Understanding First-Time DUI/DWI
Being convicted for the first time for operating a motor vehicle in Virginia while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a Class 1 Misdemeanor in Virginia. In order for the Commonwealth to convict a person of this crime, the court must first find that the individual was operating a motor vehicle. It is important to understand that operating a car extends well beyond driving and is actually a much lower threshold than most people realize. Merely sitting in the driver's seat with the key in the ignition is operating a car.
Upon proving that a defendant was operating a motor vehicle, the Commonwealth must prove that he or she was doing so under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is usually done through blood tests and so long
- You are at least 21 years of age and your BAC is 0.08% or higher,
- You are under the age of 21 and your BAC is 0.02% or higher;
- You are a commercial driver and your BAC is 0.04% or higher;
- You are under the influence of drugs, alone or in combination, to the extent it impairs their ability to drive or operate a motor vehicle safely;
- Under the influence of alcohol and drugs in combination to the degree it impairs one's ability to drive or operate a motor vehicle safely;
- Having a blood concentration in specific amounts as dictated by statute for cocaine, methamphetamine, phencyclidine, or 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine.
In other words, if you are intoxicated and decide to "sleep it off" in the front seat of your car while listening to the radio, you could be found guilty of DUI.
Penalties Specific to a First-time DUI/DWI Conviction
Driving while intoxicated as a first offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor that carries a mandatory minimum fine of $250. However, if the DWI is based on blood alcohol concentration, the punishment may be harsher. When a person's blood alcohol concentration is at least 0.15, but not more than 0.20, there is an additional consequence. Virginia law requires people convicted with a blood alcohol concentration within this range serve a mandatory minimum of five days in jail for the offense. In cases where the blood alcohol concentration is greater than 0.20, the consequence is an additional mandatory minimum of 10 days in jail.
Upon conviction, the court will also suspend the defendant's license, order a driver to enter into and successfully complete an alcohol safety action program, order the defendant to attend a victim impact panel class and may also order the defendant to install an interlock ignition device on all cars registered to his or her name.
Alternatives to Penalties
If a person completes the assessment for an alcohol safety action program, the court may, for good cause, decline to order participation in the program. This only occurs if an intervention is not appropriate for the driver.
While not an alternative per se, drivers may obtain a restricted license under certain circumstances. In this case, even though general driving privileges are suspended for one year, the person may drive on the condition they install and maintain an ignition interlock system in the vehicle. They are only allowed to operate a car equipped with an ignition interlock. This system requires drivers to establish they are not intoxicated by blowing into the system. The car will not start if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.02 or greater.
Challenging the Stop of the Car
There are a number of legitimate defenses to DUI/DWI charges. As a starting point, police must have an objective legal basis to pull over a car. While they are entitled to pull over a car that is crossing the center line, fails to stop at a stop sign, or is traveling at an excessive rate of speed, they cannot pull a car over for the types of bumper stickers the car has, or because the cop is bored.
Challenging the Conclusions of the Officer
Additionally, challenges can be mounted to the conclusions of the officer. Particularly in cases where the blood alcohol concentration does not rise to the mathematically required legal limit, an allegation of intoxication may be challenged.
Law Enforcement uses standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) in an effort to determine, roadside, whether someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These tests commonly include:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)
- Walk and turn
- One leg stand
Studies show, however, that SFSTs are not always an accurate indication of intoxication. For example, people over the age of 65, people with back, leg, and inner ear problems have difficulty performing the tests.
Challenging the Test Results
The test results themselves can be challenged. From collection procedures to chain of custody, the integrity of the evidence can be challenged. Instrumentation should be calibrated and well maintained. When this doesn't happen, the test results are suspect and can be challenged. Depending on the type of test, the interpretation may be challenged.
Challenging the Facts
Sometimes, the identity of the driver is an issue. Other times, a driver may have gone home, and subsequent to driving consumed some alcohol which impacts the reading of the test. In these cases, the charge can be fought.
If You Face DUI/DWI Charges...
If you are facing DUI or DWI charges, you don't have to face them alone. The attorneys at The Law Office of Charles F. Koehler, P.C. understand the intricacies of DUI/DWI law. We are prepared to fight for your rights from start to finish. Contact us today for a consultation.