Driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI) are serious criminal offenses in Virginia, each with distinct legal implications. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they represent separate charges, each with specific criteria and consequences.
DUI vs. DWI: Defining the Terms
In Virginia, DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence, while DWI stands for Driving While Intoxicated. The fundamental distinction lies in the criteria for charging individuals with these offenses.
DWI (Driving While Intoxicated)
According to Virginia Code § 18.2-266, DWI is associated with operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more. This legal limit creates a presumption that the individual was under the influence of alcohol, irrespective of visible signs of intoxication. The focus here is on the objective standard of BAC exceeding the statutory limit.
DUI (Driving Under the Influence)
Unlike DWI, DUI charges can be brought regardless of the individual’s BAC. Under Virginia Code § 18.2-266, DUI pertains to driving under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating substances, impairing the driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely. Even if a person’s BAC is below the legal limit of 0.08 percent, they can face DUI charges if their alcohol consumption is observed to have impaired their driving abilities.
Legal Nuances and Statutory Framework
Top Virginia DUI attorney Michael Pignone says that understanding the legal nuances of DUI and DWI requires a closer look at the relevant statutes in Virginia. Virginia Code § 18.2-266 defines both offenses and establishes the legal limits for BAC in DWI cases. It stipulates that a BAC of 0.08 percent or more creates a presumption of intoxication for DWI, while DUI encompasses impairment regardless of BAC.
Consequences of DUI and DWI in Virginia
Virginia has stringent drunk driving laws with no alternative sentencing option for defendants. Both DUI and DWI charges can result in similar penalties for first-time offenders.
Penalties for a first-time offense, as outlined in Virginia Code § 18.2-270, may include a jail sentence of up to 12 months (with a minimum of 5-day jail sentence if the BAC is .15 or higher), fines ranging from $250 to $2,500, and the suspension of the driver’s license for up to a year.
It is noteworthy that in Virginia, even if a blood alcohol test indicates a BAC below the legal limit of .08%, a person can still face criminal DUI charges if their alcohol consumption impairs their ability to drive.
For a second offense, individuals may face a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 20 days, with the possibility of up to one year, along with fines ranging from $500 to $2,500. Additionally, a second offense within five years may result in a three-year suspension of the driver’s license.
In the case of a third offense, the penalties become even more severe. Convicted individuals may face a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 90 days, with the potential for up to five years, and fines ranging from $1,000 to $2,500. The court may also impose a lengthy driver’s license suspension, ignition interlock device installation, and mandatory participation in an alcohol safety action program.
Collateral consequences, such as increased insurance premiums and hurdles in employment, further compound the impact of these convictions, in addition to reputational challenges.
DUI and DWI Defense Strategies Attorney Michael Pignone May Use to Defend You
Attorney Michael Pignone and his legal team at the Law Offices of Michael Pignone employ a range of defense strategies to help clients facing DUI and DWI charges in Virginia. While each case is unique, the following are potential defense strategies that may be used to seek a dismissal or reduction of charges:
Challenging the Legality of the Traffic Stop
One common defense tactic is to question the legality of the initial traffic stop. If law enforcement did not have a valid reason to pull the driver over, any evidence obtained during the stop may be deemed inadmissible. This could lead to a dismissal of charges.
Questioning the Accuracy of Field Sobriety Tests
Field sobriety tests are subjective and can be influenced by various factors. Michael Pignone’s legal team may scrutinize the administration and interpretation of these tests, highlighting any inconsistencies or errors that could cast doubt on the accuracy of the results.
Challenging the Reliability of Chemical Tests
Blood alcohol concentration results from breath or blood tests are critical pieces of evidence in DUI/DWI cases. The defense may challenge the reliability of these tests, citing issues such as improper calibration of testing equipment, mishandling of samples, or other procedural errors.
Examining Arrest Procedures
The defense team may closely examine the procedures followed during the arrest. If law enforcement failed to adhere to proper protocols or violated the defendant’s rights, it could lead to the suppression of evidence or dismissal of charges.
Establishing a Rising BAC Defense
In some cases, it may be argued that the defendant’s BAC was below the legal limit at the time of driving but increased to an illegal level by the time the chemical test was administered. This “rising BAC” defense can be effective in certain circumstances.
Questioning the Observational Evidence
If the arrest was based on the officer’s observations of the driver’s behavior, the defense may challenge the subjective nature of such evidence. Factors such as fatigue, medical conditions, or other non-alcohol-related issues could influence a person’s appearance or actions.
Demonstrating Lack of Probable Cause
If there was insufficient probable cause for the arrest, the defense may argue that the arrest itself was unwarranted. Lack of probable cause can be a strong basis for challenging the legality of the arrest and subsequent charges.
Attorney Michael Pignone and his team approach each case with a thorough understanding of Virginia DUI and DWI laws, aiming to build a tailored defense strategy that best suits their clients’ needs and objectives.
Get the Top-Rated DUI and DWI Defense Team in Virginia on Your Side
If you are facing DUI or DWI charges in Virginia, trust the Law Offices of Michael Pignone to fight for your rights and freedom. With over 25 years of experience, attorney Michael Pignone and his dedicated team have successfully defended numerous clients in DUI and DWI defense cases in Virginia. Call (571) 450-9887 to request a consultation or contact us online for a free case review.