Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a serious crime. In Florida, hundreds of deaths are caused by impaired drivers each year. In 2010, Florida had a total of 52,346 DUI arrests that caused a total of 660 deaths. As a result, the state has laws that strictly prohibit driving under the influence and that penalize those convicted of doing so.
Not everyone who is arrested for a Tampa DUI is guilty, and an arrest does not equal a conviction. If you've been arrested for driving under the influence, it is likely that you have a lot of questions about your Tampa DUI charges, penalties, and court proceedings. To have these questions answered, you need the help of an experienced Tampa DUI attorney.
Your legal representation can make or break your case. At Thomas & Paulk, P.A., we understand the stress and uncertainty of facing a criminal charge and want to help you understand your legal situation. We believe in providing relentless legal counsel to help you reach the best possible outcome. Our team has helped thousands of people in the same situation as you, and we’re ready to help you right now.
Call our Tampa DUI attorneys today at (813) 321-7323 for assistance. Or, keep reading to find out how Tampa DUI cases are typically handled by law enforcement and the court system.
The Tampa DUI process begins when you are pulled over by a police officer. DUI arrests may be the result of a variety of circumstances; however, many DUI arrests occur when an officer pulls an individual over for a secondary traffic violation. For instance, an officer may witness a driver run a red light, pull them over, and discover that they are impaired.
The process of a DUI arrest often happens in the following order:
- The officer pulls you over to the side of the road and asks for your license and registration.
- The officer will observe you for signs of intoxication, such as bloodshot eyes or slurred speech.
- The officer may ask you where you were, how much you had to drink, and other questions to gather more information.
- The officer may ask you to step out of the vehicle and perform field sobriety tests.
- You may be asked to perform other field sobriety tests to gauge your balance, coordination, and ability to follow instructions.
- Depending on performance on field sobriety tests, the officer may then arrest you for DUI.
- After your actual arrest, you may be taken to the police station, where you will be asked to submit to a breath test or blood test to determine your blood alcohol concentration.
- Depending on your blood alcohol test results, the officer's observations, and performance on field sobriety tests, you may face DUI charges.
Officers usually suspect a DUI if they notice abnormal behavior. Observing abnormal behavior provides an officer with "probable cause," which justifies further investigation. An officer can claim probable cause under various circumstances. For example, if an officer notices a pile of empty beer bottles in the back of a suspect's car, the officer can cite probable cause as a justification for further inspection. Or, if they smell alcohol on a person's breath, this is probable cause to start investigating for a DUI violation.
Are Tampa DUI Arrests Challengeable?
DUI arrests can be challenged. In some cases, an officer can violate an individual's rights during the process. Police officers are obligated to protect citizens' rights; if they do anything that violates their rights, the arrest can be challenged. An arrest might also be lawful if a police officer violates the rights of suspect.
Tampa DUI rights violations could include the following:
- Placing a person in the back of a police vehicle or in handcuffs too early
- The officer did not have probable cause to investigate for a DUI
- The officer didn’t have enough evidence to charge a person with a DUI
- The officer did not read a person their Miranda warnings after arresting them
After you are arrested, you will be taken into custody and booked at the police department. Booking ("processing") involves fingerprinting, mug shots, and the recording of details regarding the alleged crime.
Tampa DUI suspects are offered an opportunity to pay money in exchange for their release, a practice known as bail. Bail is typically posted after the booking process is completed. Many times, you are released only if you promise to appear in court for any criminal proceedings that take place after the arrest. The cost of bail will be determined by your previous criminal offenses.
Arraignment refers to a series of courtroom-based proceedings that take place after your arrest and booking. Typically, arraignment is the only time a DUI suspect will appear in court. Often, this is when DUI suspects plead guilty—especially if charges against them involve the injury of another or a high BAC. During the arraignment, a judge conducts court proceedings.
During arraignments, judges do the following:
- Read the charges you face
- Ask if you have an attorney or if you need a court-appointed attorney
- Ask if you plead guilty or not guilty
- Announce the date of any future court proceedings for your case
Defendants have a constitutional right to legal assistance during the arraignment process. This is known as the right to counsel. If the defendant cannot afford to hire professional legal help but wants a lawyer, they may be assigned a government-appointed representative at no cost. These attorneys are known as public defenders.
During a preliminary hearing, the judge decides whether the prosecution has enough evidence to build a convincing case against the defendant. If not, the case will not go to trial. At this point, the judge will decide whether there is enough evidence to reasonably convict the defendant of a Tampa DUI offense. It’s crucial to have an attorney at this point as they’ll work to protect you from facing a trial that uses inadmissible evidence.
What to Expect During a Tampa DUI Preliminary Hearing
During a preliminary hearing, the judge will listen to arguments for and against your case. The prosecutor will present a case attempting to demonstrate your guilt. The defendant will present a case in favor of your innocence, and the judge will determine if there is enough evidence to proceed to an actual trial.
In short, the preliminary hearing is like a trial before the actual trial. During the hearing, a prosecution may produce evidence and call witnesses to testify. Your attorney will most likely cross-examine these witnesses. Any questionable evidence will be brought to the judge's attention by the defense with the hope that the judge will dismiss the case before it is brought to trial.
During a DUI trial, the prosecution must demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the allegations brought against them. The trial is an official opportunity for the government to prove the defendant is guilty. However, the defense will also be given a chance to prove innocence. When both sides have presented all available evidence, a jury will decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
Trials are comprised of six distinct stages:
- Jury Selection
- Opening Statements
- Witness Testimony / Cross-Examination
- Closing Arguments
- Jury Instruction
- Jury Discussion and Verdict
The DUI trial is the most high-profile stage of the process. Many cases never reach trial because too little evidence is presented in the preliminary hearing or because the defendant pleads guilty during the arraignment.
After the Trial: Tampa DUI Appeals
If you have already been convicted, you may decide to appeal your case. An appeal requests that your case be taken to a higher court. If you suspect that certain aspects of your case were not conducted properly, or some type of legal error was made, you may decide to appeal. During an appeal, the defendant is referred to as the appellant. The appellant must put forth an argument that demonstrates key legal mistakes made during the trial that affected the outcome. If done correctly, the appellant's case may be dismissed, or their sentence might be modified.
Understanding DUI Sentencing
If the defendant pleads guilty of driving under the influence, their case will automatically proceed to the sentencing step of the DUI process. There are a variety of penalties that may be imposed after a DUI conviction. Short term incarceration (jail) may be the result of a first-time DUI offense, and long-term incarceration (prison) may result if the motorist has a previous record involving other DUIs.
Additionally, the convicted individual’s license will be suspended or revoked, and their vehicle may be impounded.
Other Tampa DUI penalties may include:
- Community Service
- Drug / Alcohol Education or Rehabilitation
- Installment of a Vehicle Ignition Interlock Device
If You Are Facing Tampa DUI Charges, Seek Immediate Legal Counsel
Being accused of a crime does not mean that you must accept a guilty verdict. A skilled Tampa DUI defense lawyer can evaluate your case and use their experience to find the best possible outcome for your situation.
The Tampa DUI lawyers at Thomas & Paulk have successfully handled thousands of cases, helping our clients protect their future from prosecution. Speak with us today to start building your defense. Our mission is to help clients during one of the most difficult times of their lives and ensure that the court system respects their rights. While we can’t guarantee any results, we can guarantee that our team will fight on your behalf.
If you have been arrested for driving under the influence, contact Thomas & Paulk today at (813) 321-7323.