A common scenario in the criminal defense world is the case of the first time offender, who has never been arrested before, and who is facing DUI charges. This person is understandably scared of the process. The first question they ask is almost always: “This is my first arrest . . . isn’t there some kind of program I can sign up for?”
In the past, in Palm Beach County the answer to that question was unfortunately “No” for someone who was arrested for DUI. Palm Beach County first arrest DUIs would have to be fought in the normal way: taking depositions, filing motions to suppress evidence, going to trial, or accepting a plea offer.
Now, however, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office has created a Palm Beach County DUI First Time Offender Program.
The Palm Beach County DUI First Time Offender Program began on June 1, 2013. While the requirements of the program are mostly tougher than the penalties for a first-time DUI conviction, signing up for and completing the program is worth the tough requirements for most people.
A DUI conviction for a first-time DUI offender who does not participate in the Palm Beach County DUI First Time Offender Program can include: fines ranging from $500.00 up to $2,000.00 (the exact fine depends on the levels of impairment and other circumstances), a minimum of six months driver’s license suspension, possible jail time, 10-day vehicle immobilization, at least 50 hours of community service, up to one year of probation, attendance at DUI school, and attendance at a Victim Impact Panel, in addition to higher insurance rates and a criminal conviction on your record.
A person who is arrested for a DUI for the first time who does participate in the Palm Beach County DUI First Time Offender Program, which is a diversion program, can expect the following: the DUI charged will be dropped, you will instead plead guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving, and then you will be placed on probation for 12 months, during which time you agree not to have alcohol or drugs, to immobilize your car for 10 days, to pay for an alcohol monitoring device (ignition interlock that is installed in your car, SCRAM – Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor – ankle bracelet monitor, or Visual alcohol monitoring device) for three to six months (the time period depends on the level of impairment), to pay a fine from $250.00 to $500.00 (depending on the level of impairment), to perform 50 or 75 community service hours (depending on the level of impairment), DUI school, substance abuse evaluation, and Victim Impact Panel class.
A lot of the requirements may sound the same. The biggest difference, aside from getting the DUI charge dropped, is that with the Palm Beach County DUI First Time Offender Program, you will be responsible to pay for your own alcohol monitoring device, which can get expensive. The ignition interlock costs nearly $100 to install and then over $70 a month to monitor; a SCRAM Monitor costs $100 to install and then a daily payment of over $10.00; the Visual Alcohol breath test monitor costs $50 to start then a daily payment of about $6.00. Each device has its own pros and cons, which a Palm Beach County DUI lawyer can help you weigh. But, with the chance at having a DUI charged dropped, the cost may be worth it to a lot of first offenders.
Not everyone is eligible for the program: if you were in a DUI crash, or you were arrested for DUI with a minor child or animal in your car, the Palm Beach County prosecutors will not let you enroll in the Palm Beach County DUI First Time Offender Program.
Also, anyone who is not dedicated to completing the program faces severe consequences for failing, which can include a reinstatement of your DUI charge and conviction, and 90 days in Palm Beach County Jail. The program is not for everyone – you need to be extremely disciplined to pass the program.
If you have been arrested for DUI in Palm Beach County, Florida, and are considering the DUI program, you need to act fast – if you want to enter the program, you have to do so at Arraignment. A knowledgeable DUI defense attorney in Palm Beach County will help you review your case and decide whether you should enter the Palm Beach County DUI First Time Offender Program.
Anyone who is facing DUI charges in in Palm Beach County, Florida, whether it is the first time DUI charge or a second DUI charge or more, should contact a criminal defense attorney experienced in Driving Under the Influence charges to review the case for any possible defenses.
Casey Reiter is an attorney at Greenspoon Marder Law in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense, Family Law, and Appellate Law.