Virginia, like all states, takes the crime of driving while under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs very seriously. A driver with alcohol in his or her system is presumed to be legally impaired with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or greater. For drivers under age 21, a blood alcohol content of .02 percent is sufficient to find a driver guilty of driving under the influence due to the state’s zero-tolerance policy. It also imposes strict restrictions on drivers who have more than trace amounts of drugs in their system. The following are the legal limits that create a presumption that a driver is impaired in Virginia:
- .1 milligram or greater methamphetamine blood concentration per liter
- .02 milligrams or greater cocaine blood concentration per liter
- .01 milligrams or greater PCP (phencyclidine) blood concentration per liter
You don’t have to be physically driving your vehicle in Virginia for a police officer to charge you with DUI. You simply need to be operating or in control of the vehicle. That means you can be sitting at the steering wheel holding your keys instead of putting them in the ignition and still come under arrest.
However, you are not automatically guilty of impaired driving or control of a vehicle just because a police officer has charged you with it. As with all types of criminal offenses, you have the right to hire an attorney to defend you against the charges. At St. John, Bowling & Lawrence, we recommend that you do this as soon as possible.
DUI Penalties in Virginia
You can face serious penalties for a DUI conviction, even when it’s your first offense. A conviction typically results in penalties in the following four areas: jail, fines, suspension of driver’s license, and implementation of an interlock ignition device. For your first offense, penalties could include up to a one-year jail sentence, fine ranging from $250 to $2,500, loss of your driver’s license for up to a year, and installation of an ignition interlock device for six months. Penalties for subsequent offenses include:
- Second offense: Jail time of 10 days to a year, fine ranging from $500 to $2,500, driver’s license suspension for up to three years, and installation of interlock ignition for a minimum of six months.
- Third offense: Jail time of 90 days to five years, fine ranging from $1,000 to $2,500, indefinite suspension of driver’s license, and ignition interlock device for at least six months.
All drivers should understand that the issuance of a driver’s license in Virginia automatically implies that you give your implied consent to a breath or blood test if a police officer suspects you of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If you refuse to submit to testing, you could lose your driving privileges for one year the first time. Second and subsequent refusals subject you to the suspension of your driver’s license for three years.
With your freedom and future on the line, working with an experienced DUI attorney in Virginia is a must. Our criminal defense attorneys have decades of combined experience representing people charged with this devastating crime.
How to Choose the Best Criminal Defense Attorney When Charged with DUI
Although time is of the essence when securing legal representation in a DUI case, you don’t want to choose an inexperienced attorney who can’t win your case. We recommend consulting with at least two with local DUI attorneys and asking the following types of questions:
- “What is your legal experience and education?” Obviously, you want to hire someone who has graduated from law school with good marks and who has passed the bar exam in Virginia. Even if it was years ago, a good DUI defense attorney should be able to describe his or her legal education. Since experience is even more important, don’t hesitate to ask your potential lawyer how many cases he or she has tried like yours. You also want to know the percentage of cases in which the attorney successfully argued for dropped or reduced charges.
- “What specific legal strategies would you use with my case?” Several legitimate defenses to DUI exist, such as the arresting officer administering the test incorrectly or failing to inform you of your legal rights upon arrest. It’s important to choose a defense attorney who can aggressively challenge the prosecution and force them to prove their case against you rather than you having to prove your innocence. The attorney should also be able to provide you with examples from previous cases without giving away client names or specific details.
- “Can I expect to communicate with you directly throughout my case?” People who have never hired an attorney in the past often don’t realize the importance of this question. It’s important to ensure that you will have regular access to the attorney you hired. That means that you can reach him or her on the phone and not always have to speak to a legal assistant. This person should be the one providing you with regular updates on your case as well.
- “Has the Virginia State Bar ever disciplined you?” Do you have the appropriate amounts of legal malpractice insurance? Answering yes to the first question doesn’t automatically disqualify an attorney from representing you. He or she just needs to be honest about the reason for the discipline and what he or she does differently because of it. As for legal malpractice insurance, this protects both parties in case of a serious dispute regarding the handling of your case.
Request Your Legal Consultation Today
St. John, Bowling & Lawrence will ask several specific questions about your DUI case and let you know if we can provide you with a reasonable defense. We also encourage you to ask several questions to discover whether we’re the right law firm to work with at this challenging time in your life. Please contact us at 434-296-7138