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Understanding the Crime of Driving Under the Influence

Glass of Whiskey and Keys on a Table

Every year, approximately 56,000 criminal cases are initiated in the form of an arrest, or an issued traffic citation, in the State of Florida, for Driving under the Influence (DUI). The facts and circumstances of each DUI case are vastly different. However, every DUI case has the potential to be incredibly complicated.

Types of DUI Cases in Florida

DUI cases can come in many different “flavors.” For example, the State can bring varying charges for drinking while driving.

Such charges may include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • DUI with Unlawful Blood Alcohol Content (DUBAL)
  • DUI with Property Damage
  • DUI Manslaughter
  • DUI with Serious Bodily Injury
  • Aggravated DUI
  • Commercial Vehicle DUI
  • Boating Under the Influence (BUI)
  • DUI by Drivers Under 21

The DUI statutory structure is like a web that starts with the basic DUI elements that extend to a fairly difficult maze. The scope of this article will focus only on the basic DUI elements that are applicable to all or most DUI cases.

What Do Florida Laws Say About Driving Under the Influence?

The Florida DUI law can be found at section 316.193 of the Florida Statutes. Under this statute, one can be found guilty of DUI if they operated or were in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while normal faculties were impaired by alcohol, drugs, or both.

This law may sound relatively simple, but it gets more complicated when broken down into the following elements:

  • “Operated OR in actual physical control..”
  • “…of a motor vehicle…”
  • “…while normal faculties were impaired.”

“Operating or in Actual Physical Control”

The element of driving is simple. Actual physical control requires more explanation. Courts have held that if the ignition is on, or if the engine is running, the vehicle is being physically controlled. There is not much confusion around this point. However, it is less known that even if the vehicle is off, but the driver is sitting inside the vehicle with the keys in his pocket, he is still in actual physical control and may be guilty of DUI if the other elements are met.

“…of a Motor Vehicle…”

For the purposes of DUI, Florida law defines a motor vehicle as “every device in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except devices used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.”

This definition is broad enough to encompass several types of vehicles, including the following:

  • Cars
  • Trucks
  • SUVs
  • RVs
  • Motorcycles

Other similar vehicles will obviously fit this description. Courts have also held that golf carts and even riding lawn mowers would qualify as a motor vehicle.

“…While Normal Faculties Were Impaired.”

It is important to understand that one does not have to be obviously inebriated to be guilty of DUI. Mere impairment of normal faculties is sufficient for a DUI conviction. What are normal faculties and to what extent must they be impaired?

Normal faculties include the ability to do any of the following:

  • Walk
  • Talk
  • See
  • Hear
  • Judge distances

In fact, the ability to operate a motor vehicle, by itself, is a normal faculty. If these faculties are diminished by some material respect, the faculties are considered impaired. To find impairment, law enforcement officers may ask someone they suspect of DUI to conduct roadside field sobriety exercises. After arrest, law enforcement may ask someone to submit to a breath test which will give a reading of that person’s breath alcohol content. If that breath alcohol content is above .08(the legal limit), that person may be presumed impaired by a jury. This presumption of impairment will stand even if the person is able to operate the vehicle in a safe manner.

It is also important to know that one can be guilty of DUI if they are impaired by alcohol OR drugs. This is not limited to illegal controlled substances. A conviction for DUI is possible even if the impairment came from excessive voluntary consumption of over-the-counter medications or from lack of awareness regarding the effects of a given prescription on one’s ability to safely drive a motor vehicle.

Charged with DUI? Contact Our Pensacola Criminal Defense Lawyers Today.

It is the State’s burden to prove that each element of DUI beyond a reasonable doubt. However, it cannot be stressed enough that this article is a brief and generalized overview of the crime of DUI. A DUI case can get more complicated when other facts are available.

If found guilty of DUI, you may face harsh direct and indirect consequences, including:

  • Incarceration
  • Probation
  • Fines
  • Court costs
  • Increased insurance premiums
  • Invalidation of your driver’s license
  • Inability to get to work or continue working
  • Difficulty getting another job (especially if your job requires a commercial driver’s license or other operation of machinery)

At The Watson Firm, PLLC, we are committed to helping our clients with criminal defense of DUI charges and other criminal accusations. If you have been charged with a criminal offense such as DUI, let us fight for you. Connect with one of our Pensacola criminal defense attorneys today.

Call (850) 607-2929 or send us an email to schedule your free, confidential consultation.