Make sure you know your rights if you're arrested for DUI in Florida
If you're facing DUI charges in Florida, it's important to know that you have certain rights under the Fourth Amendment and other provisions of the federal and Florida constitutions. The police need to follow certain protocols and respect those rights while conducting DUI investigations. Police mistakes can lead to evidence being thrown out and charges being dropped, or weaken the prosecution's case against you at trial.
That's why you need to talk to an experienced DUI attorney right away when you're arrested or charged with DUI. The right lawyer can investigate, find those police errors, and protect your rights while fighting for a better outcome.
Here are five of the most common mistakes police make in Florida DUI investigations and how they can affect your rights.
1. Initiating a traffic stop without reasonable suspicion
The police can't just pull anyone over for any reason they want. To initiate a traffic stop, a police officer needs "reasonable suspicion" — that is, an actual, articulable reason to believe a crime or traffic infraction has occurred, not just a hunch. In addition, their reasonable suspicion should be connected to a specific vehicle that they can accurately identify.
There are several driving behaviors that, while they may seem slightly suspicious, do not meet the reasonable suspicion standard. For instance, weaving within a lane is typically not enough to establish reasonable suspicion. Neither is driving under the speed limit, unless the officer can show that driving slowly was particularly aberrant or dangerous under the circumstances. Nor can an officer pull you over just for the purpose of checking your driver's license or registration; they need an actual reason to suspect that you are driving without a valid license or registration.
If the officer didn't have reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop, your attorney can fight to have any evidence obtained in the traffic stop excluded — which, in most DUI cases, means there will be no evidence left to convict you.
It's also important to remember that reasonable suspicion is only enough to detain you briefly. If an officer pulls you over and then detains you for an unreasonable length of time without establishing probable cause (more on that in a moment), that's also a violation of your rights. This includes using a police vehicle to block you from reentering the road.
2. Initiating a search or arrest without probable cause
Probable cause is a higher standard of proof than reasonable suspicion that requires sufficient reason, based on known facts, to believe that something is probably true. Probable cause comes up in DUI investigations in several ways.
In order to search your vehicle without your consent, the officer needs probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains illegal or dangerous items or evidence of criminal activity. A "search" in this context means looking for anything that isn't open and obvious, such as checking the trunk, opening the glove compartment, or looking under the seats. If the police didn't have probable cause for the search, then any evidence they find can be tossed out.
In order to arrest you for DUI, the officer needs probable cause to suspect you have committed the crime; that is, you were operating or intended to operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or another substance to the extent that your normal faculties were impaired. They need probable cause for each element of the charge.
3. Errors when conducting field sobriety exercises
Field sobriety exercises (FSE) are standardized exercises that police officers use to assess whether someone is impaired. The three standard field sobriety exercises are:
- One-leg stand
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN)
The first thing to know about the FSEs is that they're optional in Florida; you can decline to participate with no legal consequences. The second thing to know is that even when conducted properly, they don't have much to do with legal impairment; your ability to walk heel-to-toe or stand on one leg is irrelevant to your "normal faculties" and ability to drive a car.
But it's also important to know that the police often make errors in administering these exercises, such as reading the instructions incorrectly or scoring the "test" inaccurately. Such errors can call into question any evidence they discover during the FSE and weaken the case against you.
4. Errors when conducting breath or blood tests
Unlike the field sobriety exercises, breath and blood tests are not optional in Florida; the "implied consent" law means there are consequences if you refuse. However, the police still need to follow procedures when conducting these tests.
In particular, if the breathalyzer was not calibrated properly, that can be grounds to have the breath test results thrown out. In addition, the test must be administered according to protocol and procedure by an officer who is trained and certified to perform the test. The police department must be able to prove that they have followed those procedures for the test results to be legitimate.
Blood test results can likewise be called into question on the basis of laboratory errors, contamination of the blood sample, or chain-of-custody issues with the sample.
5. Other administrative errors
Again, the police need to follow proper procedures to protect suspects' legal rights and document that they are doing so. If they aren't following protocol, or can't prove that they are following protocol, their mistakes can strengthen your case. For instance, one DUI case I handled in 2013 focused on the procedures certain Lakeland police officers used when completing DUI reports. Because of the issues I found, not only were the charges against my client dropped, but about 40 other Lakeland DUI charges where other suspects had been arrested by the same officers were also dropped.
An experienced attorney can protect your rights
The unfortunate reality is that too often, police make errors in investigating DUI cases and reviewing charges, and you need the right attorney to hold them accountable and protect your rights. If you're facing DUI charges in Florida, you need the right attorney who understands the protocols and procedures and can use that knowledge to your advantage. Schedule your free consultation today.