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Criminal FAQ

Lakeland Criminal Defense Lawyers | Criminal Law Attorneys Winter Haven FL

What should I do if a police officer pulls me over?

Remain as calm as possible, and pull over to the side of the road as quickly and safely as you can. Roll down your window, but stay in the car -- don't get out unless the officer directs you to do so. It's a good idea to turn on the interior light, turn off the engine, put your keys on the dash and place your hands on top of the steering wheel. In short, make yourself visible and do nothing that can be mistaken for a dangerous move. For example, don't reach for a purse or backpack or open the glove box unless you've asked the officer's permission, even if you are just looking for your license and registration card. The officer may think you're reaching for a weapon.

When the officer approaches your window, you may want to ask (with all the politeness you can muster) why you were stopped. If you are at all concerned that the person who stopped you is not actually a police officer (for example, if the car that pulled you over is unmarked), you should ask to see the officer's photo identification along with her badge. If you still have doubts, you can ask that the officer call a supervisor to the scene or you can request that you be allowed to follow the officer to a police station.

If a police officer pulls me over, can she search my car?

No, unless the officer has sufficient probable cause to establish a basis on which to search your vehicle. Probable cause exists when the facts and circumstances within an officer's knowledge are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution to believe that an offense has been committed. Furthermore, if the officer requests your consent to search your vehicle, you may refuse these requests and your refusal alone does not give him probable cause to search your vehicle. If, however, you have no objections to the officers searching your vehicle, you may consent to the search. Everyone has different opinions as to their own privacy interests and the choice is ultimately yours whether to consent to a search. Generally an officer may not search your person unless you consent to the search or the officer has a probable cause or reasonable suspicion that you are armed and dangerous. Reasonable suspicion, for purposes of a weapon search, may be established if the officer notices any bulges in your clothing that would make it appear that you may have a weapon and the facts would indicate that you pose a danger to yourself or others.

If my car is towed and impounded, can the police search it?

Yes. If your car is impounded, the police are allowed to conduct a thorough search of it, including its trunk and any closed containers that they find inside. This is true even if your car was towed after you parked it illegally, or if the police recover your car after it is stolen.

The police are required, however, to follow fair and standardized procedures when they search your car, and may not stop you and impound your car simply to perform a search.

Are all illegal drugs treated equally when it comes to punishing drug dealers?

No, the punishment for drug crimes depends not only on the criminal conduct of the offender but also on the classification of the drug and the quantity of the drug. In addition, Federal Court and State Court are completely different as well.

What is DUI?

DUI is shorthand for Driving Under the Influence. A person is guilty of DUI if he or she drives or is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle and is under the influence of alcoholic beverages or any chemical or controlled substance to the extent that his or her mental faculties are impaired or when his or her blood alcohol level (BAC) is above the legal limit for the state.

Can a person be guilty of drunk driving if he only had one drink?

The crime of drunk driving is generally defined in two ways: (1) having a blood alcohol content above the limit set by law, or (2) driving under the influence. To find a person guilty under the first definition, a jury must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the person's blood alcohol content (BAC) exceeded a certain amount. In most states, as in Florida, the legal limit is .08 (or 8 percent). Therefore, if it is proven that the person's BAC at the time of the incident was .08 or greater, he or she can be convicted of DUI, regardless of how much alcohol was actually consumed.

In contrast, the second definition does not refer to any particular BAC; it focuses on the driving behavior of the person. If the person's driving is impaired by the consumption of alcohol or narcotics, he or she can be found guilty of DUI. Instead of presenting evidence of the BAC to a jury, the prosecution seeking a conviction under this definition generally presents testimony about the person's driving and appearance. A police officer will often describe the impaired driving that lead him to pull the person over and the person's ability (or lack thereof) to perform field sobriety tasks, such as walking a straight line. Evidence is also usually presented concerning the person's consumption of alcohol. If the jury then concludes that the prosecution has met its burden of proof, it will convict the person of DUI. A susceptible person may exhibit impaired driving after one drink and therefore be convicted of DUI. It should be noted that the field sobriety tasks are very precise and most Defendants state that they passed the test but were still arrested. When we receive the officer’s reports, they are a very different description than what the Defendant recalled. You may want to demand that the tasks be video taped if you are concerned about being wrongly accused. As a general rule, the decision to arrest has been made prior to field sobriety testing and the tests are simply a tool to gather additional evidence to use for convicting the Defendant at trial.

Is there anyway to avoid a DUI?

It sounds simple, but don't drink and drive. Take a taxi, designate a driver, walk, call a friend, but no matter what, do not drink and drive.

Does the car have to be moving for me to be guilty of DUI?

No. You can be arrested for DUI by driving while over the legal BAC in your state or while impaired. But, you need not actually operate the car in order to be arrested. You can still be found guilty if you had the capability and power to dominate, direct, or regulate the vehicle, regardless of whether you were exercising that capability or power at the time of the arrest. In other words, simply sitting behind the wheel with the keys in the ignition can lead to your arrest for DUI by being in actual physical control of the car. If you decide you are unable to drive but are going to remain in the vehicle, you should get in a passenger seat to reduce your risk of being arrested. In addition, putting the keys in the ignition for listening to the radio puts you at additional risk.

Do I have to submit to a breath, blood, or urine test?

No. However, refusing such tests could automatically suspend your driving privilege. The laws of most states permit the motor vehicle department to suspend your privilege to drive. In Florida, your privilege to drive can be suspended for one year for a first refusal, and for eighteen months for a second refusal. This suspension is called an Administrative Suspension and is separate from the suspension that could be imposed by the Court. In addition, your refusal to submit to a test upon the request of a law enforcement officer is admissible in any criminal proceeding against you as evidence of you consciousness of guilt.

Can I fight my Administrative Suspension?

Yes. You may request a review of the driver’s license suspension by the department of motor vehicles within a specified number of days following your arrest. At a formal review, the hearing officer is authorized to administer oaths, examine witnesses and take testimony. If you request an informal review hearing, it shall consist solely of an examination by the department of the written materials submitted by the arresting officer, as well as anything you wish to submit. You generally cannot attend an informal hearing.

If I am arrested for a DUI, will I lose my license?

Yes, the law enforcement officer will seize your license if you are arrested for DUI with an unlawful BAC or after you refused to submit to a chemical or physical test. Your license will be seized, and the officer will issue you a traffic ticket, which acts as both a temporary driver’s license and as your notice of suspension. You have 10 days to request an Administrative Review Hearing through the Department of Motor Vehicles, which you SHOULD request immediately. The instructions for the request are on the citation.

How long will I lose my license?

This will vary from state to state. However, if you have refused to submit to a chemical or physical test, your license will likely be suspended for a period of one year for a first refusal, or for eighteen months if you have previously refused to submit to such a test. If you have an unlawful BAC, your driving privilege will likely be suspended for six months for a first offense, and one year for a second offense.

 


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