Just like all other jurisdictions in the United States, it is illegal to operate a motorized vehicle while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol in Virginia. Virginia's criminal statute outlines the various penalties of driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. If you are pulled over by a police officer who suspects that you have been drinking or doing drugs, the officer may charge you with driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI). Most people think that DUIs and DWIs are different offenses, however, Virginia laws treat them interchangeably. This article will answer some common questions asked concerning DUIs and DWIs.
Virginia's Laws Concerning DUIs and DWIs
Virginia Code §18.2-266 and Virginia Code §18.2-270 explain, in detail, the various penalties for driving under the influence. The code also details the different legal limits which vary according to substance. The legal limit that most people are aware of is the blood alcohol level (BAC). The blood alcohol limit for driving in Virginia is 0.08. If your blood alcohol level is at or above 0.08, you may be charged with driving under the influence (DUI), or driving while influenced by alcohol (DWI).
Virginia law also allows police officers to arrest for driving under the influence when there is a refusal to provide a breath sample and/or the driver indicates signs of impairment. Poor performance on field sobriety tests, admission of alcohol consumption, slurred speech, and coordination issues can give probable cause for an arrest for DUI at a traffic stop. In addition, if a driver does a voluntary breath test at the side of the road (Preliminary Breath Test) that is below .08 but still performs poorly on other field sobriety tests like the Nine-Step Walk and Turn or One-Legged Stand, an officer may still arrest for DUI.
Virginia's code also covers legal limits for drugs. For instance, If you are caught with more than 0.02 milligrams of cocaine in your system while operating a motor vehicle, you can be charged with driving under the influence (DUI). If you are caught with more than 0.1 milligrams of methamphetamines or MDMA (ecstasy), you can be charged with a DUI. If you are caught driving with more than 0.01 milligrams of PCP, you can be charged with a DUI. Review our informational page on Virginia DUI and DWI Laws for more information on the specifics of Virginia law.
Frequently Asked Questions About Virginia DUI/DWI Charges
Receiving a DUI/DWI charge can cause stress and confusion. Although every case is different, many individuals charged with a DUI/DWI in Virginia have similar questions. Below are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions regarding Virginia DUI/DWI penalties.
Can a Person be Charged With a DUI/DWI if Their BAC is Below 0.08?
Yes. If you are pulled over for drinking and your blood alcohol level is lower than the legal limit of 0.08, you can still be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, if the police officer believes that alcohol has impaired your driving after performing an assessment. The police officer often requests that a driver perform field sobriety tests, such as reciting ABCs, the Nine-Step Walk and Turn Test, One-Legged Stand Test, Fingertip Touch Test, and Number Recitation. These tests are completely voluntary and no driver in Virginia is required to consent. The police officer may arrest if he or she subjectively believes there was poor performance on these tests. Often, the driver's performance on these tests was not poor. Contrary to the officer's allegations, performance may have been affected by road conditions, inadequate lighting, driver medical conditions, etc.
The law office has represented people charged with DUI who had a BAC level of .07 at the time they were stopped. One client who registered this BAC level at the scene of the stop performed perfectly on all field sobriety tests and was polite and cooperative with the officer. He was still arrested for DUI in Fairfax County. The charge in that case was dismissed at trial in the General District Court.
At the time, the prosecutor involved offered a reduction of the DUI to Reckless Driving. This offer was rejected because the evidence simply did not support the original arrest or a Reckless Driving conviction. In this particular case, the driver walked out of court with no conviction on their record and kept their license.
Of course, prior case results do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome in your case. Each case has different facts. However, it is helpful to discuss these cases because it gives potential clients an idea of how the court system functions.
Hiring a lawyer who takes the time to fully develop your case and evaluate the facts is essential to a positive outcome.
Can I get a DUI From Over the Counter Medicines?
Yes, you can get a DUI from over the counter medicines if those medicines impair your ability to operate a motorized vehicle. Over the counter medicines that could impair your driving ability include, but are not limited to, cough syrups and allergy medicines and other medications.
Will I go to Jail for DUI?
The severity of the violation and history of the driver will dictate the punishment that is issued. That being said, it is less likely that you will be sent to jail following your first DUI offense, if your blood alcohol level registers below 0.15. If, however, you have several DUI offenses, it will be harder to avoid jail time. Second and third DUI offenses usually result in mandatory jail sentences.
It is important to remember that if your blood alcohol level registers 0.15 or above in Virginia, you may be sent to jail even if you have a clean driving record. A BAC level that high may still be negotiated down to a lower level offense such as Reckless Driving or a DUI breath alcohol level of .08 to 0.14. The law office has handled many cases where a BAC level 0.15 or above was stricken from the court record and no mandatory, minimum jail time was imposed.
Will My License be Taken Away if I get a DUI?
Your license will be suspended in Virginia for twelve months following a first DUI conviction. For a second DUI conviction, the suspension period is three years. However, you may be eligible for a restricted license to drive. Installation of an Ignition Interlock Device is required for all restricted licenses issued for DUIs.
What is the Purpose of an Ignition Interlock Device?
An ignition interlock device is a safety device that is installed in your motorized vehicle. This device will only allow your car to start after your blood alcohol level is measured. If your blood alcohol level registers above 0.02, your vehicle will not start, which means that you will not be able to drive your car. There is an expense to install the device in your car. There is also a monthly monitoring fee charged by the company that installed the device. If your breath alcohol level exceeds the limit allowed to start the vehicle at any time, it may be reported as a violation of probation with the Alcohol Safety Action Program.
Ignition interlock devices register the Blood-Alcohol Content (BAC) result of each and every test performed by the driver. The system will also periodically test the driver while the vehicle is moving, without notice and at irregular times. The device will flash the vehicle's lights and sound the horn when there is a test failure. It will do the same when the driver fails to provide a test result as required by the device.
Are Ignition Interlock Devices Mandatory?
Yes, Ignition interlock devices are required for all restricted licenses issued to drivers convicted of DUI. The only way to avoid having this is to get the DUI dismissed in court or reduced to another charge such as a "dry" Reckless Driving that is not considered alcohol related. "Dry" Reckless Driving does not require ASAP probation monitoring and the maximum license suspension period is six months.
That being said, it is not mandatory for drivers to have a restricted license during the period of their DUI suspension. Some drivers choose to forego the restricted license to avoid the costs and fees associated with ignition interlock monitoring. It is a personal choice and usually dictated by the person's individual need to drive for work, school, medical appointments, etc.
Could my Commercial Driver's License be Revoked Following a DUI Conviction?
Yes, there is a one year disqualification of the CDL privilege for a first-time DUI conviction. Your commercial driver's license may be disqualified even if you were driving under the influence in your personal vehicle. Multiple DUI offenses will result in permanently losing your commercial driver's license (CDL).
How Will I get to Work Following a DUI Conviction?
After you have been convicted of DUI, you will be required to request a restricted license in order to continue driving yourself to work. Keep in mind that the more DUI convictions you have, the more difficult it will be to convince a judge to allow you to drive even with a restricted license. In most cases, a driver will receive the restricted license in court quickly after the suspension. Some DUI cases involving higher BACs may require a waiting period before the court issues a Restricted License.
How can I get My License Back?
A first offense DUI conviction results in your license being suspended for one year. After the suspension period has run out, you can re-instate the license with the DMV by paying a $220 fee and providing proof of insurance. The Alcohol Safety Action Program (ASAP) will need to report completion of the program to the Virginia DMV before you may reinstate the full license.
What is SR-22 Insurance?
SR-22 insurance is special high risk insurance for people that have been convicted of a DUI. Most states require persons convicted of a DUI to purchase SR-22 insurance on their vehicles. If you live in Virginia, persons convicted of a DUI are required to purchase FR-44 insurance.
DUI and Security Clearance
Employers and potential employers are not always fond of employees with DUI and DWI records. If you are working or applying to work for a company that requires a security clearance, a DUI or DWI could harm your chances of finding employment. A history of DUI can signal alcohol abuse issues, which may lead an employer to believe that you will not be a reliable employee.
Work With A Legal Professional - Here to Help You Through the Difficult Period of Arrest for Alcohol Charges
There are certain defenses that may help you avoid a DUI or DWI conviction. If you are interested in learning more about legal defenses, contact the Law Office of Wilfred W. Yeargan to discuss your options. Attorney Yeargan has 22 years of experience helping people charged with DUI in the State of Virginia. The law office defends clients charged with alcohol offenses in Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County, the Town of Herndon, the City of Falls Church, the Town of Vienna, the City of Fairfax, Loudoun County, Prince William County (including Manassas, Dumfries, Woodbridge), Stafford County, Warren County, Shenandoah County, the City of Fredericksburg, the Northern Neck areas of Westmoreland and King George counties, and other locations throughout the state.
If you would like to know more, please contact our law firm directly by phone or online to discuss the specific facts of your case.