Why You Should Hire a DUI Attorney
When you’re facing criminal charges, there’s a lot at stake. Most people recognize that when they’re charged with certain types of crimes. Few people would decide to show up in court alone and see what happens if they were facing armed robbery charges, for instance. But, many people think of a DUI charge more like a traffic infraction, underestimating the possible consequences.
Too often, that means ugly surprises after a guilty plea or conviction.
The best time to get complete information about your rights, your options, and the possible consequences of a conviction is right after you’ve been charged, before you’ve made any decisions about whether you should plead innocent, guilty or nolo contendere.
Fortunately, it’s easy to get the help you need. Defense Attorney Matthew Lufrano has devoted his career to helping people who have been charged with crimes in Jacksonville and throughout Florida. He’s tried cases ranging from misdemeanors to murder charges, and the Florida Bar has designated him a Board Certified Expert in Criminal Trial Law. He has also previosuly served as the President of the Jacksonville chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Mr. Lufrano knows how important it is for people facing DUI charges and other Florida criminal charges to have knowledgeable guidance as early in the process as possible. That’s why he offers free consultations to people who have been charged with driving under the influence in and around Jacksonville. You can schedule yours right now by calling 904-513-3905 or filling out the contact form on this site.
8 Reasons to Hire a Jacksonville DUI Lawyer
Some key reasons you should hire an attorney if you’re facing DUI charges in Florida include:
1. You may not be aware of all of the consequences of a Florida DUI conviction.
If you enter a guilty plea to a Jacksonville DUI charge without a plea agreement or are convicted at trial, the judge has far less discretion in sentencing than you may realize. For the charge of DUI the Florida Legislature has mandated a number of significant mandatory sanctions for anyone who pleads to a DUI. These penalties include a mandatory six month driver’s license suspension, a period of probation, and a requirement that a defendant will have a permanent criminal record documenting the conviction. (These aren’t all of the mandatory penalties, but they should illustrate that such charges are serious.)
Additionally, while some people don’t get jail time for a first-time DUI, the law allows a jail sentence of up to six months for a standard first offense. You may also not be aware of the various direct consequences of a DUI conviction, even if you aren’t sentenced to jail. The minimum penalties for a first-time DUI in Florida includes six months of probation, completion of DUI school, participation in a victim impact panel, community service, court costs and more.
Of course, those consequences may be more severe if it’s a second offense (or beyond), if your BAC was particularly high, or if there were other circumstances that elevate the classification of the crime or the minimum or maximum possible sentence.
If the prosecuting attorney offers you a plea agreement, the terms of that agreement will include the consequences to be imposed directly by the court, such as jail time, fines, probation, court costs, community service, a driver’s license suspension, and mandatory attendance at drug or alcohol counseling.
But, neither the court nor the prosecuting attorney is obligated to warn you about non-judicial consequences. These may include official penalties, such as an administrative driver’s license suspension. They may also include indirect consequences such as increased automobile insurance rates and disqualification from certain kinds of work.
The worst time to learn about these additional consequences is after you’ve entered a guilty plea and the court has entered a judgment of conviction. You waive many rights when pleading guilty, and may have no recourse if you later discover that you made a bad deal. When you hire an experienced Jacksonville DUI lawyer, your attorney can explain the full range of potential consequences associated with a DUI conviction before you make a decision about how to proceed with your case.
2. The state may not have enough evidence to convict you.
Many people believe you can’t beat a Florida DUI charge, but that’s not necessarily true. Every case is different, and while sometimes the best option will be to reach a plea deal other cases should be challenged. The work that an attorney can do in challenging the DUI charge could result in the charges being dismissed or in a victory at trial.
An experienced DUI attorney can assess your case for issues such as whether the police officer had probable cause to pull you over and whether chemical tests or field sobriety tests were properly administered. Your attorney can also review police reports and other evidence to determine whether there are inconsistencies in the officer’s story or if proper procedures were ignored. The next steps will depend on what the attorney finds. If the stop itself was unjustified, your attorney may be able to get all of the evidence collected during the stop suppressed. In that situation, the prosecuting attorney may dismiss the charges, since they are unlikely to be able to prove their case at trial.
Or, if there was a problem with the BAC testing equipment or procedures, your attorney might be able to take other action that significantly helps your case.
These are just two examples of ways an experienced Jacksonville DUI lawyer may be able to fight the charges against you.
3. You may not be getting the best deal possible.
When the prosecuting attorney offers you a plea deal, if you’re unrepresented they likely won’t say more than the parameters of the offer. As such, its impossible to really know if its the best deal you could achieve. Further, if you’re like most DUI defendants–especially first-time defendants–you don’t know what the prosecutor’s standard offer in a DUI case like yours is. You don’t know what type of sentence the judge typically imposes if someone pleads guilty to DUI without a plea agreement or is convicted at trial.
Most importantly, you don’t know what weaknesses there may be in the state’s case. As described above, sometimes those weaknesses are significant enough that your attorney can get the case dismissed, or can win the case at trial. Even when they’re not, identifying cracks in the case may give your attorney leverage to negotiate a more favorable plea deal for you. But, if you take a quick plea offer, you may never know how strong or weak the case against you was, or whether you might have been able to avoid conviction or get a better deal.
4. You already have one or more DUI convictions.
Second offenses and subsequent DUIs are treated more harshly than first offenses. In some cases, other types of prior convictions or traffic citations may also play a role in the penalties for a DUI conviction. If you’re heading into court on a DUI charge and your record isn’t clean, it’s in your best interest to seek representation before you appear in court. The same is true if you are also facing additional charges, such as driving with a suspended or revoked license, operating without insurance, or another charge.
5. You have a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
Any DUI conviction can have serious consequences, but for a commercial driver, the stakes are even higher. That means it’s even more important to speak with an experienced DUI lawyer and make sure you have the information and guidance you need to make the best decision about how to proceed.
If the alleged DUI took place in a commercial vehicle, the bar for conviction is much lower. That’s because Florida prohibits driving a commercial vehicle with any amount of alcohol in your system. Even a trace of alcohol can result in a moving violation. A BAC of .04 or greater is sufficient to trigger a one-year disqualification from holding a commercial driver’s license. Under some circumstances, the disqualification may be even longer.
If a CDL holder is arrested for DUI while operating their personal vehicle or another non-commercial vehicle, the standard is the same as it is for any other driver. In other words, the state must prove that the driver either had a BAC of .08 or greater or was impaired by drugs or alcohol. But, that one-year disqualification still applies. And, a second conviction–or a first conviction paired with certain other offenses–can lead to permanent loss of eligibility for a CDL.
When the disqualification period ends, the commercial driver has to start over, paying the application fee and taking all required testing before reinstatement. It’s also important to note that after reinstatement, some companies will still decline to hire or contract with a commercial driver who has a DUI conviction.
6. You’re under 21 and charged with DUI.
Like commercial drivers, underage drivers have more at risk in a DUI case. Florida has a “zero tolerance” police on underage drinking and driving. That means a driver under 21 can be convicted of driving under the influence with a BAC of just .02.
What does that mean in terms of alcohol consumption? For a woman weighing 120-140 pounds, a single drink can mean a BAC of about .04. Even a 200-220 pound man can hit .02 after just one drink. In other words, you may not even be feeling the effects of alcohol, or may have only the slightest sensation of having been drinking while you’re over the legal limit for a driver under 21.
Both the process and the possible consequences for drinking and driving underage vary depending on factors such as how high the driver’s BAC was and whether the driver is under the age of 18. The best source of information about what to expect after an underage driver has been stopped for DUI is an experienced Jacksonville DUI attorney.
7. You damaged someone’s property.
A first-time DUI typically carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail. But, if you damage someone else’s property, that potential penalty increases to one year. That could mean a collision that caused damage to another vehicle, or something as simple as knocking down a mailbox or hitting a guardrail. In this situation, you will likely also be ordered to pay restitution to the person whose property was damaged.
8. Someone has been injured because you were driving under the influence.
DUI with injuries is a more serious crime in Florida, and carries more serious penalties than a straight DUI charge. A person who operates a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol or with a BAC of .08 or greater, and causes serious bodily injury to another person is guilty of a felony of the third degree. In Florida, a felony of the third degree is punishable by up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, and five years of probation. Even a minor injury can bump up a first-time DUI to a misdemeanor of the first degree, meaning the possibility of up to one year in jail.
If someone is killed, the charge is DUI manslaughter, which is a felony of the second degree. A second degree felony carries a possible prison sentence of up to 15 years in prison, 15 years of probation, and a $10,000 fine. In some situations, this charge may be enhanced to a felony of the first degree, which is punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
Read More: How to Choose the Right DUI Defense Attorney
Every DUI Case is Different
You may hear that there’s a standard sentence for DUI charges in your local court, and the prosecution may present a plea offer as a “take it or leave it” proposition. But, the truth is that DUI cases can differ for many reasons. Perhaps there’s an unusual circumstance where a passenger is being charged for DUI, or maybe the case is weak, and an experienced DUI attorney might be able to get it dismissed entirely. Maybe critical evidence can be suppressed.
On the other hand, some DUI cases involve factors that increase the risks, whether that means the age of the driver, the fact that the driver holds a CDL, an especially high BAC, property damage, or injury to another person.
To learn more about what the specifics of your case mean for you and how you may be able to fight Florida DUI charges, schedule a free consultation with DUI attorney Matthew Lufrano right now. Just call 904-513-3905 or fill out the contact form on this site to get started.