DISCLAIMER: This article is for general awareness only and is not legal advice. Every criminal defendant’s case is unique and requires independent legal analysis. If you desire legal advice, you should contact an attorney.
Jacksonville, Florida is the home of Naval Station Mayport, the second largest surface ship base on the East Coast, and Naval Air Station Jacksonville, the Navy’s largest air base. There is also Marine Corps Support Facility Blount Island and a host of other, small military commands. Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville sits on the St. Johns River. There is also a large population of Florida Army National Guard and Florida Air National Guard. Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay is a 40 minute drive up I-95.
Jacksonville has a great night life. Whether you enjoy sipping a cocktail at Jacksonville Beach or drinking beer while watching a sports game, Jacksonville has ample bar establishments to fit anyone’s interests. Despite the advent of Uber and Lyft, DUIs in Jacksonville (Duval County, Clay County, Nassau County, and St. Johns County) are still common. And military members, mostly Sailors based on the large Navy presence, still drink and drive despite all of the training to do otherwise. That’s because, as everyone knows, judgment is the first casualty of intoxication.
If a military member is arrested for DUI in Jacksonville, FL, the most immediate concern is to obtain release from jail. Under Florida law, within 24 hours of arrest, a person is entitled to a “first appearance” before a judicial officer. The primary purpose of a first appearance is to set bond. Though not required, an individual is entitled to have any attorney present at the first appearance. An attorney may be able to negotiate a lower bond or no bond (ROR – release on own recognizance) and conditions on bond. Most importantly, an attorney can contact the person arrested and ensure that they do not plead guilty at first appearance. Pleading guilty at first appearance is always a poor decision because the evidence has not been reviewed and there is no negotiation with the prosecutor.
There is also the need to notify the chain of command at the earliest possible time. While some services have regulations that require immediate notification of arrests, it’s generally a good idea to notify the person’s chain of command before they find out on their own. Most often, the chain of command, while not happy about the arrest, will look at the self-report as a sign of good character.
Most Sailors and members of the military can expect a swift Article 15 (called NJP, non-judicial punishment, Captain’s Mast) for a violation of Article 111, UCMJ, the military’s DUI statute. Unless attached to a ship or embarked on a vessel, military members have the right to refuse an Article 15. Therefore, it is always best to work closely with an attorney familiar with DUI law to review the evidence against you for the Article 15. For example, if a breath test violated state law, it can’t be used in a military court-martial either, hence refusing Article 15 may be a sound strategy. Honestly, however, it is in the best interests of most military members arrested for DUI to accept the NJP. One exception is if the military member has a prior Alcohol Related Incident (ARI) – in that case, the member really needs an attorney skilled in military law. Lastly, NJP is not “double jeopardy” with the state court, and often a military member will be punished twice for a DUI – once by the military and once by the State.
A DUI can have a severe, but not fatal, impact on a military member’s career. If handled appropriately from the start, a military member can recover and have a successful career following a DUI.
Back to civilian world…. Once released from jail, before worrying about the actual court case, you have to worry about the administrative case – that is, if you refuse the breathalyzer or blow over .08, your license will be administratively suspended (12 months and 6 months respectively). The administrative case is completely separate from the criminal case. The paper citation issued will serve as a valid driver’s license for 10 days. Within that 10 days, you have to decide whether you are going to fight the administrative suspension or, if you have never been convicted of DUI before, to agree to waive your right to a hearing in order to obtain a Business Purpose Only (hardship license). A hardship license does not give you the unlimited ability to drive, but it does permit driving related to employment and other life necessities like the grocery store and doctors appointments. To obtain a hardship license, a waiver review hearing needs to be conducted at the Bureau of Administrative Reviews. Again, this must happen within 10 days, though a continuance may be granted for military members due to military service (ship going underway, for example). The person will need to show proof of enrollment for DUI school. For members of the Navy (and all Jacksonville area military members), the Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program (SARP) documentation can serve as proof of DUI school since IMPACT (the lowest treatment level) and above courses will generally count as enrollent in DUI school. IT IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT TO TAKE ACTION FOR THE HARDSHIP LICENSE WITHIN 10 DAYS!
The next court appearance for most military members arrested for DUI in Jacksonville is 2 to 4 weeks after first appearance. During that time frame, the Sailor should get an attorney, preferably someone with military experience (note: many criminal defense attorneys in Jacksonville say they know the military when they really don’t – quiz them on what you call an E-7 in the Navy). An attorney will get the evidence at the first court date and enter pleas of not guilty, leading to another court date. During that time, a good attorney will determine if there are issues with stop, arrest, and breath test. Sometimes poking holes in the case, combined with a good military character package, will lead to dismissal of charges or a reduced charge (namely, Reckless driving).
There is also Veterans Treatment Court. If there is a substance abuse diagnosis with a nexus to military service (just being in the military doesn’t get you into the program), the case may be transferred to Veterans Treatment Court, a rigorous 12 month program. If (and I mean it) the military member completes the program, the charge will be dismissed.
I have handled DUI cases for military members that have resulted in dismissal of charges, reduction to reckless driving, transfer to Veterans Treatment Court, and, of course, conviction. It’s important to note that Florida law prohibits any type withhold of adjudication or probation before judgment for DUI. There are also minimum punishments for even first offenders. A DUI arrest is not a “do it yourself” case. Moreover, for military members, because of the unique impact it can have on a career, it’s important to hire an attorney as soon as possible after the arrest who understands the military justice system (namely Article 15s).
Attorney Patrick Korody is a Jacksonville Criminal Defense and Military Law attorney. He spend 10 years on active duty in the Navy JAG Corps. He remains an active reserve JAG. His practices DUI defense in and around Jacksonville, FL. He offers a free consultation and can be reached at 904.383.7261.