What’s “Actual Physical Control” in Florida DUI Cases?

In Florida DUI cases, “Actual Physical Control” (APC) of a vehicle can lead to DUI charges even if you are not actively driving. The term refers to situations where a person can operate a vehicle and is in a position to do so, regardless of whether the vehicle is moving. Understanding APC is important because it broadens the reach of DUI laws, making it possible for individuals to be charged even when they are not driving at the time the police approach them. 

Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law in Tampa believe that everyone should understand the law and the way it affects them before they learn the hard way, by being arrested and prosecuted for conduct they did not realize was illegal. “Actual Physical Control” (APC) is a prime example of a situation in which a driver may think they’ve done the right thing and yet they are still arrested. If you are facing DUI charges in Florida, contact the Stechschulte Nell Law Firm for a full review of your case and to discuss the best strategy for your defense. 


Florida DUI Elements: 

To be convicted of DUI in Florida, the prosecution must establish specific elements, or components of the crime, beyond a reasonable doubt. These elements include: 

  1. The defendant was driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle, and  
  2. the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances to the extent that their normal faculties were impaired, or  
  3. the defendant had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher 

In Florida, “control” extends beyond driving to include situations where the defendant is in the vehicle with the capability to operate it. 


Penalties for Florida DUI: 

Florida imposes stringent penalties for DUI offenses that escalate with subsequent convictions. First-time offenders face: 

  • A fine ranging from $500 to $1,000 
  • Up to six months in jail 
  • License suspension for six to twelve months 
  • Mandatory completion of a DUI education program 
  • Probation for up to one year 

Subsequent offenses carry more severe penalties, including longer jail terms, higher fines, and longer license suspensions. Additional penalties apply if aggravating factors are present, such as having a minor in the vehicle, causing property damage or injury, or having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.15 or higher. 


Examples from Florida Caselaw: 

Florida courts have provided valuable guidance on what constitutes APC in various cases. In Griffin v. State, the court found that the defendant had Actual Physical Control because he was found asleep behind the wheel with the keys in the ignition, even though the vehicle was not moving.  

A wide range of factual scenarios have been litigated in Florida regarding when a driver is in “Actual Physical Control” of a vehicle for purposes of a DUI conviction. There is no single factor that determines whether a driver can be said to be in actual physical control. Rather, the judgment of APC will be based on the totality of the circumstances, including but not limited to: 

  • keys in the ignition 
  • defendant sitting in driver’s seat 
  • engine running 
  • automobile inoperable 
  • are keys outside of the vehicle or otherwise out of reach of the driver 
  • defendant in the vehicle or next to it 
  • number of persons in the vehicle 
  • independent witnesses 

The prosecution must prove that the defendant was either driving or was in actual physical control of the vehicle while under the influence. The circumstances of every case are different and can only be assessed by a knowledgeable DUI defense lawyer on a case-by-case basis.  


Hire an Experienced Florida DUI Defense Lawyer 

Given the complexities of DUI laws and the broad interpretation of Actual Physical Control, it is very important to hire an experienced Florida DUI defense lawyer. A skilled attorney will analyze every fact in the case for any potential grounds to challenge the state’s evidence. Some effective areas of defense include: 

  1. Police Errors: Procedural mistakes made by law enforcement officers can lead to the exclusion of evidence or dismissal of charges. Any significant police error during the investigation and arrest process could result in grounds for dismissal
  2. No Reasonable Cause to Stop the Driver: An officer must have reasonable articulable suspicion to stop a vehicle, such as a traffic violation or suspicious driving behavior. If the stop was made without reasonable cause, any evidence obtained as a result should be inadmissible.
  3. Improperly Administered Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs): SFSTs must be conducted according to specific guidelines. Mistakes in administering the tests or interpreting a driver’s performance can raise significant doubt about the validity of the test
  4. No Probable Cause to Arrest: Even if a driver is stopped lawfully, the officer must have probable cause to believe the driver is impaired by alcohol, drugs, or another chemical substance before making an arrest. Lack of probable cause is a very strong defense in a DUI case
  5. Breathalyzer Testing Procedures: Breathalyzer tests must comply with strict regulations relating to the calibration and maintenance of the machine and the test administration procedure. Any deviation from these requirements can produce grounds to effectively challenge the reliability of the test results 

In addition to these defenses, skilled Florida DUI defense lawyers can explore other avenues based on the specific circumstances of the case. When in the best interest of the defendant, an experienced DUI defense attorney may negotiate with prosecutors for reduced charges or alternative sentencing options, such as enrollment in a diversion program. 

The legal concept of “Actual Physical Control” puts many drivers in jeopardy of DUI charges even when they are not driving their vehicle. The elements of a DUI, coupled with the severe penalties, highlight the importance of hiring an experienced defense lawyer. The skilled DUI defense attorneys at Stechschulte Nell can identify procedural errors, challenge the validity of evidence, and negotiate favorable outcomes, providing the best chance for a successful defense. 

Contact us today for a FREE DUI case review at 813-280-1244. 

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