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DUI and DWI Charges in Florida: Laws and Penalties

DUI and DWI Charges in Florida: Laws and Penalties

Driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI) are serious offenses in Florida that carry stiff penalties. With its huge tourism industry and party reputation, the Sunshine State struggles with a high rate of impaired driving. Let’s take a look at Florida DUI and DWI laws, penalties, and defenses.

DUI vs DWI in Florida

While often used interchangeably, DUI and DWI refer to slightly different offenses in Florida:

  • DUI stands for driving under the influence. This means operating a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs.
  • DWI stands for driving while intoxicated. This requires a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher for drivers over 21. For underage drivers, any detectable amount of alcohol leads to a DWI.

Both charges lead to similar criminal penalties. The main difference is that a DWI requires proof of BAC, while a DUI is based on observed impairment.

Florida DUI and DWI Laws

Florida [statute 316.193] covers DUI and DWI offenses. Here are some key provisions:

  • Standard DUI – Driving with a BAC at or above 0.08%. This is a misdemeanor on first and second offenses.
  • High BAC – Driving with a BAC at or above 0.15%. This enhances penalties, even on a first offense.
  • Underage DUI – Any driver under 21 with a detectable BAC can be charged with DUI. There is no minimum BAC.
  • Drugged Driving – Driving under the influence of narcotics, stimulants, hallucinogens, or similar drugs leads to a DUI charge.
  • Commercial DUI – Driving a commercial vehicle like a semi truck with a BAC at or above 0.04% leads to a DUI.

These laws aim to deter impaired driving and remove dangerous drivers from Florida roads. Law enforcement uses sobriety testing and chemical testing to identify and charge intoxicated motorists.

Penalties for Florida DUI and DWI Offenses

The penalties for DUI and DWI in Florida escalate sharply for repeat offenses. Some key penalties include:

First Conviction

  • Up to 6 months in jail
  • Up to $1,000 in fines
  • Up to 1 year license suspension
  • DUI school
  • Ignition interlock device

Second Conviction

  • Up to 9 months in jail
  • Up to $2,000 in fines
  • Minimum 5 years license suspension
  • DUI school
  • Ignition interlock device
  • Vehicle impoundment

Third Conviction

  • Minimum 30 days in jail
  • Up to 5 years in prison
  • Up to $5,000 in fines
  • Minimum 10 years license suspension
  • DUI school
  • Ignition interlock device
  • Vehicle impoundment

Fourth or Subsequent Conviction

  • Minimum 180 days in jail
  • Up to 5 years in prison
  • Up to $5,000 in fines
  • Permanent license revocation
  • DUI school
  • Ignition interlock device
  • Vehicle impoundment

As you can see, a first offense leads to relatively mild consequences. But penalties ramp up quickly for repeat offenders. Lengthy jail terms and permanent loss of driving privileges are common for those with multiple DUIs.

Additional DUI Penalties in Florida

Beyond fines and jail time, a DUI conviction brings many other penalties in Florida:

  • SR-22 Insurance – High-risk coverage required for 3 years after license reinstatement.
  • License Reinstatement Fees – $150 fee to get your license back after suspension.
  • DUI School – Mandatory substance abuse course for all DUI offenders.
  • Ignition Interlock – Breathalyzer device installed on your vehicle for up to 5 years.
  • License Suspension – Even first offenses lead to a 6-12 month suspension.
  • Vehicle Impoundment – Your car may be seized and impounded for repeat offenses.

These administrative penalties create major hassles and expenses that can last for years. For commercial drivers, a DUI conviction often means the end of their career.

Florida DUI Defenses

Due to the severe penalties, most DUI defendants seek an aggressive defense. Here are some options to fight the charges:

  • Question Field Sobriety Tests – These non-scientific tests have a high error rate. An experienced lawyer can challenge their validity.
  • Challenge Chemical Test Results – Breath and blood tests can be inaccurate if procedures weren’t followed.
  • Claim No Probable Cause for Stop – The traffic stop may have lacked legal justification.
  • Allege Medication Caused Impairment – Some meds like sleep aids can mimic alcohol impairment.
  • Claim Rising Blood Alcohol – Your BAC may have been under 0.08% when driving but peaked later at the station.
  • Challenge Blood Draw Warrant – Blood draws require a warrant or consent. Procedural flaws can invalidate the results.

An attorney may also negotiate reduced charges like reckless driving. With so much at stake, it’s vital to explore all possible defenses.

Florida DUI Statistics

Some key stats on drunk driving in Florida:

  • In 2016, there were over 44,000 DUI arrests.
  • Almost 1,000 people die in Florida alcohol-related crashes per year.
  • Over 50% of Florida traffic fatalities involve alcohol impairment.
  • Florida ranks 13th nationally in DUI arrests per capita.
  • Miami, Tampa, and Orlando usually top the list for most DUI arrests.

These figures show that despite tough laws, impaired driving remains a serious public safety risk in Florida. Law enforcement deploys saturation patrols, checkpoints, and other tactics to apprehend drunk drivers.

Consequences Beyond DUI Charges

A DUI conviction impacts your life far beyond the criminal penalties. Other potential consequences include:

  • Job Loss – Many professions terminate employees for a DUI, especially roles like driving and security.
  • Difficulty Finding Work – A DUI can make it much harder to get hired, as employers shy away from risky hires.
  • Insurance Rate Hikes – Car insurance premiums nearly double after a DUI and may be tripled for repeat offenses.
  • Travel Limitations – Some countries bar visitors with a drunk driving conviction, including Canada.
  • Social Stigma – A DUI carries a heavy social stigma and can strain personal relationships.
  • Personal Guilt – Many DUI offenders struggle with shame and guilt over endangering others.
  • Civil Liability – Drunk drivers often face huge civil claims if their actions caused injuries or death.
  • Legal Expenses – Between fines, classes, court costs, and attorney fees, a DUI can cost up to $20,000.

These devastating personal and financial consequences provide strong motivation to avoid impaired driving. Those facing a DUI charge must seek experienced legal counsel to mitigate damages.

Avoiding a DUI Charge in Florida

The best way to avoid a DUI is simply not to drive after drinking. If you plan to drink, utilize alternatives like taxis, ride shares, public transit, or a designated driver. Strictly limit your alcohol intake if you must drive yourself.

If pulled over after drinking, be cooperative but decline field sobriety tests and breathalyzer tests. Politely state you wish to exercise your rights. This prevents police from gathering evidence used to support a DUI charge.

An arrest is still possible based on visible intoxication signs. But exercising your rights gives your attorney options to contest the charges later in court.


Florida has tough laws and penalties targeting impaired drivers. Even a first offense brings fines, license suspension, and other costly consequences. Repeat offenses lead to exponentially higher fines, jail terms, and license revocation.

Beyond the criminal penalties, a DUI conviction can derail careers, raise insurance rates, and cause personal devastation. That’s why it’s so important to avoid driving after drinking. Those facing charges need an experienced DUI defense lawyer to mitigate the damages.

With smart decisions and proper legal help, it’s possible to move past a DUI charge. But those serious about their future will learn from the experience and never operate a vehicle while impaired again.

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