Bill Considered by the Florida Legislature Would Give St. Petersburg First Time DUI Offenders a Choice of Having Ignition Interlock Device Installed or Losing License

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House Bill 479, currently making its way through Florida House of Representatives committees, would have required all those convicted of driving under the influence to have an ignition interlock device installed for a minimum of six months for the first offense. St. Petersburg DUI defense attorney Melinda Morris says that proposed changes to the bill are a positive step.

"Although either option may be burdensome, the particular aspect of this bill pertaining to first-time offenders would at least provide options," said Melinda Morris, St. Petersburg DUI defense lawyer.

The Florida Legislature, which is currently meeting in Tallahassee, is considering a bill that would change penalties for drunk driving, specifically for first-time offenders. The bill would change the law so that first-time offenders could choose between having their license revoked for up to a year or having an ignition interlock device installed on their car for a year. St. Petersburg DUI defense lawyer Melinda Morris said that particular portion of the bill is a step in the right direction.

"Although either option may be burdensome, the particular aspect of this bill pertaining to first-time offenders would at least provide options," Morris said.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, filed House Bill 479, which will add the DUI penalties. The bill must be passed by both the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate before the end of the session May 3, and be signed by Gov. Rick Scott to become law.

HB 479 would give defendants convicted of their first DUI with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of less than .15 and with no passengers under the age of 18 the option of choosing either to have their license revoked for six months to a year or to have an ignition interlock device installed in their car for one year. An ignition interlock device (IID) prevents a motor vehicle from starting until it has collected a breath sample with a sufficiently low alcohol content.

Under the current law, a person convicted of a first DUI in St. Petersburg will be sentenced to fines of $500 to $1,000, vehicle impoundment for up to 10 days, up to six months in jail and a driver's license suspension for 180 days to one year. The court may order, on an individual basis, installation of an ignition interlock device.

Under HB 479, the court would still have the option of ordering both the ignition interlock device and the license suspension.

"The ignition interlock device is an unwieldy sentence with many costs associated, including fees to have it installed and uninstalled, but it may be a better option for many than a driver's license suspension," Morris said. "A Drivers License suspension can severely impact peoples’ lives as it directly affects their mobility for work and social purposes. This bill provides options."

The bill the Legislature is currently considering is a significant improvement over the bill originally filed, that would have required all people convicted of a first DUI to have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicles above and beyond the other penalties, including license suspension, Morris said. The current legislation is a committee substitute.

Other portions of the bill, would expand the mandatory sentence length for ignition interlock devices on DUI convictions other than for a first-time DUI:

  •     To 18 months, for a first DUI conviction if the blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.15 or higher, or if the person had a passenger younger than 18 (up from six months);
  •     To two years, for a second conviction (up from a year);
  •     For 30 months, for a second conviction if the blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.15 or higher, or if the person had a passenger younger than 18 (up from two years);
  •     For three years, for a third conviction (up from two years).

"One-size-fits-all punishments simply do not work," Morris said. "They take away the ability for the defense attorney to work with the prosecutor to negotiate a sentence that best fits the circumstances of the offense. I am pleased that the Legislature appears to be providing options for a first-time DUI conviction."

Melinda Morris, St. Petersburg DUI defense lawyer, is the managing partner of the Morris Law Firm. She is a former state prosecutor and former member of the State Attorney’s DUI Manslaughter and Vehicular Homicide Unit who now represents criminal defense clients throughout the Tampa Bay area.

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