A recent case involving a DUI arrest near Jacksonville, Florida raised the issue of what constitutes a “crash” under the Florida DUI laws. More specifically, does a crash require some sort of property damage or injury or is a collision simply enough regardless of whether any vehicle is damaged or a person is injured? Why is this important? It could make all of the difference in a DUI case.
In Florida, a police officer is not generally allowed to arrest a person for a misdemeanor crime without a warrant unless he/she or another police officer observes the crime being committed. There are exceptions to this rule in various areas of criminal laws. In DUI cases, the exception is that police officers can arrest a person suspected of DUI without observing the crime if the police officer discovers evidence to support the DUI arrest after a traffic crash. So, if a police officer learns that a person is driving erratically and may be drunk from a lay witness and only finds the suspect after he is outside of his car, never having seen him driving or in the car, the officer would not be able to make the DUI arrest because the criminal conduct did not occur in the police officer’s presence.
On the other hand, if a person is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and gets into a traffic crash, the police are called and the police officer arrives after the suspect exits the vehicle, the police officer can still make a DUI arrest if the officer obtains evidence that the suspect was driving the vehicle and was impaired.
There is a question under Florida DUI laws as to what is considered a crash. If the DUI suspect hits another vehicle from behind but there is no damage and no one is hurt, is that considered a crash under Florida DUI laws? In most cases of an automobile crash, the police are not around to see it. The drivers get out of their vehicles, and the police show up some time later. If the police officer never sees the suspect driver in the vehicle, he/she cannot make a DUI arrest because the police officer needs to see the suspect driving or at least in the vehicle. However, the exception applies for crashes.
In the case that decided this issue, the police officer did arrest the DUI suspect despite the fact that there was no property damage or personal injuries resulting from the collision. The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the DUI arguing that the arrest was illegal under Florida law so none of the evidence obtained as a result of the arrest should be used against the defendant. The court held that the arrest was valid. The court ruled that the term “crash” as used in the context of DUI’s in Florida only requires a vehicle’s collision with another vehicle, person or object. No damage or injuries are required.