DUI attorney Fort Walton Beach Flaherty & Merrifield Criminal Defense

No one plans to get arrested for DUI. Whether you are a local or were in Florida on vacation, a DUI arrest is a humiliating experience that can have a huge impact on your future. If you are in the military, it can be a career-ender.

My name is Tim Flaherty. Since 2001, I have been defending locals, tourists, and current and former members of the military accused of DUI in Fort Walton Beach and throughout northwest Florida. Along with my partner, Brandy Merrifield, DUI & Criminal Defense is 100 percent of our practice. If you are worried about the penalties you are facing or whether you are going to be able to continue driving, Flaherty & Merrifield are here to help. If you entrust our Fort Walton Beach defense lawyers with your case, our main goals will be to protect your ability to drive, keep you out of jail, and do everything possible to get your DUI charge either dismissed or reduced to a lesser charge.

After a DUI arrest, it is very important to take immediate steps to protect your ability to drive. For example, you must request a hearing with the Bureau of Administrative Review within ten days of your arrest to avoid a suspension of your driver's license. We'd be happy to assist you with this process.

Misdemeanor DUI

The majority of DUI charges in Fort Walton Beach are misdemeanors. The penalties vary based on whether it was a first or second offense and whether or not your blood alcohol level (BAC) was above or below 0.15.

Potential Penalties for a First DUI Offense in Florida

  • Up to six months in jail if your BAC was under 0.15
  • Up to nine months in jail if your BAC was over 0.15
  • Up to 12 months of probation
  • Up to a 12-month license suspension
  • Fines ranging between $500 and $2000
  • Ignition Interlock requirement if your BAC was over 0.15
  • Community service
  • DUI school
  • Victim Impact Panel
  • Vehicle impoundment

While it is always technically possible to receive a jail sentence for a first offense DUI in Fort Walton Beach, it is highly unlikely. 99.9% of the time, you will not go to jail if it was your first offense. If any attorney tells you differently, they are lying to you.

Possible Penalties for a Second DUI Offense in Florida

While a second offense DUI is still a misdemeanor, the penalties will be enhanced to:

  • Up to 12 months in jail
  • Up to a five-year license suspension
  • Mandatory ten days in jail if the second offense occurred within five years of the first
  • Multi-Offender DUI School
  • Mandatory installation of the Ignition Interlock for at least six months
  • Increased fines and costs
  • Convictions from other states can, and will, be used to enhance your local DUI

Felony DUI in Fort Walton Beach

If your current DUI charge in Fort Walton Beach is a third offense and it occurred within ten years of the conviction for your second offense, you face a third-degree felony charge. Penalties for a third DUI offense include:

  • Mandatory 30 days in jail
  • Up to five years in prison
  • Ten-year license suspension
  • Ignition Interlock for up to two years
  • A felony conviction on your record that can never be expunged or sealed

If your current DUI charge is a fourth offense, regardless of when the priors occurred, you face up to five years in prison and a lifetime revocation of your driver's license. 

Penalties for Florida DUI

The chart below summarizes some of the potential penalties if you are convicted of DUI in the State of Florida:

Charged Offense Potential Jail/Prison Potential Probation Driver’s License Suspension Fines Ignition Interlock Device Vehicle Impound
1st Offense Up to 6 months Up to 12 months 6-12 months $500-$1000 N/A 10 days
1st Offense, BAC >1.5 Up to 9 months Up to 12 months 6-12 months $1000-$2000 Min. 6 months 10 days
2nd Offense Up to 9 months Up to 12 months 6-12 months $1000-$2000 Min. 12 months 10-30 days
2nd Offense, within 5 years of prior DUI Up to 9 months, 10 days min. mandatory Up to 12 months Min. 5 years $1000-$2000 Min. 12 months 30 days
3rd Offense Up to 12 months Up to 12 months 6-12 months $2000-$5000 2 years 30 days
3rd Offense, within 10 years of prior DUI Felony Conviction – 5 years, 30 days min. mandatory Up to 5 years Min. 10 years $2000-$5000 2 years 30 days
4th Offense Felony Conviction – 5 years 5 years Permanent $2000-$5000 N/A 30 days

DUI Cases Involving Serious Injury or Death

The stakes get exponentially higher if you are convicted of DUI and you caused an accident that seriously hurt or killed someone else. If this has happened to you, you may face charges of:

What to Expect From a Fort Walton Beach DUI Attorney

While you may have heard otherwise from friends, family, coworkers, or other attorneys, let me put your mind at ease: A DUI arrest does not necessarily mean you will be convicted or go to jail. Scare tactics and flashy sales pitches have become the norm with DUI attorneys in our area, but you will NOT be subjected to that if we represent you. You will receive honest, straightforward advice. You will also receive:

  • An in-depth case analysis, including a thorough review of the field sobriety tests and breath testing that was done in your case
  • An exhaustive review of police reports, witness statements, video evidence, and breath machine calibration and maintenance records
  • Cost/benefit analysis based on your needs
  • 24/7 access to your defense team
  • The peace of mind that comes from knowing you are defended by an attorney YOU have chosen and not one assigned to you by the state
  • Over 16 years of experience with extensive knowledge of local judges and prosecutors

Tests, Procedures, and Other Factors That Could Affect Your Case

We want you to be as informed as possible regarding the charges you are facing and the various tests and procedures that could play a part in your case. Here is some additional helpful information related to DUI charges in Fort Walton Beach.

DUI With a Breath Test

There is no doubt that it is harder to win a DUI case where the client gave a breath sample that was over the legal limit. However, a breath test does not make the case hopeless. Our job is to challenge the breath test results and make sure the data is reliable.

The Fort Walton Beach Police Department and the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Department use the Intoxilyzer 8000 to administer breath tests. Researchers have conducted tests on the reliability and dependability of the Intoxilyzer and have cast doubts on its accuracy. In other words, just because a machine suggests you were intoxicated, that doesn't necessarily mean that you were.

When someone consumes alcohol, it is absorbed into the stomach and intestines through the blood. Most alcohol absorption occurs in the small intestine. From there, it is broken down in the liver. The rate at which the liver breaks down the alcohol varies from person to person, but a general rule of thumb is about one drink per hour. In most cases, if you have more than one drink per hour, the liver can't break it down fast enough, so it is reabsorbed by the blood and causes intoxication.

At Flaherty & Merrifield, Brandy and I understand the forensic and scientific issues involved in breathalyzer accuracy. We will subpoena the accuracy, usage, and maintenance logs from the Intoxilyzer 8000 that was used in your case. We will be looking to see if the Intoxilyzer was operating within compliance. If it wasn't, we will file a Motion to Suppress to exclude the breath test reading in your case. Remember, a breath test DUI case can still be won with the right set of facts and the right defense strategy.

Field Sobriety Tests

If you were pulled over on suspicion of DUI, the police officer probably asked you to perform Field Sobriety Tests to "make sure you're ok to drive." When the officer tells you this, he is lying. He is actually giving you a series of tests that are designed to be failed. In other words, Field Sobriety Tests are not supposed to be passed. They are used to make you look impaired so that the police can justify your arrest.

Clients are always surprised when I tell them that Field Sobriety Tests are voluntary. Police officers usually don't tell people that they have the right to refuse these tests. If anything, officers usually make someone feel as though they didn't have a choice.

Whether you took Field Sobriety Tests or not, we will be ready to develop a customized legal strategy that fits the unique facts and circumstances of your case. Our number one goal will be to do everything possible to avoid a DUI conviction.

DUI With Refusal

Prosecutors love DUI cases with a breath test. From their perspective, it is much easier to convict someone of DUI if they blew over the limit. That gives them a tangible number that "proves" the person was intoxicated.

On the flip side, prosecutors hate DUI cases with a refusal. Without a number to quantify someone's level of intoxication, they are forced to prove their case with other, less reliable pieces of evidence. Some examples of the evidence they use would be the driving pattern, speech pattern, odor of alcohol, whether someone had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, red face, or other physical indicators. They will also rely on the person's performance on Field Sobriety Tests. Prosecutors hate this because all of these factors can be explained away or attacked. One thing to remember: If you refuse to provide a breath test, you face a longer driver's license suspension from the Bureau of Administrative Review (DMV).

If you have any questions about these topics, or anything else, we would be glad to help.

Fort Walton Beach DUI Attorneys for Military Personnel

Aside from all the consequences that may be handed down from the Fort Walton Beach civilian courts, military personnel may face further disciplinary consequences from their particular branch of the military. In our experience, however, the military typically takes a back seat to the civilian courts, which means that you will have the chance to clear yourself of these charges before any of those long-term consequences ever come into effect. We will work with you to build a comprehensive legal strategy to protect your career and your future.

If you are serving in the military and have been arrested for a DUI in the Fort Walton Beach area, our legal team will challenge each and every aspect of your arrest in an effort to reduce or, ideally, eliminate your charges altogether.

Get the Help You Need When Facing Florida DUI Charges

Flaherty & Merrifield has been defending local residents, military members, and vacationers charged with DUI in the Fort Walton Beach area since 2001. If you're ready for us to put our expertise to work for you, complete our contact form or call our law office at 850-374-6273 to schedule an appointment for a free consultation to discuss the details of your case.