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The Matassini Law Firm, P.A. Your trusted legal advisors since 1976

What You Need To Know About Drugged Driving In Florida


Alcohol-based DUI arrests usually get most of the attention in Tampa and elsewhere. Yet according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, drugged driving is a bigger problem than drink driving. That group claims that, in 2015, 43 percent of deceased motorists had drugs in their system, as compared with 37 percent who had alcohol in their system.

Of course, there is a big difference between “drugs” and “impairing drugs.” Furthermore, not all drugs have the same effect at the same levels. It is these questions, and others, which makes DUI drug cases so complicated in Florida and around the country.

The Elements of a DUI Drug Case in Tampa

Physical control of the vehicle is the first element under Section 316.193 of the Florida Statutes. “Driving” under the influence is a misnomer, because the defendant does not need to be “driving” the car to be guilty. Some factors in determining control include:

  • Engine Operation: If the defendant only needs to put the car in gear to get underway, the defendant is probably in control of the car.
  • Key’s Location: If the keys were in the ignition, Florida courts almost always find that the defendant was in control of the vehicle. If the keys were in the defendant’s pocket, that fact supports the prosecutor; if the keys were out of reach, a defense attorney can often successfully argue lack of control.
  • Car’s Condition: The defendant obviously cannot drive a car with no gasoline or that is mechanically inoperable.

For the most part, Florida judges do not recognize the so-called “sleep it off” defense, as most courts have held that sleeping defendants are in control of their vehicles.

Under the influence is the next element. For the most part, to determine if the defendant’s faculties are “worsening or diminishment in some material respect,” officers use the field sobriety tests. The three approved tests are:

  • Walking a straight line (walk-and-turn),
  • One-leg stand, and
  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus (following a moving point by moving only the eyes).

Some states are testing marijuana Breathalyzers, and these gadgets may be in the hands of Florida police officers very soon. Without much scientific basis, lawmakers have defined marijuana “impairment” as five nanograms. The accuracy of this “impairment” level is the subject of intense debate.

Finally, the drug must be a “controlled substance” or a “harmful chemical.” Controlled substances include illegal street drugs, like cocaine, semi-legal drugs, like marijuana, and legal prescription drugs, like Oxycontin. Harmful chemicals include things like isopropyl alcohol, nitrous oxide, and other household products that people can use to “get high.”

DUI Drug Penalties in Florida

For the most part, DUI drug penalties are the same as DUI alcohol penalties. A first offense is a misdemeanor that also carries a six-month driver’s license suspension. A second offense is also a misdemeanor, but it comes with a five-year license suspension. A restricted driving permit may be available for part of all of the suspension period.

There are also some collateral consequences, mostly in the form of higher auto insurance rates. Typically, a conviction means at least three years of high-risk insurance.

Connect with Tenacious Lawyers

To avoid some or all of the consequences of a DUI-drug case, contact an experienced DUI defense attorney in Tampa from The Matassini Law Firm, P.A. Home and jail visits are available. Nicholas G. Matassini is board certified in criminal defense and is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell. Since 1976, The Matassini Law Firm, P.A. has been committed to excellence in State and Federal criminal defense throughout the Tampa Bay area.

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