During A Stop For DUI, You Have The Right To...  PROTECT YOURSELF, LAWYERS SAY

You know the situation.

It's after 11 on a work night. You had a few beers with dinner and it's time to drive home. You feel sober. The possibility you're too drunk to drive doesn't cross your mind.

Not far from home, though, you see the blue lights flashing in your rearview mirror. Never having been arrested before, you want to be helpful.

But the officer's job is to collect evidence against you.

Thousands of Floridians face a similar situation each year. In Florida, where a person with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 is presumed intoxicated, many otherwise law-abiding people get arrested for driving under the influence. A 2002 survey of 56,000 Floridians arrested for DUI found 70 percent were first-time offenders.

Drunken driving is serious and shatters countless lives needlessly. So it's only right the stakes are high.

But when it's you who's had one too many, you can't afford to say or do the wrong thing. Realize that no matter what you do or say, you'll probably be arrested and go to jail until you're sober. Your car will be impounded and your driver's license taken.

For the most part, once they smell alcohol on your breath, you're going to be arrested. Be polite to the officer, but don't engage in conversation. Telling an officer where you've been or how much you've had to drink won't help your case.

You're not compelled to answer questions from a law enforcement officer other than who you are. You don't have to talk to the police. I don't think the everyday person knows that.

Even though you're not entitled to an attorney during the traffic stop, tell the officer you want to talk to one anyway. Most stops are videotaped and shown to jurors, who typically view the denial in a light favorable to the defendant.

There's something about that exchange that strikes jurors as fundamentally unfair. That allows the lawyer to build some momentum around that. Anything you refuse to do, it's easier to couch it in a way that you were refused a lawyer.

You have the right to refuse to submit to field sobriety and breathe tests. I suggest you exercise this right if you're fairly certain you're over the legal limit. I also suggest doing so despite the fact your license will be suspended for 12 months for a first-time refusal of a breath test.

If you blow and blow over, your license is still going to be suspended for six months.  This is something they do not tell you. You're led to believe if you blow, your license won't be suspended.

No matter how well you handle a DUI stop, the expense and aggravation is never going to be worth risking your life and the lives of others. 

My advice: If you drink, call a cab.

IF YOU GET PULLED OVER:

1. Hire an attorney. I can help you navigate the complexities of the court system. Moe likely than not, your case can be negotiated down to a less-serious charge.

2. Be prepared to spend thousands of dollars on attorney's fees, fines and court costs, even if you're a first-time offender. You're probably not going to get by for less than $1,500, and that's without an attorney.

3. Even though the officer confiscated your license, you can drive for 10 days following the arrest. Keep the citation with you, though. It's your temporary license for those 10 days. Use that time to arrange for alternative transportation and to hire a lawyer, if you choose to do so.

4. You cannot expunge a DUI conviction in Florida. It stays on your record for 75 years.

5. If you plead guilty to DUI as a first-time offender, be prepared for these penalties:

-- A minimum $250 fine plus court costs;

-- A minimum of 50 hours of community service;

-- As much as one year of probation;

-- An additional six-month suspension of your license;

-- DUI school, alcohol evaluation and treatment (if needed);

--10-day immobilization of your vehicle.

6. Penalties are enhanced for repeat offenders and for people whose blood-alcohol level measured at 0.2 or higher.