Drunk Driving Charges Can Have Serious Consequences
If you’ve been charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Virginia, you can’t afford to take a “wait and see” approach. If you appear in court without an attorney, the prosecution may offer you a plea deal–an agreement under which you plead guilty and accept specific penalties. While you may be inclined to believe this is the best you can do and move forward to get it over with, you may be missing important information that would affect your decision.
First, you may be unaware of the full consequences of a drunk driving conviction. Some of the direct consequences, which may be a part of the plea agreement offered, include:
- Jail time
- Fines and court costs
- Driver’s license suspension
- Ignition interlock device requirement
- Mandatory substance abuse counseling or other treatment
- Vehicle forfeiture in felony cases
But, those are just the consequences directly imposed by the court or the state of Virginia. Indirect consequences of a DUI conviction may include loss of job opportunities, higher car insurance rates, fees and costs associated with ignition interlock devices and other monitoring, and even travel restrictions. Too often, people who are not represented in DUI cases are surprised by these consequences after accepting a plea agreement.
You may also have defenses you aren’t aware of—opportunities to challenge the evidence and have the charge dismissed or reduced—that will be lost if you enter into an agreement. That’s why it is in your best interest to speak with an experienced DUI defense attorney like Ali J. Amirshahi.
What Constitutes Driving While Intoxicated in Virginia?
The crime legally described as “driving while intoxicated” or “DWI” in Virginia is also commonly known as “DUI,” “driving under the influence,” “operating while intoxicated,” or “OWI.” In Virginia, a person may be convicted of driving while intoxicated based on any one of five situations:
- The person is operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or greater;
- The person is operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol;
- The person is operating a motor vehicle under the influence of any self-administered intoxicant or drug (or combination thereof) that impairs his ability to operate the vehicle safely;
- The person is operating a motor vehicle under the influence of a combination of alcohol and drugs such that his ability to operate safely is impaired; or
- The person is operating a motor vehicle with a specific concentration of one of several listed drugs
Note that any one of these is enough to sustain a conviction. So, for instance, a person whose BAC was greater than .08 may be convicted although he or she showed no signs of impairment. Similarly, a person who is proven to have been impaired by drugs or alcohol may be convicted even if there is no chemical test evidence available or the chemical test result is below the legal limit.
Potential Defenses to Virginia DWI Charges
It’s easy to assume that if you’ve been charged with DWI, it’s impossible to avoid a conviction. In fact, though, there are a number of possible defenses to be explored in a driving while intoxicated case. Some of the most common questions an experienced criminal defense attorney will seek to answer are:
- Did the officer have sufficient cause to stop your vehicle?
- Are there other possible explanations for evidence that is being interpreted as signs of intoxication or impairment?
- Was the chemical test properly administered?
- Was the officer testifying as to signs of impairment properly trained to observe and assess those signals?
If probable cause was lacking, or there are flaws in the evidence, an experienced criminal defense lawyer may pursue dismissal of the charges, negotiate for a reduction in the charges, or fight the accusations at trial. With more than 25 years of criminal defense experience and nearly 100 Virginia jury trials, attorney Ali J. Amirshahi knows how to use any weaknesses identified to negotiate on your behalf or prepare the strongest possible case for trial.
Penalties for Driving While Intoxicated in Virginia
A first-offense DWI conviction not involving any special circumstances is a Class 1 misdemeanor with a potential penalty of up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. There is a mandatory minimum fine of $250. Higher BAC results trigger harsher mandatory minimum penalties as follows:
- BAC of 0.15 to 0.20: mandatory minimum of 5 days in jail
- BAC greater than 0.20: mandatory minimum of 10 days in jail
Second and subsequent DWI convictions also carry more serious penalties, including longer mandatory minimum jail sentences and higher fines. A third offense within 10 years is charged as a felony, and requires a minimum 90-day jail sentence (6 months if all three offenses occurred within a 5-year period). And, conviction of a fourth or subsequent offense within a 10 year period means a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in jail.
An Experienced Virginia DWI Attorney Can Help
Ali J. Amirshahi has devoted decades to defending people who have been charged with crimes. He understands what is at stake for you and your family, and has a thorough knowledge of both the substantive legal issues and the procedural requirements in the Richmond-area criminal courts.