If you’re visiting South Florida this spring break, the last souvenir you want to bring back is a DUI charge. If this is the situation in which you find yourself, our longtime Fort Lauderdale DUI defense lawyers can help.
Last spring was fairly abysmal for an annual spring break season in Florida, but this year is looking up. Some hotels are reporting 75-80 percent capacity, as many folks venture out for the first time in more than a year. Florida is especially popular right now because it hasn’t been as rigorous in its enforcement of health and safety measures as other states, and people from all over the country are looking for a more relaxed change of scenery.
South Beach, Fort Lauderdale and the Florida Keys remain a top spring break destination in the U.S. If you are arrested for DUI here, you could be facing substantial penalties, so it’s important to work with a local criminal defense attorney well-versed in state law and local processes and who has successfully represented numerous people arrested while visiting from out-of-town.
Know the Crimes
It’s not infrequent for out-of-towners to presume the rule of law in their home state may carry over to South Florida. It’s important before you head out to relax or imbibe that you understand what offenses could land you in hot water (and not the poolside kind).
Some common crimes for which Fort Lauderdale spring breakers are arrested:
- Marijuana possession. Recreational marijuana use and possession is still illegal in Florida. The good news, at least in Broward County, is that having a small amount of marijuana on your person probably isn’t enough to result in a criminal record anymore. Although nothing has changed with respect to Florida law, the state attorney announced in February 2021 the intention to reduce the number of misdemeanor marijuana cases, all but telling county police agencies not to bother referring them to prosecutors. He stated prosecuting such cases has no public safety value, is costly and a counterproductive use of limited resources. Violators may, however, be referred to local drug treatment programs. For out-of-state violators, this could prove challenging, which is why it’s still a good idea to talk with a lawyer to make sure everything is properly resolved.
- Disorderly intoxication. F.S. 856.011 is the state law against being drunk and disorderly. It’s unlawful to be intoxicated and endanger the safety of others’ person or property or be in a car or other establishment and cause a public disturbance. To do so is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
- Underage possession of alcohol. F.S. 562.111 makes it unlawful for a person under age 21 to possess an alcoholic beverage. This includes beer, wine, liquor and mixed drinks, and “possession” can be actual (the officer catches you with it) or constructive (the totality of the evidence supports the allegation, meaning you don’t have to actually be holding it). Here again, conviction is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. One can also automatically lose their driver’s license for between 6 and 12 months for a first offense.
- Driving under the influence. This is perhaps the most serious of the common spring break offenses, though the severity will depend on how impaired you were, whether you’ve ever been convicted of DUI before and whether you crashed/anyone was hurt. F.S. 396.193 is Florida’s DUI law. A person may be found guilty of DUI if he/she is driving or in actual physical control of the vehicle and either has a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent OR is deemed to be under the influence such that his/her normal faculties are impaired. A first offense is punishable by a jail sentence of up to 6 months and a fine of up to $1,000 (assuming you did not crash/hurt someone, in which case, the penalties will be more serious). You may also lose your driver’s license. If you refuse to submit to a chemical or physical breathalyzer test, then per Florida’s implied consent law will receive an automatic one-year license suspension. These tests must be incidental to a lawful arrest and administered by a law enforcement officer with reasonable cause to believe someone was committing a DUI.
Talk to a DUI Defense Lawyer Before You Agree to Any Plea or Fine
Within the first 24 hours of an arrest, you’ll receive a first appearance before a judicial officer (judge, magistrate, etc.). It is very common in these cases for those accused to accept an offer to resolve the case for jail time served and a fine – because everyone wants to just get out of jail and get this over with.
There are a few reasons why you should hold off and wait to talk to a defense lawyer. First, you may not realize it, but the evidence against you may be woefully insufficient for a conviction. The desire to get out of jail as soon as possible is reasonable, but agreeing to a plea deal could deprive you of any opportunity you might have had to have the charge pleaded down (and later sealed or expunged). If you accept a plea, you are admitting guilt and are adjudicated guilty, potentially impacting scholarships, employment and housing opportunities for many years to come.
If you do decide to take that plea, pay the fine as agreed and adhere to the conditions of your sentence. Failure to do so – even from your own state – will not make this go away. Same with appearances in court. Failure to appear will likely result in a warrant for your arrest. Please talk to a lawyer before it gets to this point. Those arrested for misdemeanors can often resolve their criminal cases without making an actual court appearance (especially during a pandemic) by filing a plea in absentia. An attorney can help you with this. If the crime is a felony, we may be able to help you negotiate a reduced charge (but you’ll want to hire a lawyer for felonies in any case).
Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Caught with a little marijuana in Broward? You’ll no longer face prison. Feb. 21, 2021, By Rafael Olmeda, Sun Sentinel