man blowing into a breathalyzer

Florida Defense Attorney Explains Enhanced DUI Penalties and Consequences

Driving under the influence (DUI) charges are always serious. A situation in which enhanced penalties apply to a DUI charge is one that involves an aggravating factor that can lead to even more significant penalties than the already serious consequences associated with a standard DUI conviction. If you have been charged with DUI that involves enhanced penalties, it is likely that you are facing very serious consequences.

You should never try to face DUI charges alone; it is always advisable to work with an experienced defense attorney when you have been arrested for DUI. Seeking assistance from an experienced DUI lawyer is even more important if you are facing a DUI that may involve enhanced penalties. The experienced DUI defense lawyers at Flaherty & Merrifield are here to help. We work to get the best possible outcome for our clients when they are arrested for or charged with any type of drunk driving offense, including those in which prosecutors may seek enhanced penalties.

Factors Leading to Enhanced DUI Penalties in Florida

A DUI is a serious offense, with or without enhanced penalties. If you are charged and convicted of DUI in Florida, you will lose your ability to drive for a period of time and potentially face jail time. When certain aggravating factors are present in relation to a Florida DUI, you may also face enhanced penalties with even more severe consequences.

Based on the severity of the alleged offense, Florida prosecutors have the ability to seek greater punishments for DUI with enhanced penalties than for DUI without aggravating factors, and they almost always do so. Situations in which enhanced DUI penalties may apply in Florida include:

  • Children in the Vehicle: Under Florida law, if there are minors under the age of 18 in the car when you have been stopped on suspicion of DUI, you could face enhanced penalties.
  • Extremely High Blood Alcohol Content: The legal limit in Florida is that you cannot drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) over .08. Standard penalties apply for a BAC between .08 and .15. For a BAC over .15, enhanced penalties apply.
  • DUI Accidents with Bodily Injury or Property Damage: Enhanced penalties apply for DUI-involved accidents that result in bodily injury or property damage.  
  • Second and Subsequent Offenses: DUI penalties rise when you are convicted of two or more drunk driving offenses, including previous convictions that occurred outside of Florida. For a second DUI offense, you are guaranteed to serve some time in jail, as there are mandatory minimum sentences.

Potential Enhanced DUI Consequences

Enhanced DUI charges can escalate a DUI from misdemeanor to felony status. Additionally, if you are convicted of a DUI in a situation in which advanced penalties apply, you are likely to face increased jail time and/or penalties. Examples include:

  • Longer Revocation of License: You could lose your license for a longer period of time than with a standard DUI, perhaps even for the rest of your life, depending on the circumstances.
  • Impoundment of Your Vehicle: Your vehicle could be impounded for up to 90 days, as opposed to the ten days associated with a DUI that does not involve aggravating factors leading to enhanced penalties.
  • Increased Likelihood of Jail Time: First DUI convictions without enhanced penalties can – but do not always – lead to jail time. For a DUI conviction with enhanced penalties, extended jail time is highly likely.
  • Residential Treatment Programs: A judge can order anyone convicted of a DUI into a residential treatment program, though there is a greater chance they will do so for an enhanced DUI.
  • Extended Ignition Interlock Device: Individuals with multiple DUI convictions may be required to install and use an ignition interlock device for between one and five years.  

Situation-Specific Enhanced DUI Penalties

The exact penalties for an enhanced DUI conviction will vary based on the facts of the specific situation in which you were charged with DUI. Common scenarios include:  

  • If you caused an injury-involved accident while driving under the influence of alcohol, you could be convicted of a felony and face between one and five years of jail time, depending on whether the accident resulted in serious bodily injury
  • If you have been charged with enhanced DUI for a high BAC or having a minor in the car, you would be subject to a longer jail sentence and larger fine than for a DUI without aggravating factors and mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device for at least six months.

Can Enhanced Penalties Apply for a First Offense?

A person does not have to have a prior DUI conviction to face enhanced penalties. Enhanced penalties may apply when aggravating factors exist that the prosecutor believes should warrant greater punishment. They are based on the severity and circumstances of the alleged individual offense.

A previous DUI conviction is an aggravating factor leading to advanced penalties, but a number of other circumstances—as detailed above—may also lead to enhanced penalties. A person who has never been charged with or convicted of DUI before can still face enhanced penalties.  

Why You Need an Attorney for Your Enhanced DUI Case

All DUI charges are serious and could result in significant consequences. If you have been charged with a DUI in a situation that potentially involves enhanced penalties, there is even more of a threat to your freedom and the potential for serious repercussions that will remain with you for the rest of your life than for DUI charges in which enhanced penalties are not a factor. In either situation, you should not leave anything to chance.

This is why you should contact an attorney immediately upon being arrested for or charged with DUI, especially when enhanced penalties may apply. Even in an enhanced DUI case, the same legal rules apply. The officer needs reasonable suspicion to stop you, and you still have legal rights. Having an experienced DUI lawyer present at all steps of your case can help you protect your rights.

You should never try to handle a DUI case on your own or even deal with law enforcement on your own for any amount of time when you are facing a DUI charge. It is not in your best interest you try to talk to the police or address the prosecutor directly in this type of situation. You have a better chance of obtaining the best possible outcome for your case when you hire an experienced DUI lawyer to represent your interests.

How Our Florida DUI Lawyers Will Fight for You

The sooner you bring in a skilled DUI attorney after being arrested or charged, the better. Our experienced DUI attorneys will help you stand up for your legal rights at every phase of your case. When you work with our firm, we will help you every step of the way, including:

  • Being present when law enforcement is trying to question you or advising you that you do not need to talk to them
  • Conducting a complete investigation of your case to determine the facts and any evidence that could help you
  • Determining whether you have any defenses that could help you fight the charges against you
  • Negotiating with the prosecutor to reach a plea agreement on your behalf that results in reduced penalties or charges
  • Taking your case to trial if law enforcement does not have sufficient evidence to convict you or if you cannot reach a plea agreement

Each situation is unique, but common defense strategies may involve challenging the police officer’s basis for stopping you in the first place or contesting the evidence that law enforcement is trying to use against you. For example, it may be possible to argue that the breathalyzer device was not properly calibrated or that there was an improper chain of custody of blood test evidence.

Tim Flaherty
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Florida Criminal Defense Attorney