A client recently came to the law firm of Shorstein, Lasnetski & Gihon as a result of a DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs) arrest in July of 2016. The arrest was actually based on an alleged DUI offense in Jacksonville, Florida from 2013. Most DUI arrests are made at the time the police officer claims to observe the suspect driving while impaired from alcohol or drugs so there is little delay between the alleged offense and the prosecution and court appearances for the charge.
However, in some cases, the police do not make an arrest immediately. For instance, in this case the investigation began when the client was involved in a motor vehicle accident. The client was not in a suitable condition to give a breath sample for the breathalyzer as the client was taken to the hospital to be treated for injuries. In those cases, the police will often attempt to obtain a blood sample from the DUI suspect at the hospital. While breathalyzer tests provide results immediately, blood samples used to test for blood alcohol content need to be sent to the crime lab for testing. As a result, the police usually do not make an arrest until the results come back a few weeks or a few months later, assuming the results show alcohol or drugs were found in the suspect’s system.
In this case, blood was taken from the client at the hospital and sent to the crime lab. The test results came back about a month later. They showed the client had a blood alcohol level of more than three times the legal limit of 0.08. At this point, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office obtained an arrest warrant for DUI. Three years later, the DUI charge was dismissed.
Why did the DUI charge get dismissed in court? In Florida, we have a statute called the statute of limitations. This statute compels the state to bring a prosecution against a suspect within a certain period of time, depending on the type of charge. The statute is designed to protect a defendant by forcing the state to be diligent in prosecuting defendants, thereby avoiding a situation where a defendant’s ability to defend him/herself is compromised because of the passage of time which might result in the loss of witnesses or evidence and memories fading.
In this case, although the blood test results came back in mid-2013, the police did not arrest the defendant until almost three years later. However, the statute of limitations for a misdemeanor DUI of this nature is two years from the date of the alleged offense.
As a result, Shorstein, Lasnetski & Gihon filed a motion to dismiss the DUI charge based on the statute of limitations, i.e. because the state did not begin prosecuting our client for DUI until more than two years after the alleged offense. The statute of limitations is not always a black and white issue with regard to that two year period. If a defendant leaves the state of Florida or takes steps to hide from the police, the state can argue that the two year period is tolled. However, the state must show that they were diligent in searching for the defendant during the time period the two year period was running.
In this case, the state could offer no such proof. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office obtained the warrant and then just let the warrant remain in the system. No efforts were undertaken to try and find the defendant and make an arrest. The police had our client’s contact information and many other resources at its disposal to try to locate our client, who had not left Jacksonville, Florida during that time. Because neither the police nor the prosecutor’s office made a diligent attempt to locate and arrest our client, they could not meet their burden under the Florida statute of limitations. Therefore, the motion to dismiss was granted, and the DUI case was thrown out.
We have used this statute of limitations in other cases where a warrant was obtained for a client but no effort was made to find the client during the statutory period. In those cases, as in this DUI case, the result is often a dismissal of all charges. If you think the statute of limitations might be an issue in your criminal case, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.