In Virginia, if you were operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol or with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher, you could be charged and convicted of drinking and driving. Referred to as DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while intoxicated or impaired), this offense can have severe consequences on your life, even if it's a first offense DUI in VA.
A conviction could lead to incarceration, fines, driver's license suspension, and other sanctions. To minimize or avoid the penalties, you must fight your charges with help from an experienced Virginia first time DUI lawyer to guide you through the complicated judicial process.
A Certified Forensic Lawyer-Scientist on Your Side
At Tillotson & Martin, we fight to protect the rights and freedoms of those charged with DUIs. Our Virginia first time DUI attorneys have over 40 years of combined experience and wrote the book on DUIs that judges, lawyers, and prosecutors read for these types of matters. DUI cases are very involved and contain a scientific element not seen in other criminal matters.
To provide effective defense against a first offense DUI in VA, our team stays informed on changes in the law and the latest technologies. Both of our attorneys are breath test operators and instruct courses on field sobriety tests. Additionally, Attorney Martin is a certified ACS-CHAL Forensic Lawyer-Scientist. When you retain our services, we will leverage our knowledge and resources to work toward a favorable outcome on your behalf.
How Does Virginia Define "Impaired" Driving?
Virginia Code 18.2-266 provides that a DWI charge may be levied when a person's ability to safely drive a motor vehicle is impaired. Virginia courts have held that a person is impaired or intoxicated when their mental and/or physical facilities are compromised.
If any of the following are affected by drugs and/or alcohol, a person could be charged with a DWI:
- Muscular movement
- General appearance
In a Virginia first offense DUI case, the prosecution will attempt to land a conviction by having the arresting officer testify.
To link the driver's behaviors to the definition of impairment, the officer may state that they observed the driver:
- Speaking slowly or incoherently
- Slurring their speech
- Swaying while walking or standing
- Leaning on objects for support
- Having trouble balancing
What Are the Penalties for Your First DUI Offense in Virginia?
In Virginia, a first-offense DUI is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The conviction penalties include up to 1 year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500, with a mandatory minimum of $250. If the individual's BAC was between .15 and .20, the mandatory minimum jail term is 5 days. It would increase to 10 days if the BAC was higher than .20.
In addition to incarceration and fines, a first-time DUI conviction also results in driver's license revocation for 1 year.
What Is An Ignition Interlock Device?
This device is a breathalyzer that is built into your vehicle. In vehicles where this is installed, the driver must take and pass a breath test before the vehicle can be started. The device may also prompt the driver to take tests as they are driving.
As of July 2020, individuals convicted of DUI one time were allowed to choose to have an ignition interlock device installed in their car and keep their ability to drive. As of July 2021, this was extended to repeat DUI offenders.
How Likely is Jail Time For a First Time DUI in Virginia?
It is difficult to predict exactly how likely it is that someone will receive jail time for a first-time DUI in Virginia, as the outcome of a DUI case can depend on various factors such as the severity of the offense, the individual's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time of the arrest, and the presence of any aggravating circumstances (e.g., causing an accident while driving under the influence).
While a first-time DUI is usually a misdemeanor offense, certain aggravating factors present at the time of arrest can lead to increased penalties, or even felony charges.
Significantly High BAC
If you are slightly over .08% BAC, you will likely face standard misdemeanor charges and penalties. However, a BAC of over .15% is considered substantial. This high of a BAC requires a five-day mandatory minimum jail sentence. For perspective, it would take a 100-pound person about 3-4 drinks within one hour to reach this high of a BAC.
DUI Resulting in an Accident
These penalties may become even more severe if the accident was a hit and run, or if the accident resulted in someone’s death. In that case, you may even face homicide charges.
If you are pulled over for DUI while going significantly faster than the speed limit (i.e., 55 mph in a 30 mph zone), you may get additional jail time if convicted.
Child In The Car
Children can’t make an informed decision about getting in the car with a drunk driver. If you are arrested for DUI with a child in the car, you will face elevated penalties for endangering the child.
Even after your fines are paid, your time is served, and your license is reinstated, you will still have a DUI conviction on your criminal record. This can have long-term impacts on your life, such as:
- Inability to work in certain fields
- Difficulty finding work
- Difficulty traveling
- Social implications or embarrassment
In Virginia, DUIs are not eligible for expungement. Once you have a conviction, it will be permanent on your record.
Penalties Beyond Jail Time: It is important to note that in Virginia, a DUI conviction carries serious consequences beyond the potential for jail time. These can include the suspension or revocation of the individual's driver's license, significant fines, and the requirement to attend an alcohol education program.
It is always best to avoid driving under the influence and to make alternative transportation arrangements if you have been drinking.
If I Wasn't Driving, Can I Still Be Charged with a DWI in Virginia?
Yes. Even if you weren't actually driving your car, an officer may still arrest you for a DUI. That's because Virginia law provides that a person commits the offense when they "drive or operate any motor vehicle."
The definition of "driving" may be obvious: You're behind the wheel while motoring down the road.
However, things get a bit tricky when defining "operating." Essentially, it comes down to if you're sitting in the driver's seat with the keys in the ignition. It doesn't matter if the vehicle was running or not. For instance, you could be charged if you had a couple of drinks and then went to your car just to listen to the radio.
You might also be accused of the offense if your car was stuck somewhere with no hope of getting it out, but you were in the driver's seat and your keys were in the ignition.
In some cases, you don't even need to be in the driver's seat to be charged with a DWI. Suppose your friend is driving, but you grab the wheel at some point. Your actions put you in "physical control" of the vehicle.
Can I Be Charged with a DWI While Riding a Bicycle Drunk?
Virginia law states that a person commits a DWI offense when they drive a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol. Thus, if you are drunk while riding your bike, you can't be charged under state laws. However, if you're on federal property, such as a national park, you could face charges because federal law says drinking and driving occurs when a person is intoxicated while in control of a vehicle, bicycles included.
Can a First Offense DUI Be Dismissed?
In Virginia, a dismissal of a first-offense DUI is possible if the offender successfully completes an approved and monitored alcohol education program. The court may also consider other mitigating factors when deciding whether or not to reduce or dismiss the DUI charge. Depending on the severity of the particular offense, requirements can include paying fines and fees, partaking in community service, attending DUI classes, or completing alcohol treatment or an ignition interlock program. If all of the conditions are met to the satisfaction of the court and the probation officer, then the charge could possibly be dismissed. However, it is important to keep in mind that this is on a case-by-case basis.
Get Knowledgeable and Skilled Lawyers on Your Side
At Tillotson & Martin, we know the ins and outs of DUI law. Our first-offense DUI attorneys in Virginia train other lawyers and teach, lecture, and host seminars on these types of matters.
We Wrote the Book.We were tasked with writing the book on Virginia DUI Law by Thomson Reuters Westlaw, the leading authority in legal publishing. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges often turn to this resource.
We Possess the Knowledge.Not only are our attorneys committed to attending continued education courses, they lecture and teach courses themselves. In a field as scientific and technical as DUI Defense, keeping our knowledge up to date is crucial to crafting our clients' defense strategies.
We Truly Care.Mike Tillotson & Jeff Martin go the extra mile for their clients. Our team realizes that this is your future at stake and we will employ every strategy to ensure that we are providing you with the best representation possible.
We Have the Fight to Win.With nearly 40 years of combined experience, Mike Tillotson and Jeff Martin have successfully handled thousands of DUI cases, and has tried cases across the entire state of Virginia.
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