Clients often ask my advice when they’re facing DUI (Driving Under the Influence) charges in Florida. Perhaps the most recent question in DUI law that has been brought to my attention is whether the police can make an arrest for DUI without having personally witnessed the suspect behind the wheel, actually driving a motor vehicle while intoxicated and a crash didn’t occur. There are two cases that provide clarity on how your DUI charges might turn out under circumstances like these. The first is a 2011 case, M.W. v. State. (51 So. 3d 1220 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2011)). In M.W., the Second District Court of Appeals issued a ruling that is largely controlling when a Florida trial court hears this issue.
In M.W. v. State, the Second District Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s original conviction of the Defendant for criminal obstruction. The appellate court decided that a warrantless arrest for misdemeanor assault is lawful only if the offense was committed in the officer’s presence. In a pertinent part, Florida Statute 901.15 and (1), provide that a law enforcement officer is authorized to arrest a person without a warrant when, “the person has committed a felony or misdemeanor or violated a municipal or county ordinance in the presence of the officer.”
The second case, Skinner v. State, specifically addresses DUI suspects found by officers arriving on the scene, to be intoxicated but not driving the car. (31 So. 3d 940, (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2010)). According to Florida statutory laws, before detaining a suspect for a DUI offense, the arresting officer must have at a minimum reasonable suspicion that an offense has been committed. Florida Statute 901.151(2). Further, an arrest for DUI must be supported by probable cause. Fla. Stat.§ 901.151(4).
In the Skinner case, the Court ruled that if the only evidence an officer has to conclude that a suspect has committed a DUI offense is that the suspect appeared to be intoxicated and was standing nearby a vehicle involved in a crash, that neither reasonable suspicion nor probable cause are present.
In order to prove that a suspect/defendant committed a DUI offense, the prosecution must show that the defendant was driving, in actual physical control of the car, while in a state of intoxication. Depending on the circumstances of the case, witness testimony may not be sufficient evidence for the State to prove its DUI charges. The trend of the courts is to convict a defendant only after an officer has personally witnessed the alleged DUI defendant behind the wheel controlling the car while in a state of unlawful intoxication.
If you have experienced a similar situation, or find yourself accused of a DUI charge, contact Frost Law at (407) 670-5569. As a former prosecutor, attorney Chad Frost has years of experience handing DUI offenses and can expertly help you resolve your case.