Breaking Down a DUI-Drug Case in Florida
Many states have very broad DUI-drug laws. Almost anything in your pantry, refrigerator, or medicine cabinet, including caffeine and sugar, could be an impairing substance. But Florida’s DUI-drug law is much more narrow, at least in terms of possibly intoxicating substances. More on that below.
Despite the law’s narrow focus, DUI-drug cases are extremely hard to successfully defend. Many jurisdictions have no-dismissal policies. Prosecutors will not reduce a DUI to a lesser included offense, like reckless driving, under any circumstances. Such a policy makes plea negotiations difficult, to say the least. Because of this difficulty, and because the primary and secondary consequences of DUI are so severe, only the best Tampa DUI lawyer should handle such matters.
Elements of the Offense
Although the law is narrow for the most part, the “driving” element of a DUI is very broad. In Florida and most other states, “driving” basically means “controlling,” or rather “capable of controlling.” If a defendant has the keys and the vehicle is in good working order, DUI charges could hold up in court, even if the defendant is asleep at the wheel.
Non-moving DUIs sometimes have proof issues. As mentioned, the vehicle must be in good working order. Officers rarely make a note of things like tire pressure and gasoline level. They almost never start the vehicle to see if it runs.
Under the influence, the core of the law, basically means the loss of normal physical or mental faculties due to ingestion of a prohibited substance. As of December 2023, this list is:
- Ethyl acetate,
- Methyl ethyl ketone,
- Methyl isobutyl ketone,
- Ethylene glycol monomethyl ether acetate,
- Nitrous oxide,
- Diethyl ether,
- Alkyl nitrites (butyl nitrite), or
- Any similar substance “which distorts or disturbs the auditory, visual, or mental processes.”
Additionally, in most cases, the state must prove the defendant ingested the substance “for the purpose of inducing a condition of intoxication.” DUI-alcohol is a regulatory crime that doesn’t have an intent element.
Admittedly, most people ingest prohibited substances to become intoxicated. But many others ingest them to judge their effects, on a dare, or to fit in socially.
The Field Sobriety Tests
DUI-drug cases differ from DUI-alcohol cases in another important way as well. Only a blood test confirms the presence of drugs. Police officers need search warrants to extract blood samples, which they only obtain in limited cases. Therefore, prosecutors often must rely on the field sobriety tests. These tests have issues, and the DUI eye test is probably the most troublesome one.
A controlled-condition eye test detects nystagmus, a vision condition similar to lazy eye. Officers don’t conduct roadside horizontal gaze nystagmus tests under controlled conditions.
The test, as well as the methodology, is usually flawed. A childhood brain injury, not intoxication, is the leading cause of nystagmus. Additionally, many people have this condition, but the symptoms only appear at moments of extreme stress, like a DUI arrest.
For these reasons, and others, most Hillsborough County judges only allow prosecutors to use HGN test results in limited situations.
The burden of proof is so high in criminal cases that if a Tampa criminal defense lawyer chips away at the evidence, the case usually won’t hold up in court.
Count on a Dedicated Hillsborough County Attorney
A criminal charge is not the same thing as a criminal conviction. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. Convenient payment plans are available.