Defending DUI in Tampa, Florida

Our Tampa DUI attorneys are both former prosecutors who have handled thousands of cases. We have the experience necessary to defend your case.

Tampa DUI Attorneys

Put Former Prosecutors in Your Corner

Getting arrested for a DUI in Tampa can ruin someone’s work prospects, render them unable to get an education, and limit a person’s options for months, even years. Pleading guilty without consulting an attorney only makes life easier for the prosecutor; for you, it may make life worse.

You deserve to have a skilled Tampa DUI attorney. At Thomas & Paulk, our Tampa DUI defense lawyers have handled 7,000+ criminal cases throughout our legal careers. Backed by more than two decades of experience, we are heavyweights in the courtroom. As proven advocates, you can trust us to protect your rights as we fight of reduced charges, dismissal of your case, or complete acquittal. Whatever path is best for your future, we’ll make sure to give you the strongest possible chance of success.

Call Us After Being Arrested for DUI in Tampa, FL

At Thomas & Paulk, our team consists of Tampa DUI defense lawyers who have helped protect the rights of individuals throughout the Tampa area and all of Florida. No matter whether you have been arrested after "failing" a breath test or if you are looking to challenge the field sobriety test, you can be confident knowing we have the experience necessary to protect you.

By reaching out to our Tampa DUI law firm, you can work with a team that:

  • Has handled 7,000+ criminal cases
  • Is available 24/7
  • Offers free and confidential consultations
  • Has extensive trial experience

If you or someone you love are facing serious criminal charges, you don’t have a moment to lose! Call (813) 321-7323 for your free consultation.

What Happens When You Get a DUI in Tampa, Florida

A DUI conviction under Section 316.193 of the Florida Statutes is a criminal offense. Meaning, if you’re convicted, you will have a criminal record, which in itself leads to a host of consequences. If you’re considering pleading guilty to DUI or forgoing legal representation, we want you to know all the facts.

The following is how a DUI conviction can impact your life for many years to come:

  • Immigration: Generally, a first DUI will not lead to removal proceedings for a lawful permanent resident; however, a drug-related DUI or a felony DUI can lead to deportation.
  • Traveling Abroad: While a DUI should not affect a U.S. citizen’s ability to obtain a U.S. passport, other countries may not let the person into their country with a recent DUI conviction.
  • Employment Opportunities: Like most states, Florida is an at-will-employment state, which means an employer can fire an employee for any reason with the exception of discrimination. An employer is within their legal right to terminate an employee if he or she is arrested for DUI.
  • Professional Licenses: A DUI conviction can affect one’s ability to obtain a professional license, depending on the profession and the specific circumstances at hand.
  • Higher Education: A criminal conviction, including one for a DUI can affect one’s ability to gain entrance into certain colleges. Most colleges have similar policies regarding records.

What You Need to Know About a Florida DUI

Our law firm has compiled a list of the top things that you need to know about a Florida DUI. If you have further questions, contact our firm for help!

  • You can get a DUI with a BAL under 0.08%.
    Under Section 316.193(a), a person can also get a DUI if they drive under the influence of any amount of alcohol or drugs and their normal faculties are impaired.
  • You can get a DUI without driving.
    Under Section 316.193(2), you can get a DUI if you are under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a chemical substance and you are under “actual physical control” of a vehicle. Meaning, if you’re in actual physical control of a vehicle but not driving under the influence, you can still get a DUI.

  • If you refuse a chemical test, your license will be suspended.
    Once you receive a Florida license, you agree to consent to a chemical test when a police officer asks you to take one. If you are asked to take a chemical test during a DUI stop and you refuse, your driver’s license will be automatically suspended, even if you had nothing to drink.

  • Most first DUIs are misdemeanors.
    Usually, a first or second DUI is a misdemeanor. However, even a first DUI can be a felony if it involves a hit-and-run, severe property damage, or if someone suffers serious injuries or death.

  • Many people do not qualify for a public defender.
    Not everyone qualifies for a public defender. You have to meet state eligibility requirements, which means you must have low income and assets. In Florida, there is a presumption an applicant is not indigent if he or she owns, or has equity in any intangible or tangible real estate or personal property with a net equity value of $2,500 or more, with certain exclusions.

  • A DUI conviction could impact your child custody case.
    Can a DUI have an impact on a child custody case? Yes, absolutely, especially if it’s a drug-related DUI, or a second or subsequent offense. Family law judges have broad discretion in child custody cases. If it’s very close, a recent DUI can tip the scales in the other parent’s favor.

  • A DUI can damage your credit.
    If you have to rely on credit cards to pay your fines, the costs of an Ignition Interlock Device, DUI school fees, and so on, the hefty credit card balances could affect your credit utilization ratio, and your FICO score. Additionally, if you fail to pay a court-ordered fine, it could go to collections.

Other Helpful Resources

Understanding DUI Traffic Stops in Florida

Despite popular belief, a police officer is not able to pull over a driver without reason. There are specific guidelines that govern the actions of police. If they do not abide by them, their arrest could be considered unlawful and therefore invalid. To pull over a driver, an officer must have “reasonable suspicion.” Having a “reasonable suspicion” means your officer has reason to suspect you were committing a crime or traffic violation. Reasonable suspicion is a lower standard than probable cause, which is what an officer must establish in order to search your vehicle or make an arrest.

Common grounds for reasonable suspicion typically involve:

  • Speeding above the limit
  • Driving with broken lights
  • Having unrepaired body damage
  • Failing to use turn signals
  • Unsafe lane changes
  • Expired license plates
  • Having a loud exhaust
  • Failing to abide by all traffic signs

If they observed something of this nature, they would have lawful grounds to perform a traffic stop. If, however, they did fabricate an excuse to perform the DUI traffic stop, you could challenge the arrest and could work to get the charges dismissed or the penalties greatly reduced.

What to Do If You Are Stopped for DUI

One of the trickiest areas associated with DUI is what to do if pulled over for suspected drunk driving. What should you say? What shouldn't you say? Do you have to agree to field sobriety testing? What happens if you refuse a roadside breath test? Just as with any criminal case, you have legal rights if you are pulled over by a police officer who believes you are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Exercising your rights to the fullest extent is one of the most important things you can do to limit the evidence the officer is able to gather against you.

The following are some helpful tips regarding your rights in the event of a DUI stop:

  • You Have the Right to Remain Silent

    You are not obligated to answer any questions about where you were going, how much you have had to drink, etc. You must provide your license and registration when asked, but you do not have to answer any other questions. At this point, the officer is simply trying to ascertain whether you are intoxicated. Any statements you make may be used against you in court. It is best to politely refuse questions of this nature.

  • Remain Calm & Be Polite When Dealing with the Officer

    Being rude or disrespectful to a police officer is never a good idea. The worst thing you can do is attempt to evade a police officer when you see sirens. Pull over, remain calm and be polite while communicating with the officer. If you are arrested, do not resist. Verbal or physical resistance can result in additional criminal charges for resisting arrest. You can always contest your arrest later, but not in the moment.

  • Don't Flee the Scene of a DUI Stop!

    According to the §316.1935 of the Florida Statutes, the failure to stop or remain stopped upon order of a police officer is against the law. Fleeing and eluding is a serious criminal offense with felony penalties that include license revocation. In the past, fleeing was considered a misdemeanor unless the defendant was part of a high-speed chase or there were other aggravating factors in the case. Criminal penalties relating to eluding include imprisonment for a minimum of three years, and a minimum of a one-year license suspension.

  • Involve a Tampa DUI Defense Attorney

    The attorneys at Thomas & Paulk can investigate your case to determine possible defense strategies. We will look at your case from every angle to determine whether the arresting officer had a sufficient reason to pull you over. If we are able to challenge the lawfulness of the initial stop, this may have a domino effect on the rest of your case, resulting in a dismissal.

Tampa DUI Accidents

Driving under the influence is a serious charge. When DUI causes serious injury or death, an already-serious charge often becomes a felony. Any person who is charged with causing injury or death while under the influence requires the help of an experienced attorney.

Without a proven attorney, people accused of causing car crashes while under the influence are vulnerable to getting a felony conviction. Even in cases where the driver was not the cause of the accident, they may come under suspicion or be found guilty if they had alcohol in their system.

DUI Causing Property Damage

A first DUI can lead to as much as half a year in jail, in addition to $500 in fines. Penalties will automatically be increased when the offense causes damage to another person's property. Property damage can be incurred in a DUI accident or in a collision with any other property.

With charges of property damage, a first DUI can result in the following:

DUI Causing Serious Bodily Injury & the Burden of Proof

Serious bodily injury is defined as any injury that causes a physical condition that creates a risk of personal disfigurement or death, or the risk of a loss or impairment of any bodily member’s or organ’s function. A serious injury caused by a car accident could include dismemberment, spinal cord damage, or even traumatic brain injury. When these types of injuries are a factor in a DUI case, defendants face harsher penalties.

In any criminal case, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution, not the defendant. The legal theory of “burden of proof” also holds that a person disputing a fact is not obligated to provide evidence that supports the fact they do not support. In other words, the accused is not obligated to provide evidence that weakens their case. The responsibility to provide evidence is with the prosecutor.

It will be the job of the prosecution to prove the following:

  • You were driving the vehicle
  • You had a BAL over 0.08 percent or were impaired
  • You caused the car accident
  • The victim was injured
  • Their injuries were caused by the accident

Types of DUI injury cases include the following:

  • DUI Causing Injury: Generally a felony offense, DUI causing injury may be punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. The driver must be found guilty of not only driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs but also of causing the accident.

  • DUI Manslaughter: Often referred to as vehicular manslaughter, this involved killing another person by causing an accident while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This felony offense may be punishable by up to 15 to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

  • Hit & Run: Leaving the scene of an accident may or may not be directly related to drunk driving. A driver who stands accused of leaving the scene of an accident may face felony hit and run charges, especially if charged in tandem with a DUI. DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of the accident is a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a fine of $10,000.

Reasonable Force for Drug & Alcohol Tests

Any DUI that resulted in a serious bodily injury will allow law enforcement officers to use reasonable force to require a person to submit to a blood test to determine their blood alcohol level at the time of the accident. However, the legality of these practices is under debate. The law only provides guidelines for what is a serious bodily injury—not a solid outline of the types of injuries that qualify.

As a result, the case will hinge on the medical judgment of the arresting officer. In State v. Schreiber, the arresting officer took a forced draw after he failed to read the defendant her rights. It was later determined in court that the injuries experienced during the accident did not qualify as serious bodily injuries. The resulting blood draws were therefore suppressed and not used against the defendant.

Drugged Driving (DUID) in Tampa

DUI charges are not limited to people accused of driving drunk. Florida laws are equally harsh on those found to be driving under the influence of drugs (DUID). Also known as drugged driving, these charges are a result of the use of drugs while driving. This applies to both illicit and prescribed drugs. Many drivers are lured into a false sense of security about their use of prescription drugs and fail to exercise caution when getting behind the wheel. However, prescription drugs are treated similarly to alcohol in charges of DUI, if they impaired a driver's abilities.

What Is Drugged Driving Under Florida Law?

According to Florida law, drugged driving occurs when a person is in “actual physical control" while operating a vehicle under the influence of “controlled substances" or “harmful chemicals." While it might sound strange, the phrase “actual physical control" means that a driver is in a vehicle and can maneuver it. This phrasing is important because it means a person can be charged with DUID even if they are not driving their vehicle. Sitting in the driver’s seat of a vehicle while under the influence is means a person can receive a DUID.

Florida Penalties for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

Just as with drunk driving penalties, Florida DUID penalties can increase based on how many offenses a person has committed in the past. However, since DUID charges involve illegal substances, they’re almost always accompanied by other possession or trafficking offenses.

General penalties for DUID in Florida include:

  • First offense: Up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines
  • Second offense: Up to nine months in jail and $2,000 in fines
  • Third offense: Up to five years in prison and $5,000 in fines.

If a person commits their third DUID offense within ten years of a prior conviction, they also can have their license revoked for at least 10 years.

High-Quality Defense Against Charges of Drugged Driving

It can be challenging to tell if a driver is under the influence of drugs while driving. While a breath test can be used to estimate the blood alcohol level, there is no simple roadside test which can do the same for drugs. Instead, cases involving DUID will rely on different tests.

For some cases, the testimony of the arresting officer will be the strongest evidence presented by the prosecution. The officer will testify about the defendant’s behavior and will discuss any signs of being under the influence of drugs that were exhibited. This testimony could be corroborated by evidence gathered during the administration of field sobriety tests.

These pieces of evidence, however, are notoriously unreliable and subjective. Therefore, many drugged driving cases will turn to evidence obtained from blood and urine tests. These options are viewed as the most accurate way to determine how much of the drug was in the defendant's blood system. However, these tests may also be faulty or unreliable.

For example, urine tests are only useful for determining if drugs were used, not when they were used. These tests may detect drugs that were used previously but do not necessarily prove that the driver was impaired at the time of arrest.

Other defenses used to fight drug test evidence include:

  • An improperly administered field sobriety test
  • A drug test that was administered by an untrained or unqualified individual
  • A mishandled blood or urine sample
  • Inaccurate drug test results
  • Drugs or drug paraphernalia discovered by an illegal search
  • An unlawful arrest

What to Expect If Convicted of DUI in Tampa

A person who has been convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) in the state of Florida will face a variety of legal consequences that may affect virtually every area of their life.

DUI charges may be accompanied with the following consequences:

  • Imprisonment
  • Monetary Fines
  • Community Service
  • Driver's License Suspension
  • Vehicle Impoundment
  • DUI School

First-time offenders should know their case may qualify for the Hillsborough County Reducing Impaired Driving Recidivism (RIDR) initiative. Under RIDR, a person charged with a first DUI may be able to lower their charges. However, you should talk to a DUI attorney before making a final decision.

Reckless Driving & DUI Charges

Reckless driving can cause major accidents. Under §316.192 of the Florida Statutes, it is a criminal offense to operate a motor vehicle recklessly, with "willful or wanton disregard" for public safety. This includes fleeing from a police officer. Reckless driving charges are often included with DUI charges to increase penalties and intimidate suspects into taking a plea deal. Reckless driving and DUI charges can lead to serious consequences.

The first conviction of this criminal act will result in the following penalties:

  • Imprisonment for up to 90 days; and/or
  • Monetary fine between $25 and $500

For a second conviction, there are more severe penalties:

  • Imprisonment for up to 6 months; and/or
  • Monetary fine between $50 and $1000.

These charges can escalate depending on the circumstances of the arrest. For example, someone who caused property damage or serious bodily injury would be facing a first-degree misdemeanor or third-degree felony. If the defendant was driving while drunk or drugged, penalties could include mandatory completion of a DUI substance abuse education course. The defendant would be in charge of paying the fees for the DUI program.

Why You Need a Tampa DUI Lawyer

There are a variety of ways to challenge DUI charges; however, to have a successful outcome, you will need the help of an attorney. When you are looking for a Tampa DUI attorney, the most important things you can do is to take your time to do research. Don’t just accept an attorney at face value. Every lawyer out there is trying to get your business, but you also need to ensure that the attorney you choose will put your interest’s first and has the qualifications to deliver the best possible results.

Some questions to ask a Tampa DUI defense attorney during an interview:

  • How many years of actual legal experience do you have?
  • How many DUI cases have you handled before? Can you give examples?
  • Briefly, can you explain how you would handle my case?
  • How will I be involved during the proceedings?
  • What will you do to keep me informed and involved?
  • What will our fee arrangement be? How much can I expect to pay?

The Cost of Hiring a Tampa DUI Attorney

One of the main concerns for offenders is how much it will cost to hire a Tampa DUI lawyer. Most people recognize the benefits of experienced legal representation, but some people chose to find a lawyer who offers the “lowest-price” in hopes to save money. Unfortunately, what most people don’t realize is that while they might save a little money at first, they are risking the outcome of their case.

There’s a saying around courthouses: “There’s nothing more expensive than a cheap lawyer.”

Being convicted of a DUI is not a cheap ordeal. Not taking into consideration penalties like jail time, it is important to recognize just how much it could cost you to be convicted. Take for example simple fees. DUI can result in penalties that start at $500 to $5,000. Under Florida Statutes §316.193 (2012), fines depend on a variety of factors, including your BAC when pulled over, as well as any prior convictions.

Other DUI Costs Aside from Fines

Most people think fines are the only financial impact a DUI will have, but this is only the starting point. Other costs includes to get a car back after it has been impounded. Depending on how long the car was there, it can cost $200 or more. If the car has been immobilized between 10 to 30 days, it will cost $10 a day; therefore, if you had a car immobilized for 30 days, it could cost $300.

Another cost that has financial impacts is mandatory installation of the ignition interlock device (IID). For those with prior convictions or those with high BAC, the court may require an IID. This can cost $200 for the installation alone and $75 a month for regular maintenance and calibration.

As the IID can be required anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. DUI charges can also greatly affect the cost of insurance. For 3 years after a conviction, you will need to get FR-44 insurance with increased coverage; this will have the requirements of maximum coverage. In most cases, insurance with full coverage will cost two or even three times the cost of the pre-DUI policy.

None of this takes into account the cost of traveling to court, lost work time, and the opportunity cost of having your time and energy taken up by court. Combined with fines, losing a DUI case or pleading guilty is often far more expensive than the cost of a good attorney.

Common Questions About DUI in Tampa

Will I go to jail for a DUI?

Possibly. For a first-time DUI offense, you will probably NOT go to jail unless you caused an accident that resulted in the injury or death of another person. Most people who serve time in jail for DUI are repeat offenders with multiple convictions.

If I get arrested for DUI, will I lose my license?

Yes, you will. As soon as you are arrested for DUI, your license will automatically be suspended for six months, and you will be issued a temporary permit for 10 days. You have ten days from the date of your arrest to schedule a hearing with the Florida DMV. At this hearing, you and your attorney will have the opportunity to challenge your driving suspension and win back your driving privileges. At the hearing, a representative will evaluate testimony, facts, and evidence to determine whether your driving privileges will remain suspended or be reinstated.

What other penalties do I face if convicted of DUI in Tampa?

You could face a variety of other penalties for DUI, including steep monetary fines, probation, community service, mandatory alcohol treatment programs, rehabilitation, restitution, time in prison, and a mark on your permanent record. Your vehicle may also be impounded, and you may be required to get an ignition interlock device installed in your car. Furthermore, many people with DUI convictions are also subjected to social ostracism, limited future opportunities, damaged reputations, strained personal relationships, and loss of community. If you are convicted of DUI, an experienced attorney can negotiate with judges and prosecutors to try and lessen or reduce these penalties.

What is BAC?

BAC is short for blood alcohol content. Blood alcohol content is the amount alcohol found in a person’s blood after consuming alcohol. In the state of Florida, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle if BAC levels are more than 0.08%. If an individual is under the age of 21, they cannot have a BAC level higher than 0.01%. If a person is caught driving with a BAC level above or exceeding the legal limit, then they will be arrested and charged with DUI.

Can I refuse a breathalyzer test?

Yes, you can. However, if you refuse to take a breathalyzer test and are later convicted of DUI, you could lose your license for one year and may be subjected to harsher legal punishment. However, there are some advantages to refusing the test. If you take the breathalyzer and fail, your license will be suspended, and there is now more evidence to use against you in court.

By declining the test, it will be harder for the prosecution to prove your BAC limit was above 0.08%. It is important to remember that refusing a blood test could have negative repercussions if your DUI charges are upheld.

Are field sobriety tests and breathalyzers accurate?

No, field sobriety tests are not. Many attorneys use the argument that these tests are not 100% accurate as a defense tactic to fight charges. Also, many attorneys assert that these tests are subjective and designed for failure. Multiple extenuating circumstances could cause a scared, sick, or disabled driver to appear intoxicated, even if they are sober. Furthermore, breath tests are not foolproof. Several factors can cause the machine to give inaccurate readings, such as malfunctions, radio frequency interference, or unqualified or inexperienced use of the machine.

If I my driver’s license gets suspended, how will I get to work?

If your driver’s license has been suspended you may be able to obtain a hardship license, which typically permits you to drive to work, school, medical appointments, and other necessary errands. Before granting a hardship license, the judge will consider the circumstances surrounding your case and if you have any prior DUI charges or other convictions. If this is your first offense, you most likely will be granted a hardship license. However, if you get caught driving outside the limitations of your hardship license, then you will face much harsher penalties.

What is an ignition interlock device?

An ignition interlock device is essentially a breathalyzer installed in the dashboard of a car. Before your car turns on, you must breathe into the device. If the amount of alcohol on your breath exceeds the legal limit, the engine will not start. Furthermore, once you start driving, you will randomly be required to provide additional breath samples to make sure there is still no alcohol in your system. If you fail to provide a breath sample or your BAC is above the legal limit, an alarm will go off until the ignition is turned off. Also, the device keeps a log of its activity. This log is printed out at specified intervals, during which authorities may review it. If any violations are detected, you will face additional penalties.

Building an Effective Tampa DUI Defense Strategy

If you've been arrested, you may think that there is no hope for your case. However, there are various factors that a skilled attorney can leverage as they fight for reduced charges, acquittal, or dismissal.

Some of these factors include:

  • Being unlawfully stopped by law enforcement
  • Being arrested without the officer establishing probable cause
  • An improperly administered field sobriety, blood, or breath test
  • Officers incorrectly administering a forced blood draw

These issues may disqualify the evidence against you. With the help of expert witnesses and a skillful cross-examination, your attorney may be able to show the judge and jury that the evidence against you is inadmissible or does not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

After a person has been charged with or arrested for DUI, it is imperative that they consult a skilled attorney. A Tampa DUI defense lawyer can get involved from the onset of the legal process and provide insight and direction as the person's case progresses. Additionally, an attorney can negotiate with judges and prosecutors to have the person's criminal charges reduced—or, in some cases, dismissed.

Call Our Tampa DUI Defense Attorneys: (813) 321-7323

If you have been arrested, we encourage you to get the involvement of our Tampa DUI lawyers to learn how we can fight for you. We are well-known for our experience in this area of the law. We are tough advocates for the rights of our clients and will go above and beyond in our efforts to help them seek the best future that they deserve. Read through our case results to see the countless victories that we have obtained over the years. If you would like to meet with our firm to discuss your case, just contact us today by calling or taking advantage of our online case evaluation form.

Contact our Tampa DUI lawyers for a free case review: (813) 321-7323!

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DUI Defense in Florida

At Thomas & Paulk, one of our primary focuses is on the defense of DUI charges. In fact, we are recognized throughout the Tampa area as one of the premier DUI defense law firms. Our team is well-versed in this area of the law and has a wide-expanse of experience in helping our clients fight against such charges.

It doesn’t matter if this is your first offense or your third, you can count on our firm to have the experience to protect your legal rights. Often, our defense starts with recounting with you how the police officer came to stop you in the first place and how he or she came to believe you may be under the influence of alcohol. If the stop was illegal, or the tests were improperly administered, we may be able to argue for the dismissal of that evidence in court, helping your chances of a dropped charge.

The important thing is that you act quickly. Criminal cases involving charges of drinking and driving are serious and they can move fast. You cannot afford to wait or ignore your charges. You need a legal professional on your side who truly understands what you're facing so that they can offer you experience counsel and sound advice. To learn more about how a lawyer like this can assist with your case, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible. Call our Tampa DUI defense attorneys at Thomas & Paulk today to schedule an initial consultation. This is a completely free, confidential appointment for you to tell us your side of the story.

  • If you're arrested for DUI, you only have 10 days to schedule a DMV hearing where you can fight to save your license.
  • A blood alcohol reading of 0.15% or more can warrant an aggravated DUI charge with harsher penalties.
  • Each year, Hillsborough County issues around 4,000 DUI citations. Out of these, more than 3,000 are found guilty.
  • Per Florida's zero-tolerance policy, anyone under the age of 21 who tests positive for any measurable blood alcohol can be charged with DUI.