The simple and short answer to the first part of the title question is
yes. If you drink then drive, you are putting yourself in a position where
you could end up with a criminal conviction hanging over your head. How
severe the penalties are depends on a large number of variables, but a
conviction for DUI will definitely be a criminal one of varying severity.
What is the difference between a crime and a non-criminal conviction?
Crimes basically involve some kind of actual or potential harm being done
to a person or property. Crimes in Florida are considered either a misdemeanor
or a felony, depending on the severity of the penalties imposed. If you
are convicted of either a misdemeanor or a felony in Florida you are likely
to be imprisoned for a specific period. That means that for a driving
offence like DUI, you face imprisonment because it is considered a crime,
while many other driving offences such as speeding are not criminal offences.
You may face penalties, like fines, but you won't go to jail and you
won't have a criminal record if convicted.
What is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony and how does
DUI fit in to the picture?
In Florida, as in many other states across the country, a misdemeanor is
the least serious of what is considered a crime in the state. Misdemeanor
offences normally involve a term in a county jail of no more than a year.
It could be just a day or two, a few weeks or months, but no more than
a year. Misdemeanors come with other penalties, too, like fines, probation
and in the case of a DUI offence, suspension of a driving license, a requirement
to attend a correctional driving course (DUI school) and community service.
Felonies are more serious and involve either the death penalty (in Florida
– not in some other states) or a term in a state jail of more than
a year. DUI felonies do not involve the death penalty. A felony conviction
will apply to you if you have been proven to have seriously injured or
killed someone when driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled
substance, if it is a third offence or more or if you have injured someone
and have not stopped to give assistance. Anything other than these definitions
means you would have committed a misdemeanor.
What is the Florida statute that concerns DUI?
The Florida statutes are those parts of Florida's laws that are written
down – they are not in the same category as laws made by the results
of a trial or a number of similar trials in the past (known as case law).
In a way, that makes it easy, because every statute (and Florida, like
every other state, has hundreds of them) can be found easily on the internet,
but it may take a bit of searching to find the one that refers to something
you have done wrong in the eyes of the law. DUI, for instance, is not
found where you might think it is – under the chapter labeled "crimes",
but is actually described in statute section (s.) 316.193, which is just
one of many statutes in the chapter labeled under "Motor Vehicles".
The statutes are updated and published every year, so if there are any
amendments – changes legislated by the Florida government - then
they will appear for public view pretty soon. Interpreting the statute
that applies to DUI can still be quite difficult, even if you get the
gist of what is being said. Statute s.316.193 for instance, runs to some
4,400 words! There is a lot of information there if you are prepared to
wade through it, but even then you may be still confused about what it
means to you. The statute, in fact will also refer to other statutes like
s.322.292, s.775.082 and s.893.03, which describe or define specific things
like fines, other penalties like DUI school or license revocation or what
a 'controlled substance' is.
This is where an experienced DUI lawyer can help to put you in the picture
and in particular give you advice about whether the charge laid against
you could end up in a misdemeanor or felony conviction, how you could
be sentenced if found guilty and what your chances of getting off or getting
a less severe sentence might be. You can then make a more informed decision
about defending yourself against a DUI charge.