DUI Defense in Virginia: Your Options
DUI laws aim to prevent crashes and punish drivers who operate vehicles while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Drunk driving claims the lives of thousands of people in the United States every year. 240 people died in 2018 in alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in the state of Virginia. Statistics show that 73.6% of the fatal DUI accidents involved a driver with a BAC above 0.15%—almost twice the legal limit.
Virginia law enforcement officials arrested 20,885 drivers for driving under the influence in 2018, 49 of whom were underage drinkers.
If you received a DUI charge in Virginia, do not hesitate to reach out to a DUI defense lawyer. Attorney Michael Pingone has more than 25 years of legal experience and has defended thousands of clients against DUI charges. Contact us today to get started on your case.
How to Fight Back Against DUI Charges
It can be very frightening and intimidating to have a field sobriety test administered at the roadside, only to be told you failed and are subject to an arrest. The complex procedures you are put through before, during, and after the breath or blood test will require the knowledgeable help of a dedicated legal team.
Law enforcement has strict procedures it must adhere to in making a traffic stop, in carrying out a DUI investigation and after an arrest. Over-eager and under-trained officers often violate these procedural rules. Taking the time to consult with a trusted Virginia DUI attorney who has successfully defended many before you can help you understand that there are valid defenses which could be effective in your case.
DUI Stops in Virginia
An officer pulls you over on suspicion of driving under the influence. What happens next?
Field Sobriety Tests
Police officers conduct field sobriety tests at the scene of an accident or traffic stop in an attempt to ascertain if the driver is under the influence. Field sobriety tests include a variety of mental and physical tasks that are designed to alert police officers to intoxication. The most commonly used field sobriety tests include:
- One-legged stand,
- Walk and turn,
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN),
- Vertical gaze nystagmus, and
- Finger touch test.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed the tests to assist officers in determining when a driver should be arrested for DUI. However, the NHTSA admits that the tests are not entirely accurate at measuring intoxication. Additionally, the most commonly used field sobriety tests are not approved for multiple classes of individuals, including:
- People with medical conditions;
- People who are injured;
- Elderly individuals 65 or older; and
- Individuals at least 50 lbs overweight.
Critics of field sobriety tests contend that the arresting officer has discretion on all charging decisions. Bias and favoritism could influence the officer’s decision more than the true test results. Additionally, it is difficult to prove with certainty whether field sobriety tests were conducted properly.
Attorney Michael A. Pignone has extensive experience dealing with DUI cases and is aware of potential issues with the reliability of field sobriety tests.
Unlike breath and blood tests, Virginia drivers are not required to submit to field sobriety tests. If you agreed to perform field sobriety tests and were later charged with DUI, an attorney may be able to challenge the officer’s perception of your intoxication if the tests were conducted incorrectly. Contact a Virginia DUI defense lawyer today to get started on your case.
Virginia is an “implied consent” state. This means that by operating a vehicle in the State of Virginia, you consent to be tested for drugs or alcohol if you are arrested under suspicion of DUI while in the state. Refusal to comply with the statute will result in a refusal charge in addition to your DUI charge.
An officer that suspects you are under the influence may ask you to take a breathalyzer test. A breathalyzer determines your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) by measuring your breath. You exceed the legal alcohol limit if your BAC is at or above 0.08%.
The amount of alcohol you can consume before crossing the legal limit depends on a wide variety of factors including the type of alcohol you have, your weight, and the amount of time since your last drink.
Breathalyzer tests conducted on the side of the road have repeatedly been proven inaccurate and are not required even if you took the roadside breath test, an experienced attorney can likely prevent it from being used in court.
A Virginia DUI defense lawyer will ensure inaccurate tests are not allowed to result in your conviction.
Another method of measuring BAC is a blood test. Blood tests are used when the breath tests are unavailable, the suspect cannot perform the breathalyzer, or the officer suspects that drugs are involved.
Virginia law permits law enforcement to request a search warrant to force the defendant to give a blood sample in an attempt to learn if he or she was under the influence. Virginia law lists the individuals permitted to retrieve the blood sample and outlines procedures for handling, transporting, and testing the blood sample.
At The Law Offices of Michael A. Pignone, our DUI defense attorneys know the procedures that must be complied with regarding blood tests. We will ensure all of the procedural steps were satisfied; otherwise your blood test results may be dismissed.
Occasionally, law enforcement agencies set up roadblocks to check if drivers are intoxicated, referred to as sobriety checkpoints. Sobriety checkpoints aim to discourage drunk driving and catch drunk drivers who pass through the checkpoint.
The law requires sobriety checkpoints to meet certain criteria to be deemed permissible, including:
- The checkpoint must be publicized in advance;
- Police cannot stop every vehicle;
- A formula must be used to determine which vehicles will be stopped;
- The stop must only last for a “reasonable” amount of time; and
- Drivers can be asked to step out of their vehicle only if an officer observes signs of impairment.
Law enforcement agencies typically announce plans for a sobriety checkpoint to the local media or on their social media pages. Sobriety checkpoints occur frequently during holiday weekends like the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekend.
Remember, you are not required to submit to field sobriety tests, even at a sobriety checkpoint.
A Virginia DUI defense attorney will verify that the sobriety checkpoint complied with the standard procedures. If authorities failed to act in accordance with the procedures, there is a possibility that your DUI charge could be lessened or dismissed entirely.
DUI Penalties in Virginia
Criminal penalties for DUI in Virginia range from fines to years in prison, depending on a variety of circumstances. Most states enhance penalties for multiple DUI convictions. Additionally, certain aggravating circumstances increase the maximum penalty available in DUI cases.
First DUI Conviction
A first-time DUI conviction carries the following potential penalties:
- Up to one year in jail (mandatory jail time if your BAC registers above 0.15%); and
- Up to a $2,500 fine, and
- Completion of the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (ASAP)
- Installation of the Ignition Interlock Device
- one-year license revocation.
Second DUI Conviction
A second DUI conviction within five years of your first conviction carries the following potential penalties:
- Up to one year in jail (mandatory time depending on how long ago the first conviction was and the BAC level );
- Up to a $2,500 fine;
- License revocation for three years;
- Installation of ignition interlock device; and
- Alcohol education courses (ASAP)
Third DUI Conviction
A third DUI conviction qualifies as a felony. The conviction carries the following potential penalties:
- Up to five years in prison; (Mandatory time of at least 90 days depending on how long ago the prior convictions were)
- Up to a $2,500 fine;
- License revocation for an indefinite period;
- Alcohol education courses;
- Possibility of vehicle forfeiture; and
- Installation of ignition interlock device once driving privileges are restored.
Felony convictions affect the rights of defendants in many significant ways. A Virginia DUI defense attorney will investigate the potential weaknesses in the prosecution’s case against you in an attempt to get the charges lessened or dropped.
The existence of certain factors allows DUI offenders to be sentenced to penalties higher than those listed in the statute. Aggravating factors in Virginia include:
- BAC above 0.15%;
- BAC above 0.20%; and
- Having a child as a passenger at the time of your DUI.
Any one of these factors can impact your DUI sentence. For elevated BAC convictions, you may be required to spend a mandatory period in jail.
The Best Way to Avoid an Ignition Interlock Device
Virginia DUI laws equire that a person charged and convicted of pay for the installation of and operate with an ignition interlock device on their vehicles for a predetermined period of time. The device records the results of each breath test, and you will be required to get the information on the device printed out and submitted to the court on a quarterly basis.
Sometimes, the court makes the ignition interlock device mandatory. Any person who is convicted of DUI may have the mandatory requirement to have a device installed in their vehicle before reinstatement of the driver’s license. Many of the costs will be paid by the offender. If the court does not require an ignition interlock device, the DMV might.
Other times, installation of the ignition interlock device is a compromise for you to get your license back early. A DUI conviction always results in a driver license revocation. You lose your license for one year after a first-time DUI, three years after a second DUI, and indefinitely after a third DUI within 10 years. With the help of a DUI lawyer in Virginia, you may be eligible for a restricted license using an ignition interlock device.
Many people charged with a DUI want to avoid an ignition interlock device at all costs. However, in some cases, this is the best possible outcome. By refusing to install an ignition interlock device, you may be forced to go without a driver license for a year or longer.
The best way to avoid paying for and using an ignition interlock device is to beat Virginia DUI charges. Instead of representing yourself or pleading guilty, talk with attorney Michael A. Pignone about your situation. He’ll carefully review your case and possible defenses. Michael prides himself on identifying the best strategy in each DUI case and obtaining the best possible results for his clients.
Your Defense Begins with a Manassas, Virginia DUI Lawyer
Building your defense begins with your first consultation, which is free with the Law Offices of Michael A. Pignone.
Effective defense of a DUI charge requires a thorough understanding of complex and constantly changing laws and legal precedents, the scientific principles of the testing procedures and devices, and much more. The Virginia DUI lawyer at the firm has an in-depth working knowledge of the various types of defenses that could be employed successfully in court, and is highly motivated to protect your rights.
The first action is a careful review of the details of your case. The details behind law enforcement pulling you over must be evaluated. What the police did in the initial questioning after the stop must also be reviewed. You have rights, and some of these rights are protected under the U.S. Constitution.
If the reason you were initially stopped is an actual rights violation, any evidence collected after that point can be suppressed. It will require careful and professional legal work and pre-trial preparation and investigation. Law enforcement stories about your driving could be vague. We need to look over these details on an immediate basis.
A number of legal defenses are available to drivers accused of driving under the influence. Getting your charges reduced or dismissed is a possibility when one of these legal defenses exists in your case.
Invalid Traffic Stop
Law enforcement officers conducting a traffic stop must have a “reasonable suspicion” that you are violating the law to make the stop. The potential law violation includes equipment violations or minor traffic infractions, in addition to indications of driving under the influence. Common signs of impairment include:
- Failure to maintain a lane;
- Failure to use turn signals;
- Driving too slow for road conditions;
- Disobedience of stop lights and signs; and
- Slow reaction time to road conditions.
If an officer charged you with DUI but did not have reasonable suspicion to make the initial traffic stop, this could result in any evidence gathered at the scene being suppressed.
DUI charges in Virginia carry the possibility of jail time. Contact an experienced DUI defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case.
Field Sobriety Test Issues
As previously mentioned, field sobriety tests are not completely accurate even when conducted correctly. When field sobriety tests are conducted incorrectly, the likelihood of inaccurate results is even more likely.
Chemical tests designed to ascertain an individual’s BAC are not infallible. The machines used to collect breath samples from defendants must be re-calibrated and checked for accuracy on a regular basis.
Improper administration and operator error can also result in inaccurate results. If authorities obtained your BAC without administering the test correctly or with a machine that was not properly maintained, a DUI defense lawyer can argue to have your charges dismissed.
Defense Team Serving Fairfax, Fauquier & Prince William County
It is important to begin working on your defense strategy right away in order to preserve your driver’s license by requesting a DMV hearing and to pull all available information concerning the prosecution’s case against you.
Call the Law Offices of Michael A. Pignone to discuss the events involved in your DUI case and to get answers to your questions.