Will Florida Create a “Reckless Driving Program” For 1st Time DUI Offenders?

Being charged with DUI is a life-changing moment for many of those people that find themselves in court facing the charge. The “oh no, what have I done” thoughts start the minute you see the officer’s lights on behind your car.  You think about where you have been, how many drinks did you actually have, what did you eat, how long had it been since you had your last drink? Next thing you know, the officer is at your window. With every fiber of your being you are thinking “maybe he’s just going to give me a speeding ticket.” Unfortunately, he smells the odor of alcohol and thinks that your eyes are bloodshot. He asks, “have you been drinking this evening?” Oh no, here we go. Do I do the field sobriety exercises? Do I have to do them? Will I lose my license if I don’t? I don’t think I’m that bad off, I think I can pass these. Well, like the vast majority of people who to the field sobriety exercises, you don’t pass them and you find yourself in the back of a police car. Time to head to the jail. Now what – do I do a breath test, or not? Can I say no? How much is .08, really? You blow into the machine and the results are .12. You spend another six hours in the drunk tank at the jail and finally, the nightmare is over…for the time being.

So, what’s going to happen to you?

You’ve never been in trouble before, and you wonder if you’re going to get cut a break. Well, that all depends on where in Florida you live. Currently, there are no statewide diversion programs for first time DUI offenders that get the charges reduced. In certain counties, like Palm Beach for example, the elected State Attorney has created a first-offender reckless driving program. However, if you live in the First Judicial Circuit (Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton), your elected State Attorney takes a firm stance on DUI charges, even for first-time offenders, and offers no such programs. Many of my clients understand that they may have done something wrong, that they made a mistake, and are not looking to get out of the situation without any consequences. Instead, all many of them hope for are a reduction in the charge from DUI to Reckless Driving. There are many reasons why this change can make a big difference. First, you will not get a DUI permanently on your records, which is important for several reasons: if you get a second DUI you may be looking at mandatory jail time, with a DUI conviction you may well not be eligible to travel into countries like Canada, and you may not loose a job that requires you to drive a company car. Secondly, your license will not be revoked, your car will not need to be impounded, and you fines and court costs will be reduced. A third benefit to a reduction in the charge is that you will not be required to buy SR-22 insurance, which will save you tons of money. Oftentimes an experienced DUI lawyer will be able to get your DUI charge in the First Circuit reduced but be sure that it is not without a fight!

Currently, if convicted of a first-time DUI, the best you will be looking at is what is called “minimum firsts.” The Florida legislature has created a set of mandatory conditions of a DUI sentence which include an adjudication of guilt (which means it can never be sealed or expunged), probation, DUI school, a substance abuse evaluation and recommended treatment, 10 day impound of your vehicle, a 6 to 12 month driver’s license revocation, 50 hours of community service work, plus hefty fines and court costs. BUT – things may be changing. This year, HB 1145, sponsored by Rep. Thad Altman from Indialantic, FL, has been approved by a house panel for vote. HB 1145 (and its companion bill SB 1396) would create a statewide diversion program for first time DUI offenders. The idea behind the bill is that each judicial circuit would institute a uniform statewide diversionary program where DUI offenders would get a reduced charge of reckless driving if they complete a series of requirements, such as a substance abuse evaluation, completion of recommended treatment, community service work, and possibly the use of an ignition interlock device in their car for a few months. If you complete the requirements then you get to enter a plea to reckless driving instead of DUI and, importantly, you would also receive a withhold of adjudication so that you would be eligible to have your arrest expunged from your record in due time.

What’s next?

There are some attorneys and law makers in Florida that do not agree that a uniform statewide program needs to be created because there are already programs like this working well in their parts of Florida. However, as a resident and attorney in the First Judicial Circuit, I do not expect that our elected officials will, without a mandate from the legislature, ever create a diversionary program for first time DUI offenders. Whether the diversion program is created or not, it is still incredibly important to contact a veteran DUI lawyer to review your case and guide you through the process.

Call us for a free DUI consultation at (850) 378-3001

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