• What You Should Do If You're Charged with a First DUI in Manatee County

What You Should Do If You’re Charged with a First DUI in Manatee County

Facing your first DUI charge in Manatee County can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to dictate your future. Many in the area have encountered similar situations and successfully moved forward. With the right strategy and proactive measures, you can get through this, protect your record, and stay out of jail.

This comprehensive guide is tailored for those dealing with a first-time DUI charge in Manatee County. Annually, thousands of individuals are arrested for DUI here, but with our expert guidance, you won’t be just another statistic. Our reputation gives you an advantage, and your active participation will help us achieve the best possible outcome for you.

Why Choosing Our Firm Makes a Difference

For over 66 years, our law firm has been helping people facing DUI charges in Manatee County. Our team of experienced DUI attorneys has handled more DUI cases than any other firm in the area, giving us unmatched expertise. We have strong ties to local judges and prosecutors, ensuring the best possible outcomes. Our team consists of five skilled defense lawyers; two former prosecutors and one former probation officer. We provide top-quality defense services at competitive rates, guiding you through every step to clear your charges.

In every DUI case, our main objectives are consistent: maintaining your driving privileges, safeguarding your record from permanent damage, and avoiding jail time.

Understanding First-Time DUI Offenses and Their Consequences

A first-time DUI in Manatee County carries consequences. Here is your worst case scenario upon conviction:


For individuals facing a first-time DUI offense in Manatee County, fines and court costs amount to $983. This fee applies if you refused the breathalyzer or urine test, or if your blood alcohol content was below .15. However, if your blood alcohol content exceeds .15, the total fine increases to $1,518.


In Manatee County, first-time DUI offenses do not normally result in jail time. However, the court can still choose to impose a jail sentence of up to six months. This duration may increase to nine months if either the blood alcohol content (BAC) level exceeds 0.15 or if there was a minor in the vehicle at the time of arrest. Normally, misdemeanor DUI cases for first-time offenders do not result in imprisonment unless certain aggravating factors are involved.


In Manatee County, the court requires a 12-month probation period for every DUI case. However, judges can choose to end probation early if all conditions are met, and sometimes they even automatically terminate it once the requirements are fulfilled. This flexibility often allows our clients to quickly finish their probationary period.

Conviction or Adjudication of Guilt

In Manatee County, if you plead guilty or are found guilty of a DUI, you will receive a misdemeanor DUI conviction. It’s important to note that there is no possibility of withholding adjudication for a DUI offense.

Vehicle Impoundment

In Manatee County, a 10-day vehicle impoundment is mandated for DUI incidents. To arrange this, individuals should contact the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, bearing in mind there is a $50 fee for installing a steering wheel lock. If the vehicle is no longer owned or belongs to someone else, impoundment may be waived. Additionally, the court may grant waivers in cases where impoundment causes hardship to an innocent third party. Our firm actively seeks waivers in such situations when there’s a valid basis.

DUI School

The judge has ordered mandatory completion of Level One DUI school. Usually, people fulfill this requirement before resolving their DUI case because of DMV regulations for getting the BPO license. If you’re in Manatee County, you can finish DUI school at the State College of Florida Traffic Safety Institute.

Alcohol or Substance Abuse Counseling

In every DUI case, individuals 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. As a result, participants are often in the process of or have already completed these steps before settling their DUI case.

Community Service Hours

The court requires the completion of 50 hours of community service, which can be performed at almost any non-profit organization. Many clients choose to volunteer at places like animal rescue facilities or churches. These hours must be documented, and the probation officer needs to verify them by contacting someone at the facility.

In Manatee County, judges also allow a buyout option for these hours. You can pay $10 per hour to either fully or partially fulfill this requirement. If the judge permits a full buyout, you can pay $500 instead of completing the hours. If a partial buyout is allowed, you would complete 25 hours and pay $250 for the remaining hours.

Ignition Interlock Device

An ignition interlock device is a device that is installed by a private company to prevent individuals who have consumed alcohol from operating a vehicle. Proof of installation must be provided to the DMV. The court is not required to install this device unless the blood alcohol level was above .15. If the BAC is higher than .15, the court must order the device to be installed for at least 6 months.

Victim Impact Panel (VIP)

The Victim Impact Panel (VIP) is an online educational program designed for DUI offenders. It is managed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), costs $53, and usually lasts about 1.5 hours. During the session, a MADD representative and a bereaved mother often share their experiences with drunk driving. In Manatee County, whether or not you have to attend a VIP depends on the judge. But if you were in a crash, the judge will likely make it one of your sentencing conditions. You must complete this program before entering a plea in the DETER program.

Investigative Costs

Investigative costs refer to the expenses that law enforcement incurs while investigating the DUI case and managing associated documents. You can find a breakdown of these costs in the bottom right-hand corner of the arrest affidavit given to you after being released from jail. In Manatee County, it is common for the courts to require payment of these costs in all DUI cases.

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

First-time DUI offenders in Manatee County have alternatives to traditional sentencing that focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment. These options provide opportunities for offenders to learn from their mistakes and avoid severe penalties, helping to minimize the long-term impact on their lives.

1. Reduction to Reckless or Careless Driving

Plea bargains can reduce DUI charges to lesser offenses like reckless or careless driving, resulting in lighter penalties and fewer long-term consequences.

2. DETER Program

The Driver Enhanced Treatment Education Rehabilitation (DETER) program offers first-time DUI offenders in Manatee County an opportunity to avoid a DUI conviction on their record. Upon acceptance into the DETER program, your DUI charge will be reduced to reckless driving. While the program’s conditions are similar to those required for a DUI, participants benefit from not having a DUI conviction, no driver’s license suspension, and no need to carry the expensive FR-44 car insurance.

The introduction of DETER has significantly changed how DUIs are managed in Manatee County. Although acceptance into the program is discretionary, it is an excellent option to consider.

To qualify for DETER, your case must meet the following criteria:

  • Your breath or blood sample must not exceed .20, or you refused to provide a breath, blood, or urine sample.
  • There was no crash involving bodily injury or significant property damage. – There were no minor children in your vehicle.
  • You must not have any pending charges for DUI, Driving While License Suspended with serious bodily injury or death, vehicular homicide, or participation in another pre-trial intervention program or probation.
  • You cannot have a prior conviction for DUI/BUI, Driving While License Suspended with serious bodily injury or death, vehicular homicide, DUI prior diversion program, or any felony sentence within the past five years from the date of the DUI offense.
  • You must have had a valid driver’s license on the date of the offense.

For more information about the DETER program, please review this link.

DETER Program Levels

Level One DETER is designed for individuals with a breath or blood alcohol level of .15 or below.

Level Two DETER is for individuals with breath or blood alcohol levels between .15 and .20, as well as those who refused the breath or urine test.

Level Three DETER is tailored for drug-related DUIs.

What Are the Differences Among DETER Program Levels?

The Pre-Plea Sanctions for Levels One, Two, and Three include remaining crime-free, completing DUI school and beginning any recommended treatment, attending the MADD Victim Impact Panel, and performing 50 hours of community service.

Level One Sanctions: In addition to the common sanctions, for Level One DETER, you must install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle or wear an alcohol monitoring device for three months. Additionally, you are required to complete two work offender days.

Level Two Sanctions: For Level Two DETER, you must install the ignition interlock device or wear an alcohol ankle monitor for six months, and complete four work offender days.

Level Three Sanctions: For Level Three DETER, you will be required to submit to weekly urinalysis and complete four work offender days.

To learn more about the work offender days, please review this link.

Can I Get into DETER if One Blow is at or Below .20 and the Other is Above?

Yes, you can. The Office of the State Attorney considers the lower of the two blood alcohol levels. As long as one of your results is .20 or below, you are eligible for the DETER program.

What About Driving Privileges? Understanding License Suspension Laws in Manatee County

Another significant consequence of a DUI conviction is how it affects your driver’s license. When you’re charged with a DUI, it’s likely that law enforcement will take away your license. It’s important to understand that this suspension is handled by the DMV as a civil matter and is separate from the criminal case for the DUI offense. But there’s still a chance for you to ask for a Business Purpose Only (BPO) permit, which is often called a hardship license.

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

Impact on Driver’s License Status

A first-time DUI charge in Manatee County can quickly affect your ability to drive:

License Confiscation: Upon arrest, law enforcement may seize your license.

Immediate Suspension: If your blood alcohol content (BAC) is .08 or higher, your license will be suspended for six months. Refusing to take a breath or urine test will result in a 12-month suspension. However, if you had a valid driver’s license at the time of the DUI incident, you can apply for a hardship license.

BPO Eligibility: Check the DUI citation to see if you are eligible for a Business Purpose Only (BPO) permit. Pay attention to any specific information at the bottom of the citation that might mention this.

Effectively managing the DMV suspension process in Manatee County requires timely action:

Ten-Day Window: After getting arrested for a DUI, you can use your DUI citation as a temporary permit to drive during the first ten days.

Waiver Review Hearing: During this time, you can apply for a waiver review hearing to challenge the suspension and possibly obtain a hardship license.

Important Note: This procedure only applies to first-time DUI cases. Individuals with previous alcohol-related driving offenses are not eligible for the waiver review hearing. In such cases, our office can help you understand how to apply for the waiver review hearing and obtain a hardship license.

Eligibility for Business Purpose Only (BPO) Permit

During the suspension period, you can get a Business Purpose Only (BPO) permit if you meet these conditions:

Eligibility Criteria:

  • Possession of a valid license at the time of the DUI incident
  • Enrollment in DUI school
  • Application submitted within ten days of arrest

BPO Permit Limitations:

Driving is only allowed for business-related activities like work, school, and medical appointments. Recreational driving is not allowed. It’s important to know these rules so you can keep your driving privileges and still have some ability to get around during this difficult time.

Where Can I Drive with the Hardship License?

Many people want to know where they can go with a hardship license. The DMV doesn’t give specific explanations, but a hardship license, also known as a Business Purposes Only (BPO) license, only allows driving for business reasons.

Here’s what we suggest:

  • Don’t drive for fun
  • Don’t drink alcohol before driving with this license

You can use the license for things like going to work or school, picking up your children, going to appointments, and other important tasks. But you can’t use it for recreational activities like eating out or going to the movies.

Pro tip: Unless you have a medical need and a doctor’s note, going to the gym is considered recreational and isn’t allowed with a hardship license.

Can I Drive Immediately After the DUI Arrest?

Yes, you can use the DUI citation as a temporary driver’s license until midnight on the 10th day after your arrest. During this time, first-time DUI offenders in Manatee County need to go to the DMV Office of Administrative Reviews and request a waiver review hearing. Handling this process correctly will guarantee that you can continue driving for business purposes without any interruptions during the case.

Car Insurance Requirements After a DUI

If you’re convicted of DUI, Florida will consider you a high-risk driver. To keep your driver’s license or vehicle registration after a DUI, you’ll need to get FR-44 insurance for three years.

After your conviction, you’ll get a mail notification in a few weeks. It will tell you that you need to show proof of FR-44 insurance or else your license will be suspended. FR-44 insurance is expensive because it has high coverage limits: 100/300/50. This means $100,000 for each person’s injuries, $300,000 total for injuries in an accident, and $50,000 for property damage. These limits are meant to give significant coverage for any accidents you might cause in the next three years and protect others involved.

What If I’m Clearly Guilty?

Not all DUIs can be avoided, and some people prefer to resolve the situation quickly. In such cases, we expedite the process, often achieving automatic early termination of probation, allowing some clients to complete probation in one day.

For clients with a BAC over 0.15, which typically increases fines and mandates a 6-month ignition interlock device, we can sometimes negotiate with the State Attorney to consider the BAC as below 0.15. This reduces fines and eliminates the interlock requirement, potentially benefiting insurance rates as well.

Our DUI attorneys employ various strategies to avoid a DUI conviction. We advise starting DUI school, beginning any recommended counseling, and completing as many conditions as possible immediately. This proactive approach, appreciated by the State Attorney’s Office, is not an admission of guilt. After reviewing the evidence, we often request a charge reduction, typically to reckless driving, and in some cases, to careless driving, a civil infraction.

To-Do List Following a DUI Arrest

1. Understand the Charges: Recognize that you are facing two concurrent cases: the DMV suspending your license and a criminal DUI charge.

2. License Suspension:

  • Enroll in DUI school to qualify for a hardship license.
  • Start the BPO hardship license application process immediately.

3. DUI Case:

  • Complete DUI school.
  • Attend a Victim Impact Panel.
  • Perform community service.

4. Gather Evidence: Collect receipts, pictures, and witness information. Provide detailed background information and secure letters of recommendation if necessary.

5. Communicate with Your Attorney: Send all the evidence and documents you’ve gathered to your attorney. Also, make sure to share anything else that could support your defense case.

Will I Have to Appear in Court?

Typically, DUI citations feature a section labeled “CALL OF THE COURT” for the first court appearance. While you can contact the clerk to arrange this date, it’s not obligatory. Once our firm represents you, we’ll receive notification of the initial court date and manage all court proceedings on your behalf. This means you won’t need to attend any court hearings until your case reaches a resolution.

Contact Our DUI Attorneys in Manatee County for a Free Consultation

If you have been arrested for a first-time DUI, contact our criminal defense lawyers immediately to discuss your options. The days following the incident are crucial for implementing an effective defense strategy. Our consultations are always free so you can explore your options without any obligation.

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 Manatee 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