In Florida, drunk driving is called Driving Under the Influence. If you’ve had too much to drink and you see the dreaded police lights in your rear-view mirror, you could be on your way to jail and then to court. Here are the steps in that process, from arrest through resolution of the case.
- Traffic Stop
If a law enforcement officer suspects that you’re drunk driving, he or she may respond by initiating a traffic stop. The officer then observes you for signs of intoxication. These signs can include slurred speech, delayed motor skills, smell of alcohol and bloodshot eyes. The officer might also ask you if you’ve had anything to drink.
- Field Sobriety Tests
Next, the officer may ask you to take field sobriety tests. These tests are to help the officer determine if there is enough suspicion of drunk driving to require you to take a breath test. There are a number of tests, but the most common ones require you to watch an object with your eyes, to walk in a line and turn around and walk back, and to balance on one leg. There are other tests, too, that officers like to use, so you shouldn’t be surprised at what you encounter on this step. During the steps, the officer wants to find evidence of intoxication.
- Breath Tests or Other Tests
Next, you might have to take a breath test at the side of the road. This is usually done with a small, handheld instrument. You could face arrest even without taking a preliminary breath test or you could take the roadside test. After arrest, you can expect to take another test at a police station.
There are blood and urine tests in addition to breath tests, but it’s usually best just to cooperate and take the breath test. If you refuse to take the test, the state can suspend your operator’s license. This is in addition to any penalties you might suffer for the drunk driving offense. In addition, if you refuse a breath test, the officer can seek a warrant to draw your blood.
- Booking and Court
If you’re over the legal limit or if alcohol affected your ability to drive, the next step in the process is booking into a local jail. You might be able to post bond once your alcohol levels return to normal levels. You might wait in jail until you can see a judge. The court can give you terms of bond until your court dates. These terms can include not to drink or even to take alcohol tests periodically.
- Court Dates
Your first court date is called an arraignment. The court tells you about the charges against you. If you’ve made the choice to enter a guilty plea at the arraignment, your case proceeds to a sentencing hearing next. If you choose to enter a not guilty plea, your case goes to a pre-trial conference where you or your attorney can discuss the case with the attorney for the state. Most people do not plead guilty at the arraignment. During this scheduling and plea negotiation process, discover how you can prepare pre-trial and discovery motions to help you learn what evidence the police have against you
From there, your case might proceed to trial. Your attorney might also consider filing a motion to suppress evidence at trial if law enforcement committed errors in gathering evidence against you. Sometimes the timing of these hearings vary depending on what local court hears the case.
- Sentencing and Probation
If you win your case, the case is dismissed and there is no penalty. If you are found guilty or you plead guilty, the court gives you a sentence. The sentence can include jail time or a term of probation, or both. It usually includes a suspension or restriction of your operator’s license. You might have to seek help for a drinking problem or perform community service. You also likely have to pay hefty court fines.