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In The Bleak Midwinter


From mid-December until New Year’s Day, the Florida Highway Patrol will be cracking down on suspected drunk drivers.

A news release stated that “all uniformed FHP personnel,” including non-patrol officers and administrative workers, will patrol area streets and highways as part of the statewide “Drive Sober Or Get Pulled Over” campaign. FHP director Col. Gene Spaulding implored Floridians to “make the right choice this holiday season and drive sober.” Several non-government agencies, such as the American Automobile Association, are offering impaired drivers a free ride home during at least part of the month. Additionally, officers are encouraging motorists to text tips about suspected drunk drivers to law enforcement.

In 2015, 20 percent of the alcohol-related crash fatalities in Florida occurred during the New Year’s holiday.

DUIs Before the Stop

Selective Traffic Enforcement Programs are a cornerstone of anti-DUI efforts all across the country. STEP campaigns always feature catchy nicknames to draw the public’s attention; in fact, the same advertisers who came up with the “Click It Or Ticket” moniker also handle new product advertisements for McDonald’s

As the above story indicates, all-hands-on-deck STEP campaigns usually mean that inexperienced officers are out on patrol. Until recently, such stops were arguably illegal. But two years ago, the Supreme Court changed the law in Heien v. North Carolina. In a near-unanimous decision, the Justices ruled that even if peace officers erred due to inexperience, the officers still have probable cause if their mistakes were reasonable. In Heien, the officer pulled over a car for a non-working tail light, but North Carolina law only requires one working tail light.

After the Stop

A traffic violation is usually sufficient reason for a stop, but to make an arrest, officers must have probable cause, and that is a higher standard. In DUIs, probable cause nearly always comes from the breath or blood test.

Many lawyers say that people should always refuse to provide chemical samples, because the conviction rate in breath test cases is over 80 percent, and the conviction rate in refusal cases is about 45 percent. Essentially, the “never take a test” crowd argues that the state does not need any help to obtain convictions, and breath or blood tests essentially guarantee that outcome. On the other hand, there is an old saying that if one falls into a hole, the first order of business is to stop digging. Florida has a refusal-to-submit law, so even if the defendant “beats” the DUI, the defendant still ends up with a criminal conviction for refusing the test. In sum, some lawyers say, refusing a chemical test simply makes a bad situation worse.

One idea is refuse the breath test but consent to a blood test. Breath samples are gone forever after the test is over, but blood samples are preserved and can be analyzed by an independent laboratory later.

Of course, the best approach is to avoid the situation altogether. It is a hassle to leave one’s car in a parking lot and take an Uber home, but this inconvenience is far less than the consequences of a DUI arrest.

Partner with Assertive Attorneys

DUIs are among the most costly infractions in Florida. For a free consultation with an assertive criminal defense lawyer in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, PA. Home and jail visits are available.





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