In Florida, the penalties for drugged driving such as a marijuana DUI are just as severe as those for drunk driving since both crimes are prosecuted under the same statute prohibiting drinking and driving. However, prosecutors face an uphill battle in proving suspects were actually impaired by the drugs found in their system. If you’ve been charged with DUI for being high, you can significantly increase your chances of avoiding a conviction when you hire a Sarasota DUI lawyer.

Driving while under the influence of marijuana or any other drug, also known as “drugged driving” is a common crime committed in Florida. According to one estimate, around one-third of drivers pulled over for erratic driving or speeding are impaired by illegal drugs. Yet it’s difficult to determine exactly how many crashes are caused by drugged driving since Florida only tests around 60% of drivers involved in crashes for drugs. Furthermore, many cases of driving under the influence (DUI) involve a combination of alcohol and drugs.

Drugged Driving and Drunk Driving Are the Same Crime

According to Florida Statutes section 316.193(1)(a), a person is guilty of DUI when he or she is:

  • Driving or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle
  • Under the influence of alcoholic beverages or another intoxicating substance to the extent that his or her normal faculties are impaired

Being in physical control of a vehicle includes any situation in which you might possibly operate your vehicle. For example, people have been convicted of DUI merely for sitting in the driving seat of a parked car and being in possession of the car’s keys.

There are no separate penalties for drugged driving. Instead, drivers face the same penalties as for drunk driving:

  • For the first DUI offense — Up to 6 months of jail time; fines between $500 and $1,000; license suspension between 6 months and a year; 50 hours of community service or a $500 “buyout” option; 10 day vehicle impoundment.
  • For the second DUI offense — Up to 9 months in jail; fines between $1,000 and $2,000; mandatory ignition interlock device; license suspended for 1 to 5 years; 1 year of probation with a psychosocial evaluation; 50 hours of community service or a $500 buyout; 10 day vehicle impoundment.
  • For the third DUI offense — Possible felony with up to 1 year in jail; a fine between $2,000 and $4,000, 2 to 10 year license suspension, 1 year of mandatory probation along with a psychosocial evaluation; installation of an ignition interlock device; 50 hours of community service or a $500 buyout; 90 day vehicle impoundment.
  • For the fourth offense — Felony involving up to $5,000 in fines; up to 5 years in prison; lifetime license revocation; 50 hours of community service or $500 buyout option; 90 day vehicle impoundment.

If your case involves aggravating factors, such as the presence of a minor in the vehicle, your fines and jail times could be higher. In situations where your drugged driving causes injury, property damage, or death, you will face increased penalties as well.

When Do the Police Test for Drugs?

When an officer has reasonable cause to believe you are under the influence of drugs while driving, he or she may request that you submit to a urine or blood test. Under Florida Statutes section 316.1932(1)(a), the state assumes that anyone operating a vehicle within the territory of Florida has given consent to submit to such a test. While you have the right to refuse a urine or blood test, doing so may result in misdemeanor charges carrying a possible 1-year jail sentence and a mandatory license revocation of 1 year.

If you are involved in a crash resulting in death or serious injury, you won’t have the option of refusing a blood or urine test. According to Florida Statute section 316.1933(1), the police can even use force to make you give a blood sample if you refuse to cooperate.

How Does the Prosecutor Prove that You Are Under the Influence?

In order to successfully convict you of drugged driving, the prosecutor will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were:

  • In actual physical control of vehicle
  • Under the influence of a controlled substance
  • Affected by the substance to the extent that your normal faculties were impaired

Your attorney can win your case by demonstrating that the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proving all three elements. It’s rare for a case to involve the question of whether the defendant was in actual physical control of the vehicle. In many cases, however, your attorney will be able to cast doubt on whether you were under the influence or whether your normal faculties were impaired by the drug.

According to Florida case law, the presence of one or more controlled substances in a driver’s bloodstream is not by itself sufficient evidence to prove that he or she was under the influence at the time of driving. In addition to the positive test results, the prosecutor needs to introduce testimony from a drug recognition expert (DRE) or other evidence of intoxication such as your own statements, the officer’s observations, or the results of the search of your vehicle or person.

This means that there is often some doubt as to whether a drugged driving suspect was actually impaired at the time of driving. A skilled attorney can challenge the prosecution’s evidence and cross-examine the arresting officer in an effort to highlight the weaknesses of the prosecution’s case.

Choosing the Right Sarasota DUI Lawyer

When you’re facing DUI charges, especially after undergoing a DUI test for marijuana, you should hire a DUI lawyer near you with significant experience in these types of cases. Being pulled over after driving high in Florida can result in serious DUI charges. A good criminal defense attorney can defend your case by applying one or more of the following defenses:

  • Proving that the initial traffic stop was unlawful, and then requesting that all evidence obtained from that traffic stop be removed from the prosecutor’s case
  • Requesting that any evidence of a vehicle search or the results of a drug test be excluded from the case if the arresting officer did not have probable cause to search your car
  • Demonstrating that the prosecution failed to prove every element of its case beyond a reasonable doubt
  • In the event of a guilty verdict, advocating for a lenient sentence based on mitigating factors applying to your case

Talk to a Florida DUI attorney from Erika Valcarcel, Criminal Defense Lawyer, P.A. today. Erika Valcarcel has helped many clients avoid the harsh penalties of driving while high or other drugged driving related convictions. You can help yourself avoid a conviction for driving while under the influence of marijuana or any other drug today. Learn more about how Sarasota DUI lawyer Erika Valcarcel can help with your DUI case, call (941) 363-7900 today for a free and confidential consultation.