The state attorney's office has finally come to its senses and realized that first-time DUI offenders should not be scarred with a permanent criminal record. For as long as any Miami criminal lawyer can remember, first-time DUI offenders faced the real possibility of a permanent criminal record in the event of a plea to first minimums for driving under the influence. Although the punishments for a first DUI were never onerous; generally sixth months of probation, DUI school, victim impact panel, driver's license suspension, community service hours, fines and court costs, the stigma of a permanent criminal conviction has always loomed. A plea or finding of guilt after a jury trial always resulted in an adjudication of guilt or conviction. An adjudication of guilt will prevent an individual from ever taking advantage of the sealing or expungement laws made available in the State of Florida.
In prior years, the only way to clear a criminal record after a DUI arrest was to receive a "nolle pros" or dismissal from the state attorney's office or if a case was weak enough, the state may have offered a "breakdown" to a reckless driving along with a withhold of adjudication. These results only occurred if witnesses failed to appear in court on the day of trial or the evidence was so woefully insufficient that the state had to dismiss the charge or offer a breakdown. This situation was stressful to clients and criminal attorneys alike. While there are many defenses to DUI cases, a jury trial always held the potential risk of incarceration in the event of a guilty verdict. History shows that strong cases were dismissed while weak cases were prosecuted based on who showed up to court on time.
Miami-Dade County has recently announced that there is relief for first-time DUI offenders. New guidelines have been provided by the state attorney's office setting forth which offenders will not face a conviction for a first DUI. Critics argue that the new policy gives the impression that DUIs are no longer a serious offense. Proponents claim that too many defendants are walking out of the courthouse with no punishment because witnesses, both civilians and officers, fail to appear for trial. Under the new "Back on Track" program, defendants accused of DUI will have to enter a plea to the charge. In exchange for the plea, defendants will have to enter and successfully complete an outpatient drug and alcohol program, an interlock ignition device will placed on their vehicle, a DUI school and community service hours will have to be completed. If a defendant successfully completes the program, the DUI conviction will be converted to a reckless driving with a withhold of adjudication. This result will allow an individual to participate in the sealing and expunging process.
Not all first-time DUI offenders will be eligible for the program. Defendants charged with a DUI that were involved in accidents, have a previous DUI conviction(s) or reckless driving conviction(s), or had children in the car at the time of the offense will not be eligible for the program. The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office has only released preliminary information on the program and has stated that more information will be forthcoming. Bear in mind that the new policy does not mean that all individuals arrested for DUI should enter into the program. The best bet is to seek the advice of an experienced Miami DUI lawyer and see if there are any defenses to the case. Why enter the program if you can beat the charge in court? The new program provides a safety net for defendants who determine with the assistance of his or her lawyer after thoroughly reviewing and preparing the case for trial, that there is a better chance of a conviction than an acquittal. In any event, the new policy will help people get on with their lives after making one minor mistake.
State Attorney Offers DUI Mulligan Program, NBC Miami.com, May 10, 2011.