How Exactly Is A DUI Defined Under Florida State Law?

There are two ways for the State to prove a DUI in the State of Florida. The first way is by showing that a person was driving with a breath or blood alcohol concentration above 0.08. If a person was above that level, then they will be considered guilty of DUI, regardless of whether they were actually impaired. The second way to prove a DUI case is by showing that a person met the statutory definition of DUI, which means they were “under the influence of alcohol to the extent that their normal faculties were impaired.” This is sometimes referred to as “common law” DUI.

In a common law DUI case, based on all available evidence, including video footage, audio recordings, and any admissions made, jurors will decide whether or not someone met the definition of DUI. This means that even in the absence of a valid breath test result showing a breath alcohol concentration above 0.08, the state can try to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol. For example, if a person admitted to having consumed a whole 12 pack of beer, then they might be proved guilty of DUI beyond a reasonable doubt, regardless of whether they passed the field sobriety tests.

What Happens Once Someone Is Pulled Over On Suspicion Of DUI In Florida?

In most cases, the initial stop that leads to a DUI arrest is based on a traffic infraction, such as crossing the lane line, driving too slowly, or failing to stop at a stop sign. If the officer smells alcohol during the stop, then they will likely make their decision to arrest based on that observation and nothing more. However, most officers will make inquiries, such as by asking the driver, “How much alcohol have you had tonight?” They phrase the question this way because they assume that the driver has been drinking; this however, is not always a correct assumption. For example, a person who smells of alcohol could have only had a non-alcoholic beverage, since the smell associated with alcohol is not ethanol itself, but the “congeners” which are the byproducts of the fermentation process. For this reason, the odor of alcohol does not always indicate the consumption of an alcoholic beverage.

The officer will likely ask the suspect to step out of the car so they can observe how well they are able to balance and how coordinated they seem to be. If the officer sees that the person has to hold the side of the car to steady themselves as they stand up, then the officer might consider that to be a sign of intoxication. The truth is that regardless of whether someone is intoxicated, it's nearly impossible to get out of a low car without using it to stand up. It should also be known that if an officer asks someone to step out of their car and take field sobriety tests, then they've already decided to make an arrest.

Field sobriety tests are grossly biased in favor of arrest, and virtually everyone who has any amount of alcohol in their system whatsoever will be arrested. In fact, I probably receive at least 10 cases a year involving a client who failed the field sobriety tests but was below the legal level for alcohol. There are three standardized field sobriety tests. These are the tests which the U.S. Department of Transportation considers “validated.” They are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, the Walk-And-Turn test, and the One-Leg-Stand test. The HGN test is the only one that is even remotely scientific, and it is basically an attempt to observe whether a person's eyeballs jerk while following an object in front of them. If so, then it is usually taken as a sign of intoxication by alcohol. The Walk-And-Turn and One-Leg-Stand test are designed to see how well a person can multitask and follow complicated instructions while standing in an unnatural position and trying to balance heel to toe. The truth of the matter is that almost everyone fails those tests, and they are primarily used by police officers who want to confirm their initial reason for asking the person to step out of their vehicle.

For more information on DUI Charges In The State Of Florida, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (941) 219-5553 today. 

Board Certification in DUI Defense

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Tom Hudson passed the National Board Certification Examination (written and oral) in Honolulu in 2008, and was recertified in 2013. He was one of the first 50 lawyers granted national board certification in DUI Defense, and is nationally recognized as an authority in DUI law.

Why We're Different

Board Certification as a DUI Specialist by the National College for DUI Defense. Formal NHTSA Certification as an Instructor of the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests given by police in DUI cases. Formal training as a NHTSA Drug Recognition Evaluator. ("Drug Evaluation & Classification") Formal training to operate the Intoxilyzer 8000, Florida's official breath test instrument. Extensive experience in teaching other attorneys how to handle DUI cases. Hundreds of jury trials both as defense lawyer and as prosecutor. Florida's State Delegate to the National College for DUI Defense.