It’s five o’clock on Friday, and you join a couple of colleagues for dinner, looking forward to unwinding after a busy week. The three of you share a bottle of wine with the meal, and on the way out of the restaurant you run into an old friend. You step into the bar and catch up over a cocktail or two. When it’s time to leave, you don’t feel impaired – in fact you feel fine. Your three or four drinks were spread out over as many hours, and you’re confident that you can drive home safely without endangering yourself or others. As you pull out of the parking lot you see flashing lights in your rearview mirror. You’re being pulled over, and if the officer suspects you are intoxicated, the question remains:
Should you submit to a breath test?
Of course, many factors will influence whether you test positive, including your height, weight and body composition. Previously, suspected DUI offenders often found themselves between a rock and a hard place. Submitting to a breath test might provide evidence of guilt, but refusing to take the test carried stiffer and more immediate penalties, leading many to “bite the bullet” and take the test.
Good news for Florida drivers arrested for Driving Under the Influence (DUI). A new state law allows first-time DUI offenders to refuse a breath test and still avoid full suspension of their driver’s licenses. The new law makes it possible for those accused of DUI to refuse the breath test without suffering the lost income and other hardships that may result from a suspended license.
Before taking advantage of the new law, however, Florida motorists should be aware of the possible negative consequences of refusing to submit to a breath test. Always consult an experienced DUI defense attorney immediately after receiving your citation. And remember it only applies to your first offense.
Read on for a complete explanation of the changes in Florida law regarding first-time DUI offenders. For more information, consult with a qualified Florida criminal defense attorney with experience in DUI cases.
The Old Law
Before July 1, 2013, a driver arrested for a DUI faced suspension of his driver’s license. To challenge the suspension, the driver had to request a Formal Review Hearing (FRH) within 10 days of receiving the DUI traffic citation. If the driver was successful at the hearing, driving privileges were restored. If he lost the challenge or did not request an FRH, his license was suspended.
Driving privileges were suspended for 6 months if the motorist had taken the breath test. If he had refused the test, privileges were taken away for one year. Moreover, if the driver had taken the breath test, his license would have been subject to 30 days of “hard suspension.” This meant that he could not drive anywhere for 30 days, after which hecould drive with a hardship license for the remainder of the suspension period. If the driver had not taken the breath test, his license would have been under a 90-day hard suspension, after which he could become eligible for a hardship license. A hardship license permits a DUI offender to drive only to and from work, school, medical appointments and church.
The New Law
Effective July 1, 2013, first-time DUI offenders who forfeit their right to challenge a license suspension at an FRH hearing will still face license suspension, but there will be no “hard suspension” period. The new law allows a driver to apply for a hardship license immediately after receiving the DUI citation whether or not he has submitted to or refused the breath test. There is no 30-day or 90-day “no driving period.” With a hardship license, the driver does not risk losing his job or suffering other serious consequences.
It is important to note, however, that the 6-month or 1-year suspension permanently stays on the offender’s driving record if the suspension goes unchallenged, even if the court ultimately dismisses the criminal court case against the driver. Additionally, if a driver is able to have his criminal record sealed or expunged, the license suspension remains on his driving record.
Should You Waive the FRH?
There are a couple of advantages to requesting a FRH to challenge a license suspension. The first is that if you win at the FRH, you will get your driver’s license back without restrictions. However, the criminal case against you remains pending, and most challenges are not successful. The other advantage of having an FRH is the opportunity to question the arresting police officer under oath.This could help you defend the DUI criminal charge.
Whether should you waive your right to a review hearing and apply for the hardship license or challenge the license suspension is an issue that you should discuss with an experienced DUI defense attorney. He or she can examine your situation and help you make the decision that is right for you.