What Happens if a Police Officer Is Charged with a DUI?

Police officers are usually investigating DUIs, not committing them. But there is no immunity for anyone when they are found driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in Florida. As unusual as it may seem, more police are arrested and charged with DUI than you might imagine. Some officers are even caught driving their police cruisers in uniform and on duty while under the influence.  



Why Would a Police Officer Be Charged with DUI? 


Why does anyone drive while under the influence? Often, the driver may have simply had “one too many” drinks and decided to drive despite feeling impaired. Many people rationalize the risk of an accident or an arrest by thinking that they’re just a little buzzed. But alcohol-impaired drivers react to sudden hazards more slowly and tend to focus on objects nearer to them than those farther ahead. Their ability to drive safely is diminished. 


Other drivers who are alcohol or drug-impaired are struggling to cope with stress. Police work is known to be one of the most stressful occupations. Whether from witnessing gruesome crime scenes, constantly anticipating and preparing for violent encounters, or coping with personal or family crises, officers can turn to alcohol or other substances just as others in the community do. 


What Happens When a Police Officer is Charged with DUI? 


When a police officer is charged with DUI, the consequences following the arrest are usually determined by the facts of the case. Was there an accident? Was someone other than the defendant-officer injured? Was there a minor in the vehicle? 


Each of these fact patterns has the potential to increase the seriousness of the charge and the penalties that could be imposed if the case results in a conviction, even against a police officer. And if an officer is convicted of DUI, their driver’s license will be suspended, preventing them from being able to patrol.  


If an officer is convicted of a felony DUI, their law enforcement career is almost certainly over. Not only would they be prohibited from possessing a firearm, but they would also be open to attack if they testified in court related to another person’s arrest. The defense is permitted to impeach a witness’s credibility by putting their felony conviction into the record.  


Also worth noting is the high probability that the police officer will face an internal departmental investigation into the events resulting in their DUI arrest. The officer could be reassigned to administrative duties in the office rather than remain on patrol, put on temporary paid leave pending the outcome of the case, or even suspended without pay, depending on the police department’s policies and union contracts. 


Alcohol /Substance Use Help Treatment  


Police departments throughout the state and the country provide officers with the opportunity to obtain confidential substance use counseling rather than wait for a substance problem to worsen progressively. However, officers hesitate to take advantage of these programs because they believe they will appear weak, untrustworthy, and not deserving of promotion. When an officer is charged with DUI, whether they are convicted or not, they are typically ordered to undergo alcohol counseling and treatment as a requirement to keep their job.  


Police Officers Often Refuse Field Sobriety Tests and Breathalyzers 


Police officers may know better than anyone how useful the evidence collected through the field sobriety tests and the breathalyzer is in convicting an accused DUI driver. 


Field sobriety tests are not really used to determine “if” a driver is going to be arrested for DUI.  


Standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) are used to gather evidence proving a driver is under the influence of alcohol or another chemical substance. 


When a driver participates in performing the field sobriety exercises (Walk-and-Turn, One-Legged Stand, and Horizontal Nystagmus tests), their poor execution of the test activities indicates impairment. 


Knowing that SFSTs will probably only hurt their defense, police who are stopped for suspected DUI usually refuse to perform the tests. They usually will not agree to provide a breath sample by blowing into a breathalyzer for the same reason. The reading may confirm that their blood/breath alcohol content level (BAC) is above the legal level.  


Without evidence that the DUI defendant-officer failed the field sobriety tests and without a breathalyzer machine reading, the only evidence against a DUI defendant is the subjective observations of the arresting officer. The arresting officer’s body cam may also yield some useful information. 


But proving “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a police officer is guilty of a crime on “observation evidence” alone is extremely difficult. Consequently, many officers who are initially charged with DUI may have their charges amended to a lesser offense or dropped altogether.  


Defending Police Officers Charged with DUI 


Defending Florida police officers charged with DUI involves the same focus and concentration on the law and science of DUI as with any defendant. At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law in Tampa, our extensive experience successfully defending DUI cases is available to every community member, whether they are teachers, mechanics, doctors, or members of law enforcement.  


The law mandates that no prosecution of a DUI case can end in a conviction unless the state presents evidence demonstrating all of the following: 


  • The arresting officer had reasonable articulable suspicion of a violation of the law before they stopped the driver’s vehicle. 
  • The arresting officer observed that the appearance or behavior of the driver reinforced the officer’s suspicion that the driver was impaired. 
  • If field sobriety tests were performed, the arresting officer provided proper instructions, demonstrated the desired test, and scored the driver’s performance correctly. They must also have considered appropriate road, lighting, weather, medical, and footwear conditions. 
  • After an arrest, the police need to have complied with all technical requirements and legal protocols for conducting further tests, such as a breathalyzer. 


Read More > DUI Charges Vs. Conviction: What’s the Difference? 


Skilled Tampa DUI Defense  


If you are facing DUI charges in Tampa or St. Petersburg, contact The Law Firm of Stechschulte Nell at 813-280-1244. We are on your side and are ready to defend you.  

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