Driving drunk can cost you

Court costs, attorney fees, insurance hikes can add up

Englewood attorney Mark Creech sees this all too often.

“The scary thing is people will come to you and say, ‘I have every intention of getting pulled for (driving under the influence) again. Make sure I don’t get my second DUI, because I know I am going to get my third. I’m not changing. I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing,’” he said.

Creech said driving under the influence is more than a matter of numbers.

“A lot of people think that if you blow a 0.08 or above, you are drunk driving,” he said. “The fact is, you can blow a 0.02 and still be arrested, because of a second portion of the (Florida) statute that says ‘if you’re driving while impaired, you can be arrested for drunk driving.’ That means they (the investigating officers) have to be able to show that your faculties were impaired. That’s where the field sobriety exercises come into play; walking the line, touching your nose, alphabet backwards-type of stuff.”

Even after the first arrest, Creech said, most first-timers don’t treat the offense seriously.

“They’re never going to see any jail time,” he said.

Creech said drivers who opt out of any tests administered by law enforcement like the field sobriety or Breathalyzer will result in an automatic driver’s license suspension.

“A lot of people don’t want that,” he said. “They would rather be charged with the DUI, which sort of forces a lot of people’s hands.”

Creech said what a person does for a living can affect how hard they fight.

“If it’s the person’s first DUI and their job status isn’t affected by the conviction or adjudication, most end up pleading out,” he said. “The attorney’s fees and fines in most of those cases will be lowered and you get probation, which most can handle. A teacher, on the other hand, can’t afford to have the conviction and will fight to the end.”

Those who do fight will likely need a lawyer whose fees can quickly add up. Attorneys have their own fee schedules, but Creech said he typically takes an upfront retainer of between $1,000-$2,000.

“If the case is dropped or pleaded out early, we don’t charge any more. If the case goes to trial or waits until trial for the plea, then they’re typically in the $5,000 range,” he said.

Creech said most second-time offenders are willing to spend about the same as they did on their first, but some will break the bank when facing their third.    “Now we’re talking felony charges and along with that comes loss of liberty,” he said. “I could charge $100,000 and they would pay.”

In addition to attorney fees, Creech said, people may spend $2,500 to $8,000 court costs, fines and probation fees.

“Unless the attorney can completely beat the charges, you’re probably looking at $500-600 in fines and court costs,” he said. “You’re looking at six months to a year in probation and probationary charges at $20 a month. You’re also looking at community service serving 50- 100 hours. The judge may allow you to pay it down sometimes at a rate of $10 an hour. You could look at $500 to $1,000 additional if you want to pay down the community service.”

Drivers will also face an increase in insurance premiums.

“The (court) forces the driver to carry a higher limit on their policy for bodily injury liability,” said John DeBrabander, an agent with Great Florida Insurance in Englewood. “The court forces the driver to go to a higher limit plan, if they’re convicted, for up to three years.”

But Creech cautions the real cost of a DUI may not be financial.

“The (DUI-related accident) might cost somebody their life,” Creech said.

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About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News, Examiner.com, and Tampa Tribune.
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