A statute of limitation is a law that sets the end date for any civil or criminal prosecution to be filed in a Florida court. If a court complaint is filed against a defendant beyond the time allowed by the statute of limitation, the court will grant a dismissal on the grounds that the plaintiff’s claim is time-barred.
Since we’re dealing with DUI as our topic, we’ll keep our focus on criminal statutes of limitations. In Florida, DUI statutes of limitations vary based on whether the DUI was a first offense or whether it involved some circumstances that heighten the severity of the offense.
Here is a brief statement of when the prosecution is barred from filing a DUI charge:
- 1st offense DUI (no accident, no injury) must be filed within 1 year from the date of the offense
- DUI (with an accident or minor injury) must be filed within 2 years from the date of the offense
- DUI (serious bodily injury) must be filed within 3 years from the date of the offense
- DUI (resulting in death/manslaughter) no statute of limitation
Why Are There Statutes of Limitations?
The reason for legislatures enacting statutes of limitations goes centuries. Without looking into the history, it may seem like a state government would not want to limit the ability of prosecutors to file criminal charges against wrongdoers.
Criminal charges alleging a defendant committed a crime must be proven by evidence, usually consisting of live witness testimony. But how would a defendant accused of committing a misdemeanor seven or eight years earlier defend themselves? Would you remember where you were on a particular date seven years ago?
- How could you present evidence of an alibi?
- How could you locate witnesses in your defense?
- What would you do if your alibi witness died years before the charges were filed?
- Would you be able to go to the scene of the alleged crime to investigate if anyone remembers what happened? Are any of the same people there?
- How accurate could the prosecution’s witnesses be? Do memories fade?
- Where would you find evidence that the state’s witness misremembered?
The justice system is intended to be fair. The quality of evidence for either side in a court case deteriorates with the passage of years. The courts have also identified “finality” as a value, thinking that every case must come to an end. That’s why the law limits the number of appeals a losing defendant can file.
How Would a DUI Statute of Limitation Be Raised as a Defense?
Most DUI arrests and prosecutions take place well before the statute of limitations becomes an issue. But a statute of limitations issue can become a very powerful defense when a case occurs, and you never know if yours might be that rare case.
Example 1: A first-time DUI has a 1-year statute of limitations. What would happen if a police officer stopped a motorist on suspicion of DUI and the driver performed the field sobriety tests and was arrested. On the way to the police station, the officer suffered a health emergency and didn’t file the reports on which the case would be based?
The evidence still exists in the mind of the officer. He may be able to relate precisely what he observed that night out on the road with that motorist, but he may need a year to recover from his sudden illness. When the officer returns to work on the 366th day after the DUI arrest, he writes the reports, files the charges, and seeks a warrant for the motorist’s arrest. The motorist’s DUI defense attorney would file a Motion To Dismiss on grounds the charge was barred by the 1-year statute of limitations. The case would be dismissed.
Example 2: An impaired driver had an accident with only minor injuries to the occupants of the other car. The impaired driver spoke with the others at the scene and was displaying extreme and obvious signs of alcohol impairment. Empty liquor bottles were falling from the driver’s seat onto the ground. Then the impaired driver fled on foot. No one knew the fleeing driver’s name, the police found no fingerprints, and the car’s owner didn’t know the car was taken.
Four years later, the occupants of the other car spot the impaired driver, call the police, positively identify him as the driver who hit their car four years earlier and can describe in great detail the extreme alcohol intoxication the driver exhibited that night. The impaired driver is arrested and charged with DUI. But the statute of limitations for the DUI ran out two years earlier. Evidence to convict exists, the prosecution is ready, and the witnesses are present and sharp-minded, but the case is dismissed because it took longer than the law allows to file the charges.
Good DUI Defense Lawyers Leave No Stone Unturned In Your Defense
The best criminal defense lawyers, especially those who specialize in DUI defense, are energized by tough cases. DUI cases involve more technical evidence which needs to pass more preliminary tests to be admissible than almost any other type of case.
Expert DUI defense lawyers need to know the difference between “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause.” They need to understand and memorize the scientifically validated step-by-step procedure a police officer is supposed to follow when administering a Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST), and what road conditions, weather conditions, and lighting conditions make the test score unreliable.
DUI defense law practitioners are also experts in the Rules of Evidence. The prosecution’s evidence must comply with these demanding and specific rules before it can be used against the defendant. DUI defense lawyers can be fanatical in their study of the Rules of Evidence because keeping a harmful piece of evidence from being used against their client can mean the difference between a client living with a lifelong DUI conviction on their record or going home with a soon-to-be expunged arrest record from a dismissed DUI charge.
Tampa DUI Defense
If you are charged with DUI, call Stechschulte Nell Law immediately. We are ready to defend your case. Call 813-280-1244 for a case review.