Is a DUI/DWI a Felony or Misdemeanor in Virginia? What Are the Penalties?

DUI felony or misdemeanor

Is a DUI/DWI a Felony or Misdemeanor in Virginia? What Are the Penalties?

Virginia categorizes Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) together, although there are subtle distinctions between the two drunk driving classifications.  DWI determinations are made by taking a blood sample, or a breath sample using a breathalyzer.  A DUI conviction is obtained when there is sufficient evidence that a person has consumed enough alcohol, or other substances, to result in observable impairment of conduct, speech, coordination, or overall appearance.

How Are DUIs and DWIs Classified?

First offense DUI/DWI convictions are classified as misdemeanors.  Individuals who have received a third DUI/DWI will be charged with a felony conviction, and face higher penalties. DUI/DWI charges are serious for first-time offenders as well as repeat DUI offenders, and can result in negative impacts on your liberty, your wallet, your freedom to operate a motor vehicle, your insurance rates, and your reputation.  Virginia’s penalties for drunken driving have increased in severity over the past few years, and currently there is the potential of mandatory jail time for specific types of offenses, even for first time offenders.

Proving DUI / DWI in Virginia

In Virginia DUI and DWI charges, the government must prove that the person operated a motor vehicle while impaired, even if they only inserted the keys into the ignition.  Police officers must also adhere to proper protocol when stopping a vehicle, and must have probable cause, a critical component for DUI/DWI investigations.  Various roadside activities are carried out to establish probable cause, which may include:

  • Observation
  • Questioning
  • Field tests
  • Preliminary breathalyzer

Roadside actions by police officers are extremely subjective in interpretation, and all are performed with the single goal of providing probable cause prior to an arrest.  Without probable cause, the results of blood-alcohol or chemical tests performed later, could be excluded from consideration by the court.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) in DUI Cases

Virginia law determines that a crime has been committed if a person has been found to be driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level at, or above 0.08, and above minute milligrams of narcotics, such as PCP, methamphetamines, or cocaine.

  1. Preliminary breath test
    Preliminary breath tests may be administered at the scene, prior to an arrest.  The results are not admissible in court, but are used as further probable cause to make an arrest.
  2. Required breath test
    The second breath test, or blood test, is conducted at the police stations, and is required. This test is agreed to by all persons who operate a motor vehicle under Virginia’s “implied consent” law.  The test must be conducted within three hours of arrest, and the results analyze the concentration levels of drugs or alcohol in the system.

Sobriety Tests (DUI)

Individuals are frequently convicted of DUI/DWI without BAC evidence.  Circumstantial evidence is often sufficient to convict a driver of being under the influence, such as:

  1. Erratic driving
    Drivers who are observed weaving, drifting, or swerving provide observable evidence of impairment.  Police officers may also note that a driver smells like alcohol, has slurred speech, has bloodshot eyes, or is unable to follow directions.
  2. Field Sobriety Test
    Virginia allows police officers to perform field sobriety tests to determine if a person is under the influence.  Typical standardized tests used check the driver’s horizontal gaze, ability to stand on one leg, and their competence walking and turning.
  3. Police Officer Questioning
    Officers can ask the driver if they have been drinking.  The response can legally be used against them in court.

Factors Involved in DUI & DWI Convictions

DUI/DWI convictions vary according to a variety of factors that come together to make the case.  These factors include:

  • Amount of alcohol consumption
  • Grounds for stopping the vehicle
  • Field tests performance and results
  • Preliminary breath test results
  • Required breath test results
  • Following of breath test procedures by examiner
  • Breathalyzer certification compliance with Virginia Code requirements
  • Breathalyzer operator certification compliance with Virginia Code requirements

Penalties for DUI & DWI

The consequences of a DUI/DWI conviction vary according to the BAC determined by a breath or blood test, and whether this is a first, or successive offense.  Penalties may include:

  • Fines
  • Jail
  • Suspension of License
  • Vehicle ignition interlock device
  • Required alcohol and substance abuse classes
  • Higher insurance rates
  • DUI/DWI conviction record

The Code of Virginia classifies DWI as a Class 1 misdemeanor, and convicted individuals may be fined up to $2,500, and serve up to one year in jail.  A mandatory minimum fine of $250 is assigned for all DUI/DWI convictions, but if the offender’s BAC is .15% or higher, the law requires the individual to serve a minimum of five days in jail, and ten days in jail if the person’s BAC is higher than .20%.  A third offense is charged with a Class 6 felony.  If convicted, the individual may face up to five years in a state prison, incur a 90-day mandatory minimum jail sentence, and a mandatory minimum $1,000 fine.  If the DUI/DWI event caused serious injuries resulting in permanent or severe physical disability, or death, the individual may be charged with a Class 6 felony, even if they are a first-time offender.

Call Well-known DUI Attorneys in Virginia Beach

Virginia law regarding DUI/DWI charges is complex, and the penalties can vary significantly.  If you are facing a drunk driving charge in Virginia, Swango Law’s experienced DUI lawyers can help.  They know that your life just got more complicated by some zillion degrees. Contact their experienced DUI/DWI lawyers, and let them help you build your best defense strategy.  Call Swango Law’s Virginia Beach DUI lawyers today at (757) 383-9229 to schedule your free consultation.

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