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When Have You Actually Been Arrested in Florida?

If you’re pulled over for driving under the influence, and the police officer determines that you should be taken in for further testing to determine your blood alcohol level, at what point are you under arrest? Does the police officer have to actually say the words “youre under arrest?” Or is it sufficient for the officer simply to escort you into his or her cruiser and take you in for testing? The question matters a great deal for people who, despite being pulled over on suspicion that they are driving under the influence, are not actually intoxicated. If police haven’t actually taken action sufficient to communicate that they’re arresting you and then detain you anyway, they may be guilty of the tort of false arrest. And if they hold you for too long after test results conclusively show that you aren’t intoxicated, they may also be liable for false imprisonment. But if they’ve told you that you’re being arrested—and had probable cause to believe that you were, in fact, driving drunk—they can’t be liable for false arrest (though false imprisonment may still be a live theory). Thus, if you’re arrested for drunk driving, it’s vital to understand at exactly what moment you’ve been arrested. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can help you sort out the answer to this important—and highly fact-specific—question.

An Example Case

Let’s use the 2010 case of Mathis v. Coats as an example. In that case, Ms. Mathis was driving her car down a Florida highway. She bumped into the median, crossed the lane line and came close to colliding with another vehicle, and then bumped into the median again. Based on her erratic driving, an officer pulled her over. When he did so, he observed that Ms. Mathis was uncoordinated, had difficulty following the conversation, and had a flushed face. However, Ms. Mathis had clear speech, was cooperative, and did not smell of alcohol. Ms. Mathis explained that she had not slept the previous night. The officer, however, didn’t buy her explanation, and decided to conduct several field sobriety tests, on which Ms. Mathis performed poorly. The officer, believing that she was intoxicated, placed her in handcuffs, escorted her to the back of his cruiser, and took her to Central Breath Testing to take a Breathalyzer test for alcohol. When Ms. Mathis took the test, she blew a .000, meaning that she had no alcohol in her system. In addition, a later urinalysis came back negative, further confirming Ms. Mathis’ story.

Ms. Mathis argued that she had been falsely arrested, claiming that she was not formally arrested until after she was taken to Central Breath Testing and held there against her will. The court, however, disagreed, finding that—even though the officer did not use the word “arrest” or otherwise directly inform Ms. Mathis that she was being arrested—it should have been obvious to her in context what it meant to be placed in handcuffs and escorted to a police cruiser. Thus, the question was whether—at the time the officer brought her to the Center—there was probable cause to believe she was under the influence, which (plainly) there was. It is enough, the court said, for officers to “communicate their intention to effect an arrest by their actions.”

Counsel Knows the Answer

The issues of arrest and probable cause have significance in a variety of criminal cases, but can be especially vital in DUI cases. If you’ve been charged with driving under the influence, you need experienced counsel who can sort out the exact facts of the arrest. Contact Fort Lauderdale Criminal attorney Kevin J. Kulik, P.A. today for an aggressive defense.

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