Monroe County Woman Blames Driving Infraction on Dog, Results in DUI and Felony Charge

October 26, 2023 Criminal Defense, Drunk Driving/DUI, News & Announcements

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office arrested a woman in Key Largo after a traffic violation turned into a suspected DUI. The Local 10 reported that Michele Lee Burke, 54, was driving on the Overseas Highway when she failed to move over into the left lane while passing two deputies conducting a traffic stop.

Under the amended Move Over Law, drivers in Florida are required to either move into a different lane or reduce their speed when passing law enforcement.

Just after 10pm at mile marker 104, the deputy assisting with the traffic stop turned on their lights and sirens and began following Bruke’s vehicle to indicate for her to pull over. Burke turned on her blinker but did not immediately pull over until she turned onto another street.

When the deputy addressed Burke, she had her Yorkshire Terrier in her lap. Burke proceeded to blame the driving infraction on her dog. However, the deputy reported a “strong odor” of alcohol while Burke attempted to find her registration and proof of insurance.

The officer questioning Burke noticed she only had one eye, and that the remaining one appeared to be “watery.” When asked if she had anything to drink, Burke claimed she had only had one drink that evening. The officer then had her complete the field sobriety eye test, which she initially passed but then refused to cooperate on other attempts.

At this point, another deputy—Deputy Mario Martin—arrived and conducted a walk-and-turn test.

“Michele began laughing as I explained the instructions. I advised Michele it was a serious matter,” said Deputy Martin. “Michele continued to laugh and stated she knew how to perform the exercise because she had seen it on Facebook. While demonstrating the walking phase of the exercise, Michele told me to “f— off.”

The officer asked Burke to cooperate with them and complete the exercises, to which she responded that she did not care, and instead went to check on her dog. At this point, one of the deputies attempted to arrest Burke to which she became “hostile” and cursed at them. She also grabbed one of the deputy’s fingers.

When the officers managed to cuff Burke, she asked what would happen to her dog if she was taken in for an arrest. The police informed Burke that her dog would be picked up by animal control, but that it would be returned to her afterwards.

“At that point, Michele became aggressive and informed me she wanted to punch Sergeant Davis in the throat,” Martin wrote. “Sgt. Davis tried explaining the dog would be returned to her, but she continued screaming. Michele tilted her body onto her stomach, releasing herself from her seatbelt [restraint], and started kicking me. I demanded Michele to stop her violent onslaught, to which she disobeyed and kicked my stomach multiple times.”

After Burke was able to calm down, the deputies took her to the jail where she admitted to “having one too many that night.” The report also indicated that Burke later refused a breathalyzer test.

Burke was charged with misdemeanor DUI along with a felony for resisting an officer with violence.

What is Florida’s “Move Over” Law?

The reason Burke was pulled over in the first place was for failing to comply with the State’s Move Over Law.

In June 2023, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation to provide amendments to the current law. The law previously required motorists to move over one lane when they can safely do so for any of the following:

  • Stopped law enforcement;
  • Emergency responders;
  • Sanitation and utility service vehicles;
  • Tow trucks or wreckers; or
  • Maintenance or construction vehicles with displayed warning lights without advanced signs or channelizing devices.

Under the amendments made through HB 425, there are three additional scenarios to the Move Over Law where Florida drivers are required to move over:

  • A disabled motor vehicle is stopped and displaying their warning lights or hazard signals;
  • A motor vehicle is stopped and using its emergency flares or emergency signage; or
  • A motor vehicle is stopped where one or more persons are visibly present.

The law provides that when a motorist is unable to move over a lane, they must either slow to a speed 20 mph less than the current speed limit, or slow down to 5 mph when the current speed limit is posted as 20 mph or less.

Under Florida Statute Section 316.126, a motorist who fails to cooperate with the Move Over Law can receive a noncriminal traffic violation. The Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) explains that this type of violation can include resulting fines, fees, and points on your driving record.

The new amendments will go into effect beginning January 1, 2024.

It is important to explain that it was not the traffic violation that resulted in the deputy’s arrest of Burke. Since the Move Over Law does not result in any criminal penalties, Burke would have only been faced with fines and potential points on her license. However, the traffic stop resulted in criminal charges after the officers suspected potential DUI.

How a Traffic Stop Can Lead to DUI

When a police officer witnesses a motorist operating their vehicle in a reckless or negligent manner, they may administer a traffic stop. This can include running a red light, failing to stop at a stop sign, or causing a motor vehicle accident.

For the incident involving Burke, her inability to comply with the Move Over Law was considered a traffic violation that had grounds for the deputies to pull her over.

During a traffic stop where the driver is issued a traffic ticket, the police may question them to investigate if the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. At this point, the officer may look for suspicious behavior to indicate any signs of DUI. This can include any of the following signs:

  • Slurred speech
  • Red or watery eyes
  • Lack of focus
  • Lack of ordinary motor skills

If the officer has probable cause to believe the driver is under the influence of alcohol, they may ask questions about possible intoxication or request that the driver complete a series of field sobriety exercises.

In addition to the field sobriety tests, an officer suspecting DUI may escalate the investigation to request the driver completes a breathalyzer test. This type of test measures a person’s breath alcohol content. If the test reads back an 0.08 or higher, it is considered prima facie evidence of DUI. Prima facie is Latin for “at first sight,” and in legal terms means that the initial evidence is overwhelming enough to prove the defendant committed the offense.

Important: Any person who fails to comply with a police officer’s request to submit a breathalyzer test when requested in a DUI investigation will result in the penalties pursuant to Florida Statute Section 316.1932.  Refusing the administration of any lawful test of a person’s breath will result in the following:

  • Automatic driver’s license suspension for one year, or 18 months for a person who previously had their license suspended;
  • Charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, where a conviction carries the following potential penalties:
    • Up to a $1,000 fine; and
    • Up to one year in jail.

It is not hard to see how a simple traffic violation can turn into a suspected DUI, especially when the motorist pulled over gives reason for police to suspect a criminal infraction has occurred. This is why it’s also important to remember how to handle yourself when dealing with the police. Burke’s case was escalated to include a felony charge for resisting an officer with violence.

Under Florida Statute Section 843.01, a person who is accused of knowingly and willfully resisting, obstructing, or opposing any officer defined under 943.10 while in the process of executing their legal process or duty by becoming violent with such officer can be charged with a third-degree felony. A conviction for a third-degree felony carries the following potential penalties:

  • Up to a $5,000 fine; and
  • Up to five years in prison.

What if the Driver’s Rights are Violated?

When conducting traffic stops or field sobriety tests, police officers are required to follow certain rules. The officers must also respect the rights of the driver, which you can read about further in our blog post here.

If you were stopped by police for a suspected traffic violation or DUI, and you believe that your rights were violated, it is imperative that you record the incident exactly how you remembered it. This can include the officer’s name, badge number, or any other specific details important to your claim. You should then contact an experienced defense attorney to represent your case.

Pumphrey Law Firm for your Criminal Defense Needs

When a simple traffic violation turns into more serious, criminal charges, it is important that you consider working with a defense attorney. If police suspect DUI in a traffic stop, they may request that you complete certain tests to assess your current state. Refusing the tests can result in penalties, just as a first-time DUI offense can also result in serious penalties.

If you or a loved one are facing criminal prosecution, contact an experienced Tallahassee DUI Defense Lawyer at Pumphrey Law. Our attorneys will provide you with a free consultation when you call (850) 681-7777 or leave us a message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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