• The Definitive Guide to First-Time DUIs in Pinellas County

The Definitive Guide to First-Time DUIs in Pinellas County

Facing a first DUI charge can feel overwhelming, but it’s important to remember that this doesn’t define the rest of your life. Many individuals in Pinellas County have been in your shoes and successfully moved on. With the right approach and a proactive mindset, you too can overcome this hurdle and look forward to a brighter future.

We’ve crafted this comprehensive guide specifically for first-time DUI charges to give you an edge. Each year, thousands face DUI charges in Pinellas County, but with our expert guidance, you won’t be just another case number. Our respected reputation provides a significant advantage, but it’s your active involvement that will empower us to secure the best possible outcome for you.

Why Choosing Our Firm Will Make the Difference in Your DUI Case

For over 65 years, our law firm has been the beacon of hope for those dealing with DUI charges in Pinellas County. Our team of seasoned DUI attorneys has successfully handled more DUI cases than any other firm in the area, giving us unparalleled expertise. We have strong ties with local judges and prosecutors, ensuring top representation. Our team includes five experienced defense lawyers, two ex-prosecutors, and one former probation officer. We offer top-tier defense at fair prices, guiding you through every step to absolve you from this charge.

In every DUI case, our objectives remain clear: ensure you maintain your driving privileges, protect your record from permanent damage, and keep you out of the Pinellas County jail. Together, we can navigate this challenge and pave the way for a promising future.

Understanding First-Time DUI Offenses and Their Consequences

A first-time DUI in Pinellas County is a serious offense with significant potential penalties. In Florida, a first-time DUI conviction can result in:


For a first-time DUI offense, fines and court costs total $983. This applies if you refused the breathalyzer or urine test, or registered a blood alcohol content below .15. If your blood alcohol content exceeds .15, the total amount increases to $1,518.


In cases of a first-time DUI, incarceration is not mandatory. However, the court can impose a jail sentence of up to six months in the Pinellas County Jail. This maximum duration increases to nine months if the blood alcohol content (BAC) level exceeded 0.15 or if a minor was present in the vehicle at the time of the offense. Generally, most first-time misdemeanor DUIs do not result in jail time unless there are aggravating circumstances involved.


The court mandates a 12-month probation for every DUI case, but judges may allow early termination at the halfway mark if all conditions are met. Some judges even authorize automatic early termination once conditions are fulfilled, enabling many clients to conclude probation swiftly. In some instances, judges authorize automatic early termination once conditions are fulfilled. Consequently, many of our clients are able to conclude their probationary period relatively swiftly.

Conviction or Adjudication of Guilt

In all cases where someone pleads guilty or is found guilty of a DUI, they will be convicted of a misdemeanor DUI. It’s important to note that there is no option for a withhold of adjudication for a DUI offense.

Vehicle Impoundment

The court mandates a 10-day vehicle impoundment for DUI incidents. Contact the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to schedule this, with a $50 fee for installing a steering wheel lock. If you no longer have the vehicle or it belongs to someone else, the impoundment can be waived. The court may also grant waivers if it causes hardship to an innocent third party. Our firm seeks waivers when there’s a legitimate basis.

DUI School

The judge is required to mandate the completion of Level One DUI school. Typically, most individuals will have already completed this requirement prior to resolving their DUI case in order to meet DMV criteria for obtaining a BPO (Business Purposes Only) license. For those residing or working in Pinellas County, the DUI school can be completed through the Suncoast Safety Council.

Alcohol or Substance Abuse Counseling

For all DUIs, one must undergo an alcohol or substance abuse evaluation and complete any recommended treatment. Fortunately, DUI school includes this evaluation and treatment as part of its requirements. Therefore, participants likely will have started or completed these steps before resolving their DUI case.

Community Service Hours

The court mandates 50 hours of community service, which can be completed at almost any non-profit organization. Many clients choose to volunteer at animal rescue facilities, churches, the Boley Center, Goodwill, or the Salvation Army. You must document these hours, and the probation officer needs to contact someone at the facility to verify the completion. In Pinellas County, judges also allow you to buy out the hours at a rate of $10 per hour. Therefore, if you prefer not to perform community service, you can pay $500 to fulfill this requirement.

Ignition Interlock Device

An ignition interlock device prevents a vehicle from being operated by someone who has consumed alcohol. A private company installs the device, and you must provide proof to the DMV. A judge does not need to impose this requirement unless your blood alcohol level exceeds .15. If your BAC was above .15, the court must mandate the device for at least six months.

Victim Impact Panel (VIP)

The Victim Impact Panel is an online educational class for DUI offenders, run by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). It costs $53 and lasts approximately an hour and a half. The panel typically features a speaker from MADD and a mother who lost a loved one to drunk driving. In Pinellas County, whether you must attend a VIP depends on the judge. However, if you were involved in a crash, the judge will likely order you to complete the VIP as a condition.

Investigative Costs

Investigative costs cover the fees law enforcement charges for their time in investigating the DUI case and completing the paperwork. You can find these costs on the bottom right-hand corner of the arrest affidavit provided upon your release from jail. In Pinellas County, courts order these costs in every DUI case.

Exploring Alternative Resolutions for First-Time DUI Offenders in Pinellas County

First-time DUI offenders in Pinellas County have options other than traditional sentencing to address their charges and minimize the impact on their lives. These alternative resolutions focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment, offering opportunities for offenders to learn from their mistakes and avoid harsh penalties.

1. Reduction to Reckless or Careless Driving

Plea bargains involve negotiations between the defense attorney and the prosecution to reach a mutually agreeable resolution for the DUI case. In some instances, it may be possible to have the DUI charges reduced to lesser offenses such as reckless driving or careless driving. This can result in lighter penalties and fewer long-term consequences.

2. Driver Rehabilitation and Offender Education (DROP) Program

The DUI Rehabilitation of Offenders Program (DROP), introduced on June 1, 2021, is still evolving as the Pinellas County State Attorney’s Office fine-tunes its implementation. Designed as a diversion program, DROP allows first-time DUI offenders to avoid a DUI conviction on their record.

Upon acceptance into DROP, your DUI charge will be reduced to reckless driving. While the program’s conditions are similar to those for a DUI, you will avoid a DUI conviction, driver’s license suspension, and the need for costly FR-44 car insurance.

DROP represents a significant change in handling DUIs in Pinellas County. Participation in the DROP program is discretionary, but it offers a valuable option for those eligible.

The DROP program has two tiers based on the severity of the offense:

  • Tier One DROP: Applicable for offenders with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .120 or less, or those involved in drug-related DUIs. What makes it unique: The Office will recommend not convicting you for the reckless driving charge, with probation lasting up to six months.
  • Tier Two DROP: For those with a BAC between .121 and .150, or who refused breath/urine tests. What makes it unique: The Office will recommend finding you guilty of the reckless driving charge (which means you’ll be convicted) and sentencing you to probation for up to nine months.

Eligibility for DROP Based on Blood Alcohol Levels

If you have two breathalyzer results, one at or below .150 and the other above .150, you can still qualify for the DUI Rehabilitation of Offenders Program (DROP). The Office of the State Attorney uses the lower of the two blood alcohol levels to determine eligibility. Therefore, as long as one result is .150 or below, you remain eligible for the program.

Eligibility Criteria for the DROP Program

While acceptance into the DUI Rehabilitation of Offenders Program (DROP) is discretionary, it remains an excellent option for eligible individuals. To qualify for DROP, your case must meet the following criteria:

  • The breath or blood sample you provided cannot exceed a BAC of .150, or you refused to provide a breath, blood, or urine sample.
  • There was no crash resulting in bodily injury or significant property damage.
  • No minor children were in your vehicle at the time of the offense.
  • Your DUI charge does not include a Leaving the Scene of a Crash charge.
  • Your DUI charge does not include any accompanying felony charge.
  • You must not have any pending charges and cannot be on any form of supervision or release status, such as probation or parole.
  • You cannot have previous convictions for DUI/BUI or a similar offense, including those resolved through a diversion program or reduced charge.
  • You must have had a valid driver’s license on the date of the offense.
  • You cannot have a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

To learn more about the program, please review the info provided by the Florida State Attorney’s office.

Requirements of the DROP Program

If accepted into the DROP program, participants are required to fulfill certain obligations, such as:

  • Attending regular educational sessions
  • Abstaining from alcohol and drugs during the program period
  • Undergoing periodic testing and monitoring

Benefits of Completing the DROP Program

First-time DUI offenders who successfully complete the DROP program may experience the following benefits:

  • Reduction of charges: The DUI offense may be reduced to a lesser offense with milder penalties.
  • Dismissal of charges: In some cases, completion of the program can lead to dismissal of the DUI charges.
  • Mitigation of long-term consequences: By addressing the underlying issues related to impaired driving, offenders can potentially avoid or minimize the long-term consequences of a DUI conviction, such as higher insurance premiums and limited employment opportunities.

Considering Alternative Resolutions for First-Time DUI Offenders

Qualifying for alternative resolutions for first-time DUI offenders requires an experienced Pinellas County DUI attorney. They can provide valuable guidance on the suitability and eligibility for diversion programs, plea bargains, or the DROP program. With their expertise, first-time DUI offenders can make informed decisions that lead to optimal outcomes tailored to their specific case.

It is essential to assess factors such as:

  • Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level at the time of arrest
  • The presence of any aggravating factors, such as accidents or injuries
  • Willingness to acknowledge responsibility and actively participate in rehabilitation efforts

Safeguarding Your Driving Privileges: Understanding License Suspension Laws in Pinellas County

Another important consequence of a DUI is how it affects your driver’s license. If charged with DUI, law enforcement will likely have confiscated your license. Keep in mind, this suspension is civil and managed by the DMV, independent of the criminal DUI case. You have the option to apply for a Business Purpose Only (BPO) permit, also known as a hardship license.

Pro tip: You have only 10 days to apply for a hardship license, so act quickly!

Impact on Driver’s License Status

A first-time DUI charge can have immediate and significant effects on your driver’s license in Pinellas County:

  • License Confiscation: Law enforcement may confiscate your license upon arrest.
  • Immediate Suspension: For a BAC of .08 or higher, expect an automatic six-month suspension. Refusing a breath or urine test results in a 12-month suspension. However, if you had a valid driver’s license at the time of the DUI, you qualify for a hardship license.
  • BPO Eligibility: At the bottom of the DUI citation, the officer may have indicated whether you qualify for a Business Purpose Only (BPO) permit. Two lines appear at the bottom of each citation: the first notes if your license has been suspended, and the second indicates eligibility for a permit.

Can I Drive Immediately After the DUI Arrest?

Yes, you can use the DUI citation as a temporary driver’s license until midnight of the 10th day following the arrest. Within those first 10 days, first-time DUI offenders should visit the DMV Office of Administrative Reviews to apply for a waiver review hearing. If handled correctly, you should not experience any days without the ability to drive for business purposes during the entire case.

Navigating the DMV suspension process requires prompt action:

  • Ten-Day Window: You can drive using your DUI citation as a temporary permit for ten days post-arrest.
  • Waiver Review Hearing: Apply for a waiver review hearing within these ten days to challenge the suspension and potentially secure a hardship license.

Important Note: This procedure applies only to first-time DUI cases. If you have a prior alcohol-related driving offense, you will not qualify for the waiver review hearing. In such cases, our office can provide guidance on how to apply for the waiver review hearing and obtain a hardship license.

Eligibility for Business Purpose Only (BPO) Permit

During the suspension period, obtaining a Business Purpose Only (BPO) permit is possible:

  • Eligibility Criteria:
  • Valid license at the time of DUI
  • Enrollment in DUI school
  • Application within ten days of arrest
  • BPO Permit Limitations:
  • Driving restricted to business purposes only (e.g., work, school, medical appointments)
  • No recreational driving allowed

Understanding these aspects helps protect your driving privileges and maintain some level of mobility during this challenging time.

Where Can I Drive on the Hardship License?

We frequently receive questions about where you can drive with a hardship license, as the DMV does not offer statute interpretations. This license, known as a Business Purposes Only (BPO) license, restricts driving strictly for business-related activities.

Our advice: avoid driving for recreational purposes and never consume alcohol before driving with this license. You may use it to commute to work, school, pick up your children, attend appointments, and similar essential activities. However, using the license for recreation, such as going to dinner or the movies, is not allowed.

Pro tip: Going to the gym is considered recreational unless you have a doctor’s note that requires it for a health issue.

Car Insurance Requirements After a DUI

The court does not impose specific insurance requirements for a DUI. However, following a DUI conviction, Florida classifies you as a high-risk driver. If you wish to obtain a driver’s license or own a car after a DUI, you must purchase FR-44 insurance for three years.

A few weeks after your court appearance, you will receive a letter stating that you must present proof of FR-44 insurance or face license suspension. FR-44 insurance is costly because it mandates high coverage limits of 100/300/50. This means $100,000 for bodily injury coverage per person, $300,000 for bodily injury coverage per accident, and $50,000 for property damage. These high limits are specifically designed to protect others should you cause an accident during this three-year period.

To-Do List Following a DUI Arrest

  • Understand the charges: Recognize that you have two concurrent cases:
    • a. Civil suspension of your driver’s license by the DMV.
    • b. Criminal DUI charge.


  • License Suspension:
    • a. Enroll in DUI School:Sign up immediately to qualify for a hardship license.
    • b. Start BPO Hardship License Application Process: Begin this process as soon as possible.


  • DUI Case:
    • a. Complete DUI School: Sign up and finish the required program.
    • b. Attend Victim Impact Panel: Participate in this mandated educational course.
    • c. Perform Community Service: Complete at least 25 hours (not just 20).


  • Gather Evidence: Collect receipts, pictures, and witness information.
    • a. Provide detailed background information about yourself and your family.
    • b. Secure letters of recommendation, if advised by your attorney.


  • Communicate with Your Attorney:
    • a. Send all collected evidence and documentation to your attorney.
    • b. Share anything that could strengthen your defense and positively influence the judge and prosecutor.

Will I Have to Appear in Court?

Most individuals will find a section in the middle of their DUI ticket labeled “CALL OF THE COURT” indicating their first court date. Law enforcement officers or deputies at the jail often advise calling the clerk to set this date. While you can do this, it is not mandatory. If you choose not to call, the clerk will simply mail your court date notification. There is neither a penalty nor a benefit to either approach.

When our firm represents you, we will receive notice of this initial court date, referred to as an arraignment. We routinely waive this hearing and subsequently waive your appearance at all future court dates until the resolution of your case. Our clients generally appreciate that we handle all court appearances on their behalf.

Contact Our DUI Attorneys in Pinellas County For a Free Consultation

If you have been arrested for a first-time DUI, we urge you to contact our criminal defense lawyers immediately to discuss your options. The days following the incident are crucial for implementing an effective defense strategy. Should you have any questions about a first-time DUI in Pinellas County, our consultations are always free so you can discuss your options.

Free Consultation: Let’s Discuss Your Case


Defending Your Rights

Our Criminal Defense Attorneys have been successfully defending people charged with crimes and traffic offenses for over 66 years. Given our vast experience and substantial connections, our firm is reasonably priced for the quality of legal services that we provide. Our lawyers are highly respected by the courts and we want to be able to help.

For more information please contact one of our Criminal Defense Attorneys today to schedule a free consultation. We have three convenient locations in Pinellas County and Hillsborough County to better serve you.

St Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney
5858 Central Ave suite
St. Petersburg, FL 33707
727) 381-2300

St Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney – Downtown Office
136 4th St N #2233-B
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
(727) 381-2300

Riverview Criminal Defense Attorney
12953 US-301 #102c
Riverview, FL 33578
(813) 639-8111

Sean McQuaid