DUI & DWI in Virginia
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Virginia is tough on drunk drivers, and with good reason. One out of every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash during their lives. Alcohol-related injuries occur about every two minutes, and fatalities occur every 32 minutes, on average. That is why it's important to know the facts about driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and to avoid this behavior entirely.
If you've never had a DUI, you might not realize that it's not a traffic violation―it's a criminal offense. You'll be handcuffed, carted off to the police station, and required to go to court. If you want to plead innocent and fight the charge, you will probably want to hire a lawyer to defend you.
Drunk driving refers to driving (a motor vehicle, boat, or watercraft) with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at a level where you can be arrested for driving under the influence (DUI). This is 0.08% in Virginia.
Impaired driving means that your skills, including judgment, coordination, and response time, are affected before your BAC reaches that level, or if you are using drugs.
You can be convicted of DUI if your BAC is less than 0.08%. For example, if there is proof that you are under the influence of drugs (even legal prescription or over-the-counter drugs) that impair your driving, you can be arrested for DUI with a BAC of zero.
You can't choose what type of chemical test to take when you're pulled over for probable cause (or another traffic offense) and law enforcement suspects you're intoxicated. You must take the breath test; breath test refusal brings license suspension and, of you've been convicted of DUI or prior breath test refusals, it's a misdemeanor.
In addition to the license suspension imposed by the courts for a DUI conviction or for refusing a breath test, the Department of Motor Vehicles imposes its own suspensions. These suspensions happen the moment you are arrested―before you go to court.
Once you are convicted, you'll endure another round of consequences―more serious ones.
A first offense DUI brings a mandatory fine of at least $250. Your driver's license will be revoked for one year, and you'll be required to install an ignition interlock device.
If you get a second offense, there is a mandatory minimum $500 fine, driver's license revocation for three years, and possible jail time up to one year. If it is within five years of your first offense, there is a mandatory 20 days in jail―10 days if within 10 years of your first offense.
For your third offense, there is a mandatory $1,000 minimum fine and an indefinite license revocation. You will be prosecuted for a Class 6 felony. If it's within five years of your previous DUI, there is a mandatory six-month jail term. Within 10 years, the mandatory jail term is 90 days. Either way, you will also permanently forfeit your vehicle, if you are the sole owner.
When your blood alcohol concentration is 0.2% or higher when you are arrested, your penalty will include a mandatory minimum 10-day jail sentence in addition to your other penalties. The second such offense within 10 years carries a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 20 days in addition to the other penalties.
If you have two drunk driving convictions within 10 years, you must install an ignition interlock system on all vehicles you own either solely or with another person. If you fail to do so, you face a possible Class 1 misdemeanor charge and risk having your license revoked―again―for one year. Plus, you may be put into jail for up to one year and be nailed with a $2,500 fine.
Virginia has a Zero Tolerance law for drivers under 21 years old. Underage offenders driving with as little as a 0.02% BAC can face a one year license suspension and either 50 hours of community service or a minimum fine of $500. Those under 21 who drive under the influence of drugs or with a BAC of 0.08% or greater are subject to the same penalties as those over 21, listed above.
The DMV's brochure, It Can't Happen To Me, explains the DUI laws and penalties in greater detail. It also covers other alcohol-related offenses, such as minors in possession of alcohol, open-container laws, and using a fake ID to buy alcohol. The DMV's drinking and driving page can also lead you to more facts, statistics, myths, and resources on the topic.
Because a DUI charge is a serious criminal offense, consider consulting an attorney who specializes in DUI cases before you go to trial. Many DUI lawyers will give you a free initial consultation, so you can be a little more informed before you decide how to proceed.
There are a number of things you can do to reduce your chances of getting a DUI. If you plan to drink when you leave home, have an alternative way home sorted out in advance (a taxi or sober driver, for example). Program a taxi company's phone number into your cell phone.
Of course, it's not always possible to know in advance that you will be drinking when you leave home. If you get caught out intoxicated without a safe way home, sleep on a friend's sofa or call someone at home who can come and get you.
Don't try to make it on your own by driving. And don't accept a ride from someone else who has been drinking―you might not get a DUI if you do, but you might not get home safely, either.
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