Over the past few weeks, the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) has stepped up enforcement and recognition of impaired drivers. As a result, over 500 arrests were made during this holiday season DUI operation.
FHP troopers look for reasons to make a traffic stop. A car may be pulled over for an infraction, such as speeding, failure to maintain a single lane, or some non-moving violation, such as a brake light that is out or window tints that are too dark.
Once pulled over, the trooper will look for signs of impairment. Signs of impairment include a flushed face, bloodshot, watery eyes, slurred speech, and an odor of alcohol on the breath.
If you are suspected of being impaired, the trooper will ask you to perform field sobriety tests, or "roadside" tests. These tests are very difficult to pass and you will likely not meet the trooper's criteria. You may refuse to take the roadside tests, however your refusal will likely result in your arrest. On the other hand, if you are even asked to do the roadsides, you are probably as good as arrested right then and there.
If you fail the roadsides - which you likely will, despite whether you are impaired or not - you will be arrested and taken to the police station. At the station, you will be given an opportunity to take a breath test. You may refuse it or you may take it. However, if you refuse, you will lose your driver's license for one year. If you have previously had your driver's license suspended for a DUI refusal, you will be charged with a misdemeanor.
After your arrest, you will have a number of obstacles ahead. In the short term, you need to address you driver's license suspension with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV). Your attorney can set your formal administrative review but must do so within 10 days of your arrest. This is in an effort to save your driver's license.
In the long term, you must think about the criminal case ahead. Florida has some very tough DUI laws and even first-time offenders can get hammered with convictions, huge fines, community service hours, court-ordered driver's license suspensions (in addition to DHSMV suspensions), vehicle immobilization (having your car impounded at your expense), and supervised probation. Not to mention possible jail time if this is not your first DUI.
The best way to avoid these sanctions are to avoid a DUI in general. But even those of us who have a glass of wine with dinner or maybe a beer at the bar can still be arrested if the cop smells just a drop of alcohol on your breath.
Eric Matheny is an attorney who represents clients charged with DUI in Miami-Dade and Broward.