Getting a DUI in Florida: What to Expect
On November 28, 2010, two days after my 41st birthday, I was at a Christmas festival with my mother. Over the course of the night—about six hours—I proceeded to drink six glasses of wine and a Belgian beer. I then got behind the wheel of my car and drove home. As I was turning into my subdivision I ran my vehicle through a brick wall. The crash was so loud it woke up my entire family (including my two children), who were sleeping four houses down from the scene of the accident. I was so intoxicated that at the time I thought I had run into a bush and was confused as to why the entire front half of my car was smashed in. At this point, you are probably thinking something along the lines of, "What a dumbass" and rightly so. To be honest, anyone who drinks and drives is a bit of an idiot considering the consequences when a $30 cab ride was all it would have taken to avoid the situation. That said, if you find yourself in this situation here is what you have to look forward to over the next year of your life.
At the Scene and Arrest
Once the police are at the scene you will be questioned, handcuffed, and taken down to the station. Here’s what comes next:
The police will ask you to take a breathalyzer test, which I now know is highly inadvisable. In my opinion, if you have had over two drinks, refuse this test. In my case, I was trying to be cooperative and ended blowing a .2 which made it a whole new ballgame.
Once they have determined you are eligible for arrest, you will be put into the "drunk tank" where you will sit for about three hours with anyone else who was arrested that night.
During this time they will also take your mugshot which immediately goes on the Internet.
- You will most likely be asked to change into prison garb at this time, be handcuffed, and taken to general population.
- You will also be asked if you want to have a public defender. I recommend saying no. If you do sign up for this and later change your mind you will be charged $50.
- Eventually you will be allowed to leave. In my case it was 6pm that evening.
You will be allowed to make a phone call which should be to anyone who can and will post bail for you—round $200 to $500 (it is usually 10% of the actual bail).
- At some point during all of this you will appear before a judge who will set your bail and future court date.
By now, some of the shock will be wearing off and the magnitude of your situation will start to set in. Feelings of remorse, guilt, humiliation, and fear will take over.
Hiring a Lawyer
In my opinion, if finances allow it, hire a lawyer immediately.
It will cost around $4500 and may or may not help in the end, but the mental support a lawyer will give you is extremely beneficial to get you through what will probably be one of the most stressful times in your life.
Shop around, as many lawyers will work with you on payment plans. Mine accepted $2000 up front and then deducted $1000 from my total because he was not able to have my charge reduced.
Any form of support during this time will be welcome, as you will soon find out that very few people are going to be sympathetic. Instead, many will be judging you harshly. You will quickly learn who your true friends are.
Losing Your License and Obtaining a Hardship License
About ten days after your DUI, your license will be taken away. Following that, you will have a hearing with the DMV, who will decide if you are able to get it back before your court date or if you will have to apply for a "hardship" license. If you have a lawyer he or she will go to this for you. If you took a breathalyzer and were above the legal limit it is highly unlikely you will get your driving privileges back at this time.
- Regardless of the outcome of the DMV hearing, there is a 30-day sit-out period when you will not be able to drive at all.
During this time you will want to enroll in the eight-hour driving class which costs $250. The DMV will require proof of enrollment before they grant you a hardship license.
- After your 30 days you will call the DMV and set up a formal "hearing." Because Florida has so many DUI cases right now this is done over the phone. The people are very nice and the phone hearing lasts about five minutes, after which you will be able to go down to the DMV and obtain a hardship license. This is going to cost another $244.
- The confusing thing about this phase of your DUI is that no one is going to tell you exactly where you can and cannot drive. Your are absolutely allowed to drive to work and church. Anywhere else—like the grocery store—is up to the officer who pulls you over. This is just one of the many frustrations you will encounter while trying to get through your DUI.
- According to my lawyer, you are absolutely allowed to go to the grocery store but always be sure to get a receipt with the time and date. However, certain police officers would not consider this as something that affects your "livelihood" and would make you appear in court. While most judges will dismiss this, you will still end up paying court costs as well as going through the hassle of another court date. My advice is to drive as little as possible.
You will notice that you get pulled over much more these days because your tag shows that you were arrested for a DUI.
DUI Traffic School and Counseling
I highly recommend enrolling in traffic school for DUI-offenders as soon as you can. Here's what to expect:
- The first step will be an evaluation to determine if you will be ordered to go to counseling. While it is tempting to lie on this evaluation, do not put too much effort into it because it is almost guaranteed that you will be ordered to go to at least three months of therapy.
- As for the eight-hour class you must attend, I personally found it to be very informative and rewarding, though others I talked to felt it was painfully boring. Whatever your feelings are, you have to take it, so get it over with as soon as possible.
- One warning: You will be tested for drug and alcohol use during class so be very careful. If you test positive then you will be thrown out of class and have to pay the fee all over again. While this sounds like common sense, two people in my class were sent home because of drinking so it must not be that obvious to everyone.
Preparing to Go to Court
- Between getting arrested and potentially going to court, your lawyer will be doing "investigation" for your case. This is where he goes over your arrest with a fine-toothed comb, looking for even the slightest mistake made by the police.
- In my case, unfortunately, there was nothing to be found. I have heard, however, that many people get off because the officers didn't have their breathalyzer certification up to date or the machines had glitches.
- This process takes a little over a month and you will be given a report of what was found. Once this is completed you and your lawyer will meet to go over your case and take what he thinks is the best course of action.
- It's important to be realistic and realize your lawyer may be trying to paint a rosier picture than how things actually are. If you blew over a .15 blood-alcohol volume and the police department had all their ducks in a row it is unlikely you are going to get off on a reckless driving charge.
- Your lawyer will most likely try to persuade the prosecution to drop your charges to the penalty for a .15 or below. If you blew a .20 or above, however, there is no hope that this will happen unless there were serious mistakes on the police department's end.
Taking a Plea or Going to Trial
Your lawyer will have a meeting with the prosecution to determine if you will plead guilty and take a or go to trial. Generally, the sentence you receive in exchange for the plea will be less than what you'd receive if found guilty at trial.
- This is where having a lawyer who is rooted in the community and has a lot of connections could be very beneficial. If your lawyer is dealing with friends your chances of a good plea deal are much higher. This was not the case in my situation.
- Take the time to find out who your judge is, as there is a huge variety of opinions on drunk drivers in the courts. My judge considered DUI offenders up there with animal- and child- abusers so I was walking a very thin line.
I was given no breaks despite never having a ticket in my life prior to this DUI. Had I gone to trial I most likely would have had to serve jail time because the judge felt she needed to make examples of people like me. Thus it was in my best interest to accept a plea bargain.
Going to Court
I would advise you not to put off your court date for two reasons:
- First, the judges seem to find people who clog up the courts with rescheduling bothersome and will be less lenient in the long run.
- Second, your sentence starts the day of your hearing, not the day of your DUI, so it is best to get it over with and move on.
Although the court hearing is brief and really not a huge deal, I found it somewhat traumatic and mentally draining. Standing in front of a courtroom full of people and a judge while saying, "Guilty, Your Honor," and then hearing a long list of punishments was hard. That being said, it's also the beginning of the end, so it's a huge milestone in your DUI.
Here is the punishment I received and what you can expect for a first-time DUI with a high blood alcohol level of .15 or above:
Three months of counseling at $135 per month.
12 mandatory Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Required to call a number on Sunday through Thursday to see if I was to report for a random alcohol test the next morning. You will be assigned a color and if your color is called you must go the next day for a urine test and pay $15. My color comes up at least once a week, but I think this is unusual because many people report only having to do this twice a month
Installment of an ignition interlock breathalyzer on my car for six months. This is $160 to install which includes the first-month fee, and then $72.50 per month.
Required to have FR 44 insurance for three years at $244 per month.
Required to have my car immobilized for ten days for $100
Fifty hours of community service. I did mine at Goodwill which clocks every single second. I have heard that parks-and-recreation departments are much more lax.
A $1000 fine.
$834 in court costs.
Meet with a probation officer monthly. This cost $70 for the first time and $55 every time after.
Take a two-hour victims awareness class for $40
- No alcohol for six months to a year
- License revoked immediately after court. Applying for a new hardship license cost $100.
One frustrating thing about all of this is that you are going to be required to start doing a lot of this immediately, like calling in and appearing for alcohol testing as well as meeting your probation officer. But you are not allowed to drive. It is what it is. The court has absolutely no concern for your convenience. My advice is just to accept it and figure something out. At first I was angry over the injustice of this but it didn't change a thing and I simply had to find someone willing to drive me around. Planning ahead can go a long way in reducing stress while you're on probation.
Tips for Carrying Out the Sentence
The punishment I received had to be completed in a year, but if I finished everything by the six-month mark I could be released from my probation at that time. My sentence was fairly typical, though I have had heard of worse, such as two years of driving with an ignition breathalyzer, a $2000 fine, and 150 hours of community service, all for a first-time DUI. On the other hand, if you blew below the .15 mark you most likely will not have to have the interlock device or have to call in nightly.
As for the punishments, they are all punitive. You will quickly realize DUIs are all about money rather than rehabilitation.
- The group therapy is a joke. Our money is collected, we take roll, we read an article out of the paper, and then we go home.
- The ignition breathalyzer is a bit of a nightmare, but I am learning to deal with it. It has a lot of quirks and it not incredibly reliable. That being said. if you have to have one on your car I would advise you to learn how to use it and drive only when necessary.
- My probation officer does nothing but collect my money and say, "I don't know" to any question I ask.
- Community service really isn't too bad. My suggestion is to see what is out there and go with an organization that supports something you believe in. It doesn't have to be picking up trash on the side of the road. A lot of people actually end up finding employment from their community-service hours, so don't just write it off as something dreadful.
- One thing no one explained to me was that your license revocation ends before your probation does. In August I will be able to drive freely again despite the fact that I will have one more month of the interlock device on my car, as well as having to do my other probation requirements.
- The time you are required to have the interlock on your car actually starts once you get your hardship license—which you cannot get without the interlock—not the date when the device is installed. My original plan was to have the device installed and simply not drive for six months. Unfortunately this isn't how it works.
- Just getting started on your sentence is going to cost you around $500, so be prepared.
- For your own peace of mind, get started fulfilling your sentence as soon as possible so that you feel like you are making progress towards completing this nightmare. I personally knocked my community service out first because it was free to do and I felt a huge relief when I was done. I then had the interlock installed and got my hardship license so that I could have a definite date that I knew it would be over. Next, I figure I will knock out having my car impounded for 10 days, though I'm still not sure what purpose this punishment serves except to have you spend more money.
- One last warning: You will need to shop around immediately for your FR 44 insurance because the DMV will charge you an additional $150 to get your hardship license if you do not get this within about a month. There is a huge variety of prices out there. Some insurance companies will quote you $2500 up front every six months, while others will charge you around $200 a month without having to pay a huge up-front cost.
Final Thoughts: Staying Positive and Moving On
In the end, if I can at least make this awful experience a little easier for anyone I will be happy. Here's what I've learned:
- From my experience, the best asset you can have is perspective. I had to start seeing my arrest as a blessing in disguise. I could have killed someone or myself and since I'll never do this again, I now will never have to live with that.
- I personally have stopped drinking which has created its own benefits in my life. This combined with the fact that I am actually getting through everything without a nervous breakdown (yet) has made me a much stronger and resourceful person. I rarely judge people anymore as I have been so harshly judged during this whole process.
- You will get through this, but it takes diligence and the right attitude. Learn from it and make sure you have a plan going forward when you are in situations that involve alcohol and driving. I met plenty of people along the way who were arrested for sleeping drunk in their cars simply because they had their keys on them. I also met a lot of people who were on their second or third DUI. The return rate for offenders is somewhere around 40%. This is partially due to the fact you will find yourself profiled by police from here on out and have a much higher chance of getting pulled over after your first DUI.
- Realize that as bad as your situation is, it could always be worse. Learn to say "it is what it is" and move on. I wasted a lot of energy getting angry over the fact that the laws were set up solely to punish and make money off drunk drivers as opposed to rehabilitating them to prevent future occurrences. I eventually realized that unless I wanted to get involved with trying to fight them I needed to just accept what I had to do and get on with my life.
As horrible and hopeless as it seems you will get through it, as countless others have. Your job now is to make sure it never happens again. Sometimes the worst things in life are actually the best things in life; it just depends on how you look at them.
Before you leave a nasty comment on what a horrible person I am for driving drunk, please save your energy. I have felt every angle of remorse, guilt, and shame possible. I am fully aware of what I did and accept full responsibility for my actions, and have learned from my mistake.
ps- If you feel compelled to leave a nasty comment on what a horrible person I am and how I deserve to burn in hell for driving drunk- please save your energy. I have felt every angle of remorse, guilt and shame over this possible. I am fully aware of what I did and accept full responsibility for my actions.