over
  • How much community service is required, if any

As a general rule, the more DUI charges you have been convicted of in the past, the higher the penalties will be. The penalties will also be higher if you were given aggravated charges and/or caused injury or death to someone while driving intoxicated. The penalties can be incredibly severe, so it is important to create a plan that does not involve operating a vehicle while impaired with alcohol or drugs.

Making an Appeal

Defendants usually have the right to file an appeal if they feel like their case was handled inappropriately. Successful appeals are less common in DUI charges, but they are still possible given appropriate circumstances. If you feel like you have a reason to file an appeal, it is a good idea to discuss it with an attorney to determine if an appeal might be granted for your situation.

Expungement in Florida

Certain states have laws surrounding the expungement of public records. An expungement means that a conviction is permanently removed from your criminal record and inaccessible to anyone without a court order, including the government. If a record is sealed, that means it is closed off from the general public, but the charges still exist on your criminal record.

Florida does not allow any DUI convictions to be expunged or sealed. This includes most admissions of guilt, including a plea bargain. In certain circumstances, dropped or dismissed cases without a conviction might be able to be sealed. This process can be difficult to start on your own and is generally more effective when working with an attorney.

Even if your official record is sealed or expunged, that does not mean that every record of your criminal history magically disappears, especially on the Internet. It is important to review other sources to make sure that your information is not kept in other locations if it is expunged or sealed.

Common Defenses for Drunk Driving Charges

There are many different ways to contest a DUI charge. Different defenses apply to different DUI cases, but there are several common categories. One of the most frequent challenges to a DUI is that a police officer pulled over a driver illegally. In order to pull someone over, an officer must have what is called probable cause to do so. This means that they must have at least some evidence that the driver is committing a crime.

Evidence to justify a traffic stop includes things like speeding or running a red light. After the driver is pulled over, the officer also has to suspect that the driver is impaired in some way. More severe traffic violations, like swerving back and forth or driving in the opposite direction of traffic, increase the likelihood that a traffic stop for a DUI is reasonable.

In some cases, a routine traffic stop is not necessary to arrest someone for a DUI. If a DUI checkpoint is in place, every vehicle that passes by is evaluated for drivers operating a vehicle while under the influence. These checkpoints are relatively rare and often coincide with popular holidays or events that encourage drinking.

Unfortunately, drivers that are under the influence are more likely to cause vehicle accidents. In certain cases, law enforcement that arrives at the scene of an accident can check to determine whether the accident was caused by a drunk driver. There are also other scenarios where an officer can inspect someone for a DUI even if they are not driving the vehicle. For example, if someone is in their car sleeping in the driver’s seat with the engine running, it might lead to further inspection.

Regardless of the type of interaction from law enforcement, they must have evidence that an individual is clearly under the influence to make an arrest. If they do not and only act on their intuition, the traffic stop might be able to be challenged in court, resulting in a potential dismissal of your charges.

Another way to dispute DUI charges is to challenge the defendant’s actions. Florida is one of many states that allows for DUI charges to be given to individuals who are in physical control of a vehicle, not just driving it. The easier it would have been for the defendant to actually start moving the vehicle, the more likely they would be considered in physical control.

This means that although it is possible to be charged with a DUI for sleeping in the backseat of your car with the engine off while intoxicated, it can be challenged. The court can look at things like how close the defendant was to the steering wheel, whether the keys were in the ignition or not, and whether or not the engine was running to evaluate whether they were in physical control of the vehicle.

One major issue with many DUI cases is the validity of blood alcohol test results. In certain cases, these tests can only be administered with a warrant due to the Fourth Amendment. If it is determined that the test was administered illegally, the results might not be valid, reducing the amount of evidence that can be used against you. While this is possible, it is a complicated defense strategy that should be discussed with an attorney.

Certain tests to evaluate blood alcohol content are done at a police station. These tests are normally administered using machines that are highly technical and need to be handled properly for accurate results. If a test is administered without following certain protocols, like correctly maintaining the machine or preventing sample contamination, it might be considered invalid and unusable in court.

Another way law enforcement attempts to prove intoxication is through field sobriety tests. These physical tests are used to determine whether a driver is too impaired to operate a vehicle. While they can be effective if administered correctly, there is also a large margin of error. Sometimes, officers do not provide clear and correct instructions, leading to poor results on field tests.

These tests can be inconclusive, given the context of the situation. It is also possible that a police officer misinterpreted an individual as being intoxicated when they were really just tired, ill, or otherwise impaired. Many symptoms of intoxication are similar to other forms of impairment, like a physical or mental illness. These defenses can help discredit a police officer’s testimony.

Finally, there are fringe cases that might be able to be disputed in court. Due to the way alcohol is processed in the body, the blood alcohol level that is reported at the police station might differ from what the defendant’s actual blood alcohol level was at a traffic stop. This might mean that a defendant was unfairly charged with a DUI, even though they were technically driving below the legal limit.

There are many different situations in which a defendant might be able to get their charges dismissed or significantly reduced with the right help. An attorney can help determine what defense strategy might work well for your case to better represent your circumstances to a prosecutor, judge, or jury.

Underage DUIs

Individuals under the legal drinking age are subject to different rules when receiving penalties for a DUI. The blood alcohol level for a DUI violation is much lower for underage drivers (.02%). In general, penalties like jail time and criminal convictions do not apply to underage cases, but there are still significant consequences.

Most underage DUI convictions result in a license suspension of some kind. The length of the suspension depends on their blood alcohol level at the time of the arrest, how many offenses they have previously committed, and whether they willingly took a blood alcohol level test. It is also possible that the individual must take an education course before they get their license back. If you or a loved one is facing underage DUI penalties, contact a Tampa DUI attorney.

Hardship Licenses

One of the typical punishments for a DUI includes a license suspension. In some cases, an individual might be able to qualify for a hardship license. This would allow the individual to maintain employment and keep other commitments while still serving their sentence. A formal application and a driver’s education course must be completed in order to be considered for a hardship license.

If an individual harmed another while engaging in a DUI or has received multiple DUI charges, they are less likely to be eligible for a hardship license. This also applies to commercial drivers and people who have refused multiple breathalyzer tests. To determine your eligibility for a hardship license and learn more about how to apply, talk with a DUI attorney.

DUI Lawyer FAQs

Q: What Is the 10-Day Rule for DUI in Tampa?

A: In Tampa, the 10-day rule for a DUI refers to the amount of time individuals charged with a DUI have to prevent their license from getting suspended. If someone does not think that an officer has a good reason to arrest them, they can request a hearing. If the hearing is successful, they might regain full use of their driver’s license; however, if it is unsuccessful, they might have to wait longer for a hardship license.

Q: Can DUI Cases Be Dismissed in Tampa?

A: DUI cases can be dismissed in Tampa, depending on the circumstances. In some cases, it can be argued that the police officer who pulled someone over for a DUI did so without having a valid reason. This might lead to getting charges dropped entirely or negotiated for a better sentence. This process can be difficult for someone without a legal background, so it can be more effective to work with an attorney to try and get DUI charges dismissed.

Q: How Do I Get Out of a DUI in Tampa?

A: To get out of a DUI in Tampa, some individuals choose to accept a plea bargain. This occurs when an individual admits to the crime in exchange for reduced punishments, sometimes under a different charge that does not reflect as poorly on their criminal record. If an individual works with an experienced DUI attorney, they might be able to get their charges dropped entirely, depending on the context of the case.

Q: Can I Go to Jail for My First DUI in Tampa?

A: A first-time DUI offense in Tampa typically results in one year of probation. Depending on the case, jail time might be involved, but probation and/or jail time do not usually exceed one year. The other consequences of a DUI in Tampa are quite severe and can also result in fines, a license suspension, and the requirement to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle. To potentially avoid harsh punishments for a first-time DUI offense, contact a Tampa DUI lawyer.

Q: How Does a DUI Affect Your Life in Tampa?

A: A DUI can severely affect someone’s life. Most people who are arrested for a DUI have their license suspended, limiting their ability to get to school, work, and other activities. DUIs are also associated with jail time, fines, mandatory community service, and drug and alcohol education courses. In some cases, it might be required to install a device on your vehicle that measures your blood alcohol level before allowing the car to turn on.

Dedicated Support for Your Case

At Paul Figueroa Law, we provide upfront legal support for our clients and pride ourselves on transparent communication so you will stay up to date on your case. We can help with DUI charges at almost every stage of the legal process. For more information on how Paul Figueroa Law can provide an advantage in your DUI case, schedule a consultation today.

If you are currently facing a legal situation or have questions about your legal rights, don’t wait until it’s too late. Call (813) 213-0000 now or fill out our CONTACT form to speak with an experienced attorney who can guide you through the legal process and get you the help you need to protect your future.

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Criminal Defense
Personal Injury