In Florida, driving under the influence is a serious offense, which in some cases may be punishable as a felony, as opposed to a misdemeanor.
Misdemeanor DUI is generally charged in cases where no one was injured or killed and you don’t have a long list of prior offenses. Most DUI arrests in Florida are misdemeanors. Felony DUI charges are usually reserved for cases involving injury, death and/ or a long history of previous convictions.
At The Ansara Law Firm, our Fort Lauderdale DUI defense attorneys are committed to helping you determine the best way to fight these charges. It’s often not a simple matter, and we may lean on numerous approaches, ranging from suppression of evidence to challenging testing methods to refuting witness statements to presenting mitigating circumstances.
Many prosecutors in these more serious cases try to strong-arm defendants into accepting a plea deal. We understand the consequences of a permanent criminal record – even for lesser charges – so it’s not a decision we take lightly. We will gather all evidence necessary for trial, and be prepared to vigorously defend your freedom, reputation and future.When is DUI a Felony?
It matters whether your case is misdemeanor or felony because a felony charge will carry with it much more severe penalties, including fines and prison time, and immense societal stigma long after your release. You will be forced to answer “Yes” when asked on education, housing and employment forms whether you are a convicted felon. This can foreclose on many opportunities you may have to rebuild your life.
Florida Statute 316.193 explains that the charge of driving under the influence can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on an array of factors.
A DUI arrest in Fort Lauderdale may be prosecuted as a felony when:
- Defendant is convicted of a DUI for the third time in 10 years.
- Defendant is convicted of a fourth or subsequent DUI.
- Defendant caused serious bodily injury to another while driving drunk or impaired.
- Defendant killed someone else – including an unborn child – while driving intoxicated.
Although felony DUI charges may be the minority of all DUI arrests, they are by no means unique. Approximately 1 in 3 traffic deaths are caused by a driver who is impaired, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC). In Florida, there were 8,500 people killed in drunk driving crashes over a recent 10-year period. Tens of thousands more have been seriously injured.
In those cases, when the driver survives, he or she is typically prosecuted for felony DUI.DUI Manslaughter
When someone is killed by an alleged drunk driver, the charge filed is called DUI manslaughter.
To secure a conviction for DUI manslaughter, prosecutors must show:
You were in violation of Subsection 1 of F.S. 316.193 (meaning you were operating a vehicle while drunk or under the influence) and that by reason of such operation causes OR contributes to causing the death of any human being or unborn child.
DUI manslaughter is considered a second-degree felony under Florida law, which means it carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. If more than one person dies, there is no guarantee each 15-year sentence wouldn’t run consecutively, rather than concurrently.
The charge may be filed as a first-degree felony, carrying a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, if at the time of the fatal DUI crash, the at-fault driver knew or should have known the crash occurred but failed to give information or render aid, as required by law. (In other words, if you hit-and-run, you will face harsher penalties).
The minimum mandatory penalty for DUI manslaughter is four years. Recent updates to the law also make it four years minimum mandatory to flee the scene of a deadly crash – even if prosecutors can’t prove you were drinking. This essentially removed the incentive of drunk drivers to flee the scene of fatal crashes.Defenses to Felony DUI
Although every case will be different, one defense proven successful in numerous cases is asserting insufficient proof the accused was under the influence of alcohol and/ or drugs to the extent normal faculties were impaired. In this sense, the case is like any other DUI charge. Prosecutors still must show – via BAC tests and circumstantial evidence – that the accused was impaired.
We can work to challenge the various tests and the validity of officers’ methods. We will examine whether the machines are properly calibrated or whether a medical condition may have caused an erroneous result.
Every DUI case, whether felony or misdemeanor, must be investigated thoroughly and all proper procedure followed. Our Fort Lauderdale DUI defense lawyers know anytime an element has been overlooked by police or prosecutors, it may be an opportunity to suppress evidence or raise reasonable doubt.
If you have been arrested for DUI in Fort Lauderdale, call The Ansara Law Firm today for your free initial consultation at (954) 761-4011.