What is the difference between DUI and DWI?

In the state of Florida, if someone is accused of driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or controlled substances, the acronym that's applied is DUI for “driving under the influence”. Around the country, there are a variety of different acronyms that sometimes they can be confusing. DWI, “driving while impaired” or “intoxicated” is used in other jurisdictions, but it is not used here. Nevertheless, the thrust of the charge is the same. You're being accused of operating a motor vehicle or being in control of it while under the influence. In Florida, a person is guilty of driving under the influence if they are driving or “in actual physical control” of a vehicle while: under the influence of alcohol and/or controlled substances to the extent that his or her “normal faculties” (i.e. walk, talk, see, drive, judge distances, etc.) are impaired, having a breath alcohol level of 0.08 g/210L or higher, or having a blood alcohol level of 0.08 g/100ml of blood or higher. The standards of what constitutes impaired driving are fairly uniform across the country, but other important elements, like obligatory testing compliance, the degree of severity, mandatory minimums, and penalties are all highly location-specific.

Breath testing and field sobriety tests (FST) can make DUI charges hard to get out of— especially because you’re obligated to comply and cannot refuse— but there are a number of potential defense strategies, all of which we have used with great success. Were you driving out of necessity, such as getting someone to a hospital? Were you really idling, rather than actually driving? Maybe there was something wrong with the breathalyzer machine or the way it was used. Getting key evidence like breathalyzer results thrown out due to an uncalibrated machine can be instrumental in beating a DUI charge, as we’ve seen many times in the past. It is the responsibility of law enforcement to make sure their tools are kept up-to-date and in good condition; if they aren’t, law enforcement runs the risk of charging people unfairly based on skewed and inaccurate results.

In Florida, although they’re traditionally charged as a misdemeanor, DUIs can be charged with a felony depending on the circumstance. DUI charges are tricky in that they have mandatory sentencing minimums, which means that there is only so much negotiating you can possibly do. Attempting to make those negotiations without the benefit of an attorney, especially one well-versed in Florida law, is dangerous. The consequences of a DUI conviction can be very serious. Potential fines range from $500 to $5000, depending on your history, and jail time can range from 30 days to 12 months. The collateral consequences can be just as severe; there are so many consequences beyond just license suspension. We're talking about potential incarceration and frankly, in the court of public opinion, sometimes it can affect your employment and/or your home life, so that’s all the more reason to treat it seriously.

In short, by Florida law, impaired driving is called a DUI, not a DWI. And whatever the case may be, you’re always encouraged to call our office, because the difference in what it’s called is just one of many legal subtleties that we understand.

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