Is there a Difference Between a DUI and DWI in Florida?

The law in Florida is extremely harsh when it comes to drivers who have had too much to drink or are impaired by some chemical or drug. Florida identifies this crime as DUI or driving under the influence. Other states refer to the same illegal behavior as DWI, meaning driving while intoxicated.  


Is there any real difference between the two crimes, DUI and DWI? 


No. The two offenses are generally identical, although each state has its own statute to detail exactly what the prosecution must prove to convict a driver of the offense.  



Why do some people refer to the crime as DUI and others say DWI? 


The reason some people still use the DWI reference is because that used to be the prevailing term to describe the crime of “driving while intoxicated.” But intoxication seemed to many people to describe “drunk driving” more than it did “drugged driving.”  


When drinking alcohol was the only common intoxicant police ran into during their traffic stops, it made more sense to use the term DWI. Now, drugged driving, driving a vehicle under the influence of chemical or controlled substances, is a growing problem, and legislatures across the country widened the scope of the criminal statute to clearly cover the offense of “drugged driving.” 


What is Florida DUI Law? (Both Alcohol and Drugs) 


Florida law sets out the “elements” of a DUI as follows: 


A person is guilty of driving under the influence when  

  • the person is driving or in actual physical possession of a vehicle, and 
  • the person is under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, or chemicals (specified) 
  • when affected to the extent that their normal faculties are impaired or  
  • with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or higher. 


Regardless of what term is used, you need to know that “driving under the influence” of either alcohol or drugs is viewed very seriously by both Florida law enforcement and the courts. 


Notice that the law does not require that the person charged with DUI was “driving” the vehicle. Even if you are sitting in the driver’s seat with the engine off, Florida law deems you to be in physical control of the vehicle 


Proving that a defendant was in actual physical control requires only that the person “must be physically in or on the vehicle and have the capability to operate the vehicle, regardless of whether the defendant is actually operating the vehicle at the time.”i In one case, the court ruled that the defendant was still “in physical possession of the vehicle” even though the car was stuck in a ditch and could not be driven. 


There are several other cases in which the driver was not considered to be in physical possession of the vehicle, including one in which the driver was in the driver’s seat, but the keys were not in the car.  


The facts of every case are different, and every difference, no matter how small it may seem, could be significant enough to defeat the DUI charge. We at Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, here in Tampa want you to contact us immediately if you were charged with DUI. The sooner we hear from you, the more opportunity we will have to use our extensive DUI defense experience to analyze your case facts and find weaknesses in the prosecution’s evidence. 


Florida DUI Penalties 


Florida’s DUI penalties are expensive and will disrupt your daily life for months. And while a possible jail sentence will face some defendants convicted of DUI, everyone who suffers a conviction for DUI in Florida will have a permanent publicly accessible criminal record showing they were convicted of DUI. 


The standard penalties for DUI include the following: 



  • up to 6 months for 1st DUI conviction 
  • up to 9 months for 1st DUI conviction (if BAC is 0.15 or higher, or a minor in the vehicle during DUI) 
  • up to 1 year for 1st DUI conviction (if damaged property of another) 
  • up to 5 years in state prison for 1st DUI (if serious personal injury to another) 
  • up to 9 months for 2nd DUI conviction 
  • up to 5 years in state prison for 3rd or subsequent conviction within 10 years 


  • no less than $500 and up to $1,000 for 1st DUI conviction 
  • no less than $1,000 and up to $2,000 for 2nd DUI conviction 
  • up to $5,000 for a 3rd DUI conviction 

Ignition Interlock Device (IID) (owner’s expense) 

  • in the discretion of the judge for up to 6 months for a 1st DUI conviction 
  • mandatory 1-year IID placement in vehicle for a 2nd DUI conviction 
  • mandatory 2-year IID placement in vehicle for a 3rd DUI conviction 

Driver’s License Revoked 

  • 6 months to 1 year for 1st DUI conviction 
  • 3 years for 1st DUI conviction with serious bodily injury to another 
  • 5 years for 2nd DUI conviction within 5 years 
  • 10 years for 3rd DUI conviction within 10 years of the 2nd conviction 


How to Defend Against a DUI Conviction 


Defending drivers charged with DUI in Florida is not something just any lawyer can do. Yes, they may be licensed to try, but their lack of experience in the specialized area of DUI Defense will inevitably cause them to miss important issues and opportunities for arguments that only experienced DUI defense attorneys know about. The reason experience is so valuable is that lessons are learned over the years that an inexperienced lawyer simply hasn’t learned yet. 


You don’t want your lawyer to be “learning” lessons about what not to do when they’re representing you.  


Learn More > What is Probable Cause for a DUI?  


Common Defenses DUI Defense Lawyers Use to Win Cases: 


As we mentioned earlier, the fact patterns in every DUI case are unique. They all have their combination of factors that come together to form a file of evidence unlike any other case.  


Finding those unique circumstances, the police errors, the holes in the evidence, and knowing how to use them to the client’s benefit is where experience counts. 


  • Did the officer have “reasonable articulable suspicion” to stop the driver? 
  • Did the driver behave oddly during the interaction with the officer justifying a DUI test request?  
  • Were Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFTSs) performed? Were they performed properly? 
  • Were all DUI arrest procedures executed properly, including the full pre-breath test protocol? 

These general topics are only the beginning of a competent DUI defense analysis. Each of these areas contains dozens of additional details that must be examined before the strengths and weaknesses of the government’s case can be thoroughly evaluated. 


We hold ourselves to perform at the highest standards of excellence for every client, whatever the offense. We are devoted to winning the most favorable outcome in each case, whether that means getting a “not guilty” verdict from a jury, winning dismissal of the DUI case by a judge’s pretrial order or convincing the prosecutor that their case is too weak to convict and that they should either dismiss or amend the charge to a lesser offense that can be erased from the record in the very near future.  


Call Tampa’s DUI defense law firm Stechschulte Nell at 813-280-1244 for a free DUI case review today.  

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