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What Is a DUI/DWI in Virginia?

In a single year, the Virginia DMV reported that almost 20,000 drivers received DUI/DWI convictions. Impaired drivers took 262 lives the same year. If you are charged with a DUI or a DWI, the consequences of your actions may not be confined to your driving record. This criminal record may make it harder for you to get a job – or even get back on the road.

Fortunately, knowing the ins and outs of DUIs and DWIs in Virgina can help you along your way. Drivers facing either of these charges can work with a criminal traffic defense lawyer in Virginia to better understand their legal footing.

Definitions of DUI and DWI in Virginia

The legal definition of driving under the influence in Virginia is operating a motor vehicle or a boat with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. Blood alcohol content is a measure of how much alcohol is in your system.

You could also receive a DWI charge for a BAC of less than 0.08% if the police officer believes you have imbibed in enough alcohol to impair your driving. Driving under the influence of impairing drugs, including prescription medications, is also against the law in Virginia.

Is a DWI Charge Less Severe Than a DUI Charge?

Virginia does not distinguish between a DUI and a DWI. Legal representatives can use the terms interchangeably. However, you’re more likely to face DWI charges if officers on the road had to use a breathalyzer test to verify your intoxication.

Parties facing DWI charges often have a BAC over the state’s legal limit. Virginia can charge its residents with either a DUI or a DWI regardless of whether or not the vehicle in question is in motion. Even sitting in a parking lot with an elevated BAC – provided that the keys are in your ignition – can result in criminal consequences. 

What does It Take for the Courts to Convict You of DUI/ DWI?

A police officer must have probable cause to pull you over before charging you with DUI. Believing you are drunk is not enough of a reason to stop you. The officer must have another reason, such as speeding or running a red light.

During the traffic stop, the officer will assess you for signs of impairment. These can include:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Slurred speech
  • Alcohol odors
  • Open containers

The officer may then order you to take a breathalyzer test and/or a field sobriety test. If you have a BAC above 0.08% or if you fail your field sobriety test, you may face DUI/DWI charges. This does not, however, mean that a court can convict you. Rather, you may be arrested, but you can work with a criminal defense attorney to combat your charges.

What Should You Do If You’re Charged With a DUI/ DWI?

If the officer arrests you for alleged DUI or DWI, stay calm and do not fight the arrest. Use your right to remain silent. Do not answer any of the officer’s questions, except if asked your name, until you have an attorney present. You could say something that strengthens the case against you. 

Once you’re able, call a criminal traffic lawyer. Your lawyer can represent you during an arraignment, other hearings, and your DUI trial. The prosecution will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were driving while impaired to convict you of this crime.

What Are the Penalties for a DUI/ DWI in Virginia?

A DUI/DWI conviction is a misdemeanor in Virginia. With no prior DUI convictions in the past 10 years, the courts will consider you a first-time offender. According to Code of Virginia §18.2-11, the typical punishment for a first-time DUI/DWI conviction is a fine, one year of driver’s license suspension, a mandatory alcohol treatment program, probation, and up to one year in jail.

The criminal penalties for DUI increase if a breathalyzer test showed a BAC of 0.15% to 0.20%. In this case, you will serve a minimum of five days in jail before being eligible for probation. You must serve at least ten days with a BAC of 0.20% or higher.

If you were driving under the influence with someone under 18 inside your vehicle, you may serve an additional five days on top of your sentence. The penalties for DUI or DWI will increase if you are not a first-time offender. If you caused a car accident while operating a motor vehicle or boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you could also face more severe penalties.

How Can You Avoid a DUI/ DWI?

When you go out drinking with friends, it’s easy to go a little overboard. There are steps you can take to limit your impact on others, though. If you know that you’re going to be drinking, you can:

  • Elect someone to be a designated driver
  • Call an Uber or Lyft to get you home safely
  • Arrange to stay on a friend’s couch for the night

Whatever you do, you should not get behind the wheel of a car after drinking. No matter what your blood alcohol levels might look like, drinking before you get on the road puts you and everyone else in harm’s way.

When Should You Hire a Drunk Driving Defense Attorney?

Consult with a drunk driving defense attorney immediately if you are facing this type of criminal charge in Virginia. The penalties for DUI/DWI in Virginia are strict; a conviction could change your life. Severe punishments, especially if you are a repeat offender, could mean jail time and the long-term loss of your driving privileges.

If the courts charge your DUI as a felony, you could face up to five years in prison and permanent driver’s license revocation. A DUI/DWI lawyer may be able to minimize the charges and penalties you face as a driver in Virginia.

Can You Contest DUI/ DWI Charges in Virginia?

You do have the right to contest DUI/DWI charges in Virginia. If you believe these charges are unfound or would like to reduce the penalties you’re facing, you can reach out to a criminal defense attorney.

Virginia criminal defense attorneys can meet with you to discuss the circumstances that led to your charges. Together we can establish evidence to challenge the accusations brought against you, including ones that challenge breathalyzer results or field tests.