Florida DUI Charges & What It Means to Be “Under the Influence”

Driving under the influence, or DUI, is a complicated and often misunderstood charge. Most people believe they’ll only be charged if they take a breath test or blood test that shows a result of .08% or higher, which is the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle in Florida. What they don’t know is that DUI charges are based on more than just test results.

Florida drivers may face DUI charges even if their blood or breath test results were below the legal limit. Because of this, you must know what qualifies as “under the influence” in Florida law.

Florida Statutes § 316.193: Driving Under the Influence

If you’re operating a motor vehicle, whether it is a car, truck, SUV, or motorcycle, you must abide by a number of laws. One of these is that your abilities must not be impaired by alcohol and/or drugs. It is illegal to drive if you are “under the influence” of alcohol, a chemical substance, or a controlled substance, even if that substance is a prescription drug or over-the-counter medication. If you cannot safely operate a vehicle, Florida law dictates that you should not be on the road.

But how does law enforcement determine that a person is under the influence? What does the prosecution need to prove to secure a DUI conviction?

According to Florida Statutes § 316.193, a driver is guilty of driving under the influence if he or she is in “actual physical control of a vehicle” and:

  • Is under the influence of alcohol, to the extent that his or her normal faculties are impaired; or
  • Has a blood or breath alcohol level of .08% or greater.

This means you could face DUI charges whether you pass or fail a breath or blood test, as long as the prosecution has reason to believe your abilities were impaired. For example, maybe you blew a .05 on your breath test. Your breath alcohol level was below the legal limit, but if the arresting officer observed erratic driving or claims you failed field sobriety tests, this could be used to charge you with DUI anyway.

How Police & Prosecutors Prove Impaired Driving Abilities

In the absence of a breath or blood alcohol test with a result of .08%, the prosecutor will need to prove that your normal abilities were impaired by alcohol and/or drugs.

The following may be used to claim that your driving abilities were impaired:

  • The results of the walk-and-turn, horizontal gaze nystagmus, one-leg stand, or other field sobriety test.
  • The arresting officer’s testimony about your behavior while driving and after you were pulled over.
  • Any video footage (dash cam, body cam, etc.) of you driving, performing field sobriety tests, or interacting with the officer or others.

Field sobriety tests were created specifically to show impairment of normal abilities. The results of these tests, combined with video footage and an officer’s testimony, may be used in an attempt to show that you were unable to safely operate a vehicle.

To support a DUI charge, the prosecution may attempt to prove impairment of:

  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Vision
  • Motor skills
  • Ability to follow instructions
  • Judgment/cognitive skills

What field sobriety tests and other alleged signs of impairment do not consider, however, is what a person’s natural abilities may be. They do not take language barriers, physical or psychological conditions, or even poor instructions into account. This type of evidence can be challenged by a competent DUI defense attorney.

Facing DUI Charges Even After a “Passed” Breath or Blood Test

If you’re facing DUI charges even though you passed a breath or blood test, exercise your right to an attorney. Work with a lawyer who knows Florida DUI laws inside and out and who has the resources to investigate every single piece of evidence against you and build a compelling case in your favor. Maybe you’ve been accused of “failing” field sobriety tests. Maybe the arresting officer is ready to testify that your abilities were seriously impaired. Choose a strong team to protect your interests, and you’ll have the best chance at avoiding a DUI conviction and the serious penalties this can bring.

At Thomas & Paulk, we’ve successfully defended thousands of clients throughout Tampa and the surrounding areas in the face of virtually every type of criminal charge. Call (813) 321-7323 today to find out how we can help you. Your initial consultation is free!

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