Will Florida create a “reckless driving program” for first-time DUI offenders?

Will Florida create a "reckless driving program" for first-time DUI offenders?

Will Florida create a “reckless driving program” for first-time DUI offenders?

Being charged with DUI is a life-changing moment for many people who face the charge in court. The “oh no, what have I done” thoughts start when you see the officer’s lights on behind your car. You think about where you have been, how many drinks you had, what you ate, and how long it has 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 most people who do 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? 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’ll 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, the elected State Attorney has created a first-offender reckless driving program. However, suppose you live in the First Judicial Circuit (Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton). In that case, 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, made a mistake, and are not looking to get out of the situation without any consequences. Instead, many hope for 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 record, 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 to countries like Canada, and you may not lose a job that requires you to drive a company car. Secondly, the judge will not revoke your license, your vehicle will not be immobilized, and your fines and court costs will be reduced. The third benefit to reducing the charge is that you will not be required to buy SR-44 insurance, saving you tons of money. Often 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 “minimum firsts.” The Florida legislature has created a set of mandatory conditions of a DUI sentence. This sentence includes an adjudication of guilt (which means it can never be sealed or expunged) and probation. The conditions of probation will include DUI school, a substance abuse evaluation and recommended treatment, ten-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 a 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. These requirements would be a substance abuse evaluation, completion of recommended treatment, community service work, and possibly using an ignition interlock device in their car for a few months. If you complete the requirements, you get to enter a plea for reckless driving instead of DUI. You would also receive a withhold of adjudication, so you would be eligible to have your arrest expunged from your record in due time.

What’s next?

Some attorneys and lawmakers in Florida 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 ever create a diversionary program for first-time DUI offenders without a mandate from the legislature. Whether the legislature makes a DUI diversion program 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.



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