Florida is not only home to some 22 million people, it is also a prime vacation destination and convention center, attracting five times as many visitors to the state every year as there are residents. So, it's a matter of statistical probability that tourists and visitors will figure among the drivers arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in Florida.
What happens if a visitor from California or a conventioneer from Maine is picked up in Florida on a DUI charge? Anyone living in another state who is considering driving in Florida needs to understand something about Florida DUI laws, as well as the interstate agreement called the Driver License Compact (DLC).
DUIs in Florida
Florida's laws regarding driving under the influence are tough, but they aren't very different from DUI laws in other states. Under Florida Motor Vehicles Statute Section 316.193, it is illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, which are defined as including specified harmful chemicals or controlled substances. It is also illegal to drive with a blood or breath alcohol level (BAL) of 0.08 percent. Every state makes it illegal to drive with a BAL of 0.08 percent, except Utah, where the legal blood alcohol limit is even lower.
A Florida DUI does have a few provisions that other states may not share. This includes the implied consent law that conditions driving on the roads in the state on consent to take a chemical test to determine BAL levels. That is, anyone arrested for a DUI in Florida is deemed to have agreed to take a breath or blood test. If they refuse to do so, it is a separate offense termed refusal.
DUI Penalties in Florida
DUI penalties in Florida include administrative license suspension; criminal license suspension; fines; jail time; probation; and mandatory DUI school. The administrative penalty kicks in immediately after arrest, although it is possible to appeal it. If the driver is licensed in Florida, the officer confiscates the license after arrest. However, for an out-of-state license, Florida does not take the license. Instead, officers give the driver notice that their driving privileges are revoked in Florida.
The severity of the suspension and other DUI penalties depend in part on the driver's record. That is, the more prior DUI convictions a person has, the higher the fines, the more potential jail time and other higher penalties.
For example, for a first offense, fines range from $500 to $1,000, and the court can send the driver to jail for up to six months. For a second offense, the fine can be between $1,000 and $2,000, and the jail time can be up to nine months. For a third offense in 10 years, the fine will be between $3,000 and $5,000, and the potential jail time is up to 12 months.
Aggravating Circumstances in Florida
Certain circumstances – like a BAL of 0.15 percent or higher, or driving with a minor in the car – are considered aggravating circumstances in Florida and result in increased penalties. When a DUI driver causes property damage, personal injury or death, the penalties can be even higher.
Interstate Driver License Compact
How will drunk driving in Florida affect a driver who holds an out-of-state license? Having driving privileges suspended in Florida will probably affect the person's license in their home state. Forty five states (all but Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Tennessee and Wisconsin) are members of the interstate Driver License Compact (DLC) based on the idea that every driver in the United States has only one license and one driving record.
Member states report DUIs and all other driving arrests to the other states, allowing a person's home state to take its own actions against their resident's driver’s license if that person is arrested for a DUI in Florida. Exactly how that works depends on the rules in the driver's home state. Some states will suspend the driver's license if Florida suspends it. Others won't act unless there is a criminal conviction. Sometimes the home state imposes penalties equal to the penalties that would have been imposed for a similar action in that state.
Florida Administrative Suspension
If a Florida driver is arrested on a DUI, the first action the state takes is an administrative suspension of the license. This is a DMV suspension and totally separate from the criminal court proceedings and penalties. When a driver with an out-of-state license gets arrested for a DUI in Florida, the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) does not have authority to suspend their license administratively. However the person's right to drive in Florida is suspended.
Like a Florida driver, the out-of-state driver has 10 days to request a DMV hearing on this suspension. If the out-of-state driver does that, they have a chance to argue to an administrative law judge that the DMV should not suspend their Florida driving privileges. In many cases, the person can hire an attorney to represent them at the hearing and need not show up in person.
If the person's driving privileges are suspended in Florida, this is communicated to the other states in the LDC. Most states will honor the administrative suspension with a similar suspension of driving privileges. Some will not.
Florida Criminal Charges and Proceedings
Aside from the issue of the administrative hearing, the arrested driver will be a party to a DUI criminal court proceeding. Generally, a Florida DUI attorney can represent the out-of-state driver in preliminary stages of the case, getting copies of the evidence against the driver, talking with the prosecutor and appearing on the driver's behalf. If the case goes to trial, the Florida judge can order the defendant to appear or allow them to be represented by their defense attorney.
An out-of-state driver convicted of a DUI offense in Florida is sentenced in Florida. Their driving privileges will be suspended and they may be ordered to pay a fine, go to prison or be put on probation. Probation can include a variety of conditions, including 50 community service hours and the use of an ignition interlock device (IID) on any vehicle the person drives for a set period of time. The driver's home state will be notified of the restrictions put on their driver’s license by the Florida court.
Impact of Florida DUI Case in the Home State
It is probable that the home state will impose the same restrictions when the driver returns. That means that the driver must complete all of the court-imposed probation requirements, like paying fines and completing DUI school.
On the other hand, not every state has a law similar to Florida's implied consent law, where a refusal to take a chemical test can lead to an additional license suspension. In that case, the home state may not impose that suspension on a driver even if Florida does.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.